Story by Nicholas Janzen – originally appearing on NSWRL.com.au
Most Rugby League insiders would call Kurt Kara unlucky – the man himself, however, just doesn’t see it that way.
“I was named 18th man [at NRL level] a few times, five or six times actually, in 2014, warming up with the team, seconds away from first grade alongside the likes of Sonny Bill Williams, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Mitchell Pearce,” Kara told www.NSWRL.com.au.
“I had pre-seasons at the Roosters, under Brian Smith and Trent Robinson, but never [made it to NRL level]. At the time it was frustrating, but I’m at peace with it now.”
Kara, who will become the first Newtown player to notch 150 games at this level when his Jets play the Warriors at Henson Park tomorrow afternoon, is the pin-up boy for persistence – and for his beloved club side.
“It’s definitely a proud achievement, to walk away with [that record]. There’s no NRL (appearances) but this is up there. I’m proud of myself, the hard work and the sacrifices,” Kara says.
“The Newtown supporters, fans and administration have been great. They’ve all been so supportive over so many years and I can’t thank them enough.”
Kara, a utility who’s played in the halves, at hooker and at the back of the scrum among other positions, is like many other players at Intrust Super Premiership NSW level – juggling full-time work with his Rugby League dream.
“I’m a boilermaker, building steel, fabricating and welding steel together… hand rails and staircases and whatnot,” Kara says.
“I’m usually at work by 6am or 7am, it’s an eight- or 10-hour day at work then I’m off to training for two-and-a-half hours. I work for Frontline Fabrications and my boss Derek McBride has been amazingly understanding of my footy commitments and giving me the time off for trainings or trips away – he’s been massively helpful and deserves many thanks.”
Kurt, originally from New Zealand, also has commitments at home. He has a son, Nikau, who’s two, and a wife, Nicole, who he married in March.
“We’ve actually bought a house in Hamilton, so eventually we’ll go back and hopefully have a few more kids and raise them how we were raised,” Kara says.
“We do have plans to build some foundations back there (in New Zealand) eventually.”
But first, though, he has his sights on more pressing issues. Like getting the Jets to the finals. And winning this weekend.
“Obviously hoping for a good win. We’ve been inconsistent this year,” he says of his 10th-placed side.
“It’s a big occasion for myself, it’s a special achievement. There have been some ups and downs over the years, but I’m hoping for a good day and an even better game.”
Kara, who arrived at the Jets from the Wests Tigers system after emerging at the Warriors alongside the likes of Shaun Johnson, Ben Matulino and Elijah Taylor, already has some highlights on his showreel.
“The Grand Final of 2012, when we were Premiers, winning that trophy against Balmain… that’s what we all play for,” he says.
“You see a lot of first-graders and stars in the [Intrust Super Premiership NSW] competition. Each week there’s someone, you’re always up against it. But they all have two arms, two legs like the rest of us.
“[Last year I came up against] Robbie Farah. The papers came to me as I’d been listed at hooker but I actually played five-eighth. It was pretty good to come up against him, he’d been around a long time and he was an Origin representative. It was a good experience.”
But tomorrow, in front of a packed crowd – perhaps even 8,972 – the focus will be firmly on the 28-year-old from New Zealand’s north island.
“This week’s been huge – Facebook messages, videos, montages. It’s a big game, I know, but I don’t know what all the fuss is about,” Kara says.
“My day to day, the past six to eight years, has been tough. It’s been pretty full-on, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. It only feels like it started last year.
“I’ve had a great career, and if I never get a chance at first grade – I still hope I do though – I’ve had some great memories. If the opportunity does come up, though, I’ll take it.”
Few could argue there’s anyone more deserving.
(Main photo: Kurt Kara. Credit: Mario Facchini Photography).