'I was filthy at Brad Arthur and Parra for a long time'

Hear and persistence: Nathan Peats.
Hear and persistence: Nathan Peats.

Nathan Peats talks how he plays: full-throttle, to the point, no breaks, straight from the heart. Ask him how it felt to be forced out of Parramatta to the Gold Coast midway through last season as the definitive sacrificial lamb of the club's salary cap scandal, he begins to talk ... and it's not easy to pull him up.

"Was I filthy? Yes," he says. "I was filthy at Brad [Arthur, Parramatta's coach]. I was off the club. I was filthy on Brad for a long time because he used to love me and I loved him and I loved playing for Brad. He was the best. I was dirty on him for a long time. It was in a selfish way: Why get rid of me? I've busted my arse for you and this club, and the boys, and you're getting rid of me? Why not get rid of three other players to make up for it? I could've been strong and not left. The boys were happy with me to stay there and not play for points. I'm sure Parra would've sorted something out.

Heart and persistence: Peats has been underestimated in the past.

Heart and persistence: Peats has been underestimated in the past.

"But, looking back now, it's a selfish thing to say. It was a business decision. I've spoken to Brad since and we've cleared the air. It was out of his hands and I've accepted that. In saying that, look at where it's taken me. Sometimes I think, 'F---, what would my life be like if I did stay? I wouldn't be playing Origin'."

Strap yourself in. This is how Peats rolls. Well, he did in this interview, held in the busy food court at The Star. Wearing a Golden State Warriors flat-cap and looking gun-barrel straight over my left shoulder, the 26-year-old NSW hooker talked with refreshing candour and the enthusiasm of an Energizer Bunny.

As the Eels were grappling with their salary cap mess last year, one club official supposedly said: "We've paid overs for a reserve grader in Nathan Peats." The comment got back to him. He never spoke to the official again, the official got sacked and Peats is about to play his second match for NSW.

''My job was very simple. Kick-chase, kick-chase. I pride myself on that. I'm not a naturally talented player. I just did my job.''

It seems like the game has been underestimating him for the past decade. He played for Souths' under-20s side, was given a summer contract, played on a two-month contract for $5000, smashed out 20 NRL matches, signed a three-year deal but was eventually squeezed out of the club due to lack of opportunity, went to Parramatta, was eventually squeezed out there to the Titans where he's still unsigned beyond this year and if Gold Coast officials aren't careful, they will lose him, too.

He's blown the ACL ligaments in his knee, he's played on with a broken neck, he'd only played a handful of games this season after busting his shoulder in a trial match.

While many fans following Origin I swooned over Andrew Fifita's running game, and James Tedesco's tackling, and Jarryd Hayne's Hayne Plane, the Blues players themselves were quietly impressed with their rookie No.9, who was broken and busted in the dressing room after full-time.

Both NSW and Queensland players have said that match, particularly the first half, was the fastest footy they've ever played. Peats played 80 minutes on debut on one leg after receiving not one but two corks on the same quad muscle from Queensland centre Will Chambers.

"I got two corks," Peats says. "Will Chambers skipped across the field, and he cut back in and I went a 'legs tackle' and his knee went straight into the side of my VMO [the lower part of the quad, just above the knee]. I was limping around at half-time, put some heat on it, I thought, 'This isn't too bad'. "Then, in the third minute of the second half, he had a hit up - he runs real hard, Chambers, he lifts his knee but not on purpose to hurt people - and his knee hit me flush in the quad and I thought, 'Oh no what's doing?!' The next 10 minutes, I was just on one leg limping around. Just a normal cork, plenty get them. It was disappointing because I wanted to have a beer after the game with the boys but I had to rehab it. When the siren went, the adrenaline went out of my body and I could hardly walk."

Peats made a whopping 52 tackles in the middle of the park with all of the Maroons big men, no matter how old and slow you think they might be, running at him. Big deal, he says.

"Everyone's like, 'You had a great game, mate'. I didn't have a great game. I just done my job: early service to the halves, early ball to the forwards, make tackles, if there's a chance to run, then run. Cam Smith's been doing it for years in Origin. He's a lot cleverer than I am. My job was very simple. Kick-chase, kick-chase. I pride myself on that. I'm not a naturally talented player. I just did my job."

This is why I've long been a closet Nathan Peats fan, along with many others: the kid who doesn't have the gifts of Johnathan Thurston, or the game smarts of Smith, or the size and athleticism of Hayne. But what he lacks in ability and stature he makes up with heart and persistence.

He's a Souths junior who would go to bed with his footy, got in trouble off his mum for playing in the mud in his school uniform with his mates and discovered a deep love of the game as a ballboy on the sideline at Coogee Oval as his father, Geordi, played A-grade for Moore Park following his playing days with Canterbury and South Sydney in the 1990s.

Those who remember how Geordi played know his son has been cast in the same mould.

Peats laughs: "I've seen tapes of him. We look the same, we run the same, we pass the same, throwing watermelons from dummy half!"

He gets serious.

"Dad's a good fella. He's had a tough life. His mum died when he was three weeks old, no father his whole life, on the street doing his own thing. He had four kids, successful business and played first grade."

Suggest to Peats that he looks like the type of footballer who'd play for nothing, he says: "Income's important to me but it was never about playing for money. It was about playing footy. I'm not a special talent. I'm just a hard worker."

A hard worker, sure, but only five years ago he considered himself not good enough to ever play Origin footy, let alone win a series opener at Suncorp Stadium and then come back to Sydney to try to win it before a home crowd, as he hopes to do at ANZ Stadium on Wednesday night.

He doesn't remember the tweet he posted on the day of the Origin decider in 2012: "Even though I won't make it and I'm fine with that, I would love and give anything just to play one game of Origin for NSW".

But he knows where he would've been that night: sitting in a lounge room with a group of mates that included then Souths teammates Dylan Farrell and Josh Starling. "We'd get a couple of long necks and a Crust pizza each and we'd be at my house," Peats smiles. "That was our Origin tradition. We'd scream at the TV. They'd all be as passionate as I am. I would've sent that tweet then. It's embarrassing sending it."

Juxtapose that to the scenes before game one at the NSW team hotel in Brisbane. Peats is sitting in his room, and sends off a text to his mum, Pam, and his partner, Jade. Tears are running down his face.

He heads down to the team room half an hour later to find they are there, too, along with his two-year-old son, Leyton. They have been invited to present the jumpers to their loved ones, along with other family members.

"I was trying to fight back the tears when they were there," Peats recalls. "When Laurie [Daley, NSW coach] called them up, I made a noise" - Peats makes a little choking sound - "and I started crying. I'm heaps emotional. As soon as I stood up, I was crying, they were crying, we were all crying!"

Five-eighth James Maloney broke the tension.

"Be careful mate," he said to Peats as he made his way to the front. "You're going to be dehydrated before the game from crying too much."

Peats adjusts his cap and for one of the few times in this whirlwind interview he looks me in the eye.

"I'm proud of where I've come from, mate," he says. "Through hard work."

It's the shortest sentence he's said in the past half hour. And it's more than enough.

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