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Houston’s boot camp stories, Knights exit, wiping out referee

Chris Houston started his career with St George Illawarra as a teenager but it was in Newcastle that he become an NRL regular.

During his time at the Knights, the backrower became 18th man for NSW, played finals and became a seasoned campaigner.

Throughout his NRL career, he saw it all.

Coaching changes, player turmoil, the departure of a legend.

In his time in the red and blue he played under Brian Smith, Rick Stone, Wayne Bennett and Danny Buderus.

The 2012 season was Bennett’s first at the Club and saw the return of champion hooker Buderus back from the Super League after a fallout with coach Smith years earlier led to his exit.

With plenty of changes in full effect, the group assembled on the Gold Coast for an army camp.

That’s where Buderus joined the team, although he wasn’t dressed for the occasion.

“Wayne’s famous of the army camps he does,” Houston told the Our Town Our Team podcast on Facebook.

“We’d done the work in the pre-season but Danny was coming back from England and still transitioning, so his first day at training was the army camp.

“Everyone’s got these army packs on, pretty much decked out in army gear. Bedsy’s rocked up and he’s got a bag with wheels on it. He’s got board shorts on. The first thing we had to do is get off the bus and run five kilometres.

“Bedsy’s got this bag with wheels on it with dust flying everywhere. The bag was nearly bigger than him.

“In true Bedsy style, he got on with it.”

Houston made 992 tackles in the 2012 season, averaging over 41 tackles a game, the most of any player in the competition.

In the following years, he added to game tally, until after eight seasons at the Knights, another coaching change prompted Houston’s exit.

While he was under contract for 2016, Houston wasn’t in the plans of new coach Nathan Brown.

“Browny came up and wanted to make some changes and told me I wasn’t wanted anymore,” he said.

“I said to him I like to stay, I like the club here. I’m happy… but he wanted to shake it up.

“It actually hit me pretty hard. My wife was six months pregnant.

“…I tried for the club and I would’ve like to have stayed but it wasn’t to be. It took me a month to get in a good head space and look for some other options.”

Without a manager and unwanted, Houston started exploring the market.

Problem was, it was so late in the season that most rosters were already filled.

He also didn’t have a manager. Hadn’t for several seasons.

With the Super League his best option, Danny Buderus used his UK network to help the backrower secure a deal.

“It was actually Bedsy who helped me get a contract overseas,” Houston explained.

“Most UK clubs had their quota spots filled. But Bedsy sent an email to a mate of his over there.

“I’m forever grateful for Bedsy for doing that for me. I ended up signing three year with the Widnes Vikings. It was a great experience but one that happened a year before I was ready.”

While overseas, Houston became a Club captain and also found himself in one of the most bizarre on-field incidents involving a match official.

“I hit the same ref twice, two years in a row,” he recalled.

“It was playing Warrington and nearly in the same spot on the field.

“The first year we kicked it down… the ref was back-peddling and we ended up colliding. We both ended up on the ground. I got charged for it but I didn’t miss any games. They could see it was an accident.

“Fast forward 12 months and someone put a kick up and I was eyes on the ball and I collided with the same ref. I felt terrible about it. I think he got a bit of a head knock when he hot the ground. I got charged for that and missed a few games.

“The coincidence of it happening two times in a row is unheard of.”