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From the NZ Army kitchen to the Knights engine room

You may remember him as a damaging front rower for both the nib Newcastle Knights and the Warriors.

However, Jesse Royal’s rise to the NRL was anything but orthodox.

Rather than come up through Junior Rep systems like most players, Royal was scouted while plying his trade in the New Zealand Army.


However, this doesn’t mean Royal wasn’t a rugby league tragic growing up.

“I grew up in a small town, and we didn’t have much to do so obviously it was either skateboarding or rugby league,” Royal told the Our Town Our Team Podcast.

“But all the other boys that I grew up with got a lot bigger than I did and I kept getting concussed, so I had to give the game away when I was quite young.

“It wasn’t until I joined the army when I was 19 that I decided to get back into playing sport.”

The dream of playing in the NRL had long been in the back of Royal’s mind, however it wasn’t his main motivation for returning to the sporting landscape.

In fact, it was the social aspect of being a part of the sporting landscape that attracted him towards dipping his toe back in the water.

“I just wanted to meet people, do a bit of travelling and not have to work the weekends,” Royal said.

“I was working in the kitchens with the army and the only way to get out of that was to play football.

“I was playing for the army team in the local competition, and we ended up winning the comp in 2001.”

Royal was a standout in the army side, and it wasn’t long before he received the surprise phone call which would change his life almost instantly.

“I was approached by a player agent to trial with the Panthers,” he said.

“They won the 2003 Grand Final, and after that I had a six-month trial with them over the off-season.

“(Then Penrith Coach) John Lang asked if I wanted to stay on and play the year in reserve grade.”

Royal didn’t get a taste of first grade with Penrith and didn’t make the NRL until 2007, after three years in reserve grade.

He would go on to play 65 first grade games, 29 of them being in red and blue under the tutelage of Brian Smith.

“Me and my wife moved up to Newcastle in 2005, and we’ve pretty much been here ever since,” Royal said.

“We had a meeting with Mark Sargent, came up for two days and fell in love with the joint.

“In 2007 Brian Smith tapped me on the shoulder, gave me a handshake and said ‘congratulations, you’ve made the team. Your hard works paid off’.”