Daniel Harrison: Have footy, will travel

Every year thousands of young Australians head to London to get a taste of European life.

At the start of 2015 NRL forward Daniel Harrison was among them, swapping Sydney’s northern beaches for the British capital.

Harrison had always wanted to travel around the world and now, with the London Broncos, was handed the chance to live and work in the UK.

“I was contracted at Manly, they were going to re-sign me and then the opportunity came up here,” he told Love Rugby League.

“I’ve always wanted to come over. I had a chance when I was younger and I turned it down.

“And then coming later in my career I always wanted to travel and see a different part of the world.

“At the same time Joey Grima was the coach and he spoke to me about a lot of the things that were going on, and I thought I would give it a crack and see how I went.

“I came over here and I’ve loved it so far.”

It was a tough initiation for the NSW Central Coast product, who had been in the NRL system from a young age.

Grima abruptly quit the Broncos in early 2015 and assistant Andrew Henderson took over. London struggled in their first season in the Championship after relegation, finishing seventh with 12 wins and 11 losses.

Life in the semi-pro second division was a far cry from Harrison’s last match in the NRL, a semi-final defeat for the Sea Eagles against the Bulldogs.

In that high-pressure game at Allianz Stadium, Manly went down to Canterbury in golden point. The Bulldogs would go on to reach the NRL grand final, but lose to South Sydney.

But 2016 has been a different story. London, who are one of the competition’s full-time teams, started the season strongly and are currently in second spot, just three points behind Championship pace-setters Leigh. The Broncos have been reborn under Henderson with a gritty defence, losing just just three times and have won 13.

“We set a goal for top four, that’s every Championship team’s goal,” Harrison explains.

“At the moment we’re on track. There hasn’t been massive changes, we’ve learnt a lot from last year.

“We’ve had a heap of new players come in which has boosted the side. We’ve been sticking together and working hard for each other and the results have been coming our way.”

Harrison is effusive in his praise for Henderson.

“He’s real good. He’s smart with the way he does things,” he says.

“I liked him when he was the assistant coach too, he had a lot of new ideas which he put to Joey.

“Being assistant coach not all of his ideas were put through but when he got made head coach he got to put through his ideas and I enjoyed playing under him.

“He likes to get the boys in nice and tight, be one unit. He’s real good as a coach Hendo.

“He’s only young as well so he’s got a lot to learn as well. He’s taught me a lot already and it’s only been half a year as head coach.”

Harrison grew up in a rugby league heartland area on the Central Coast, between Sydney and Newcastle, and was a junior with Manly.

The back-rower spent time with Canterbury before rejoining the Sea Eagles, making his NRL debut in 2011.

He was highly ranked as a junior and named in the 2008 Under-20s Team of the Year, alongside Chris Sandow, Ben Hunt, Ben Barba, Tony Williams and Lachlan Coote, and selected in the NSW Cup Team of the Year in 2010.

“I ended up playing for Manly when I was younger and went from there,” Harrison said.

“I started at Manly then I went to the Dogs when I was 19. I went through the 20s system and reserve grade and then went back to Manly when I was 23. That’s when I debuted in the NRL.

“I played two seasons there and then had a season and a half at Parramatta, then I went back to Manly again.”

At 26 years of age with 27 NRL games under his belt, the second-rower saught a new challenge.

The Australian has made the most of his time in the UK, travelling around between campaigns and managing small trips away during the season when possible.

“In the off-season I got back away, I did a bit of Europe,” he said.

“There was a couple of times during the season, when we went out in the Challenge Cup. I went to Denmark for three days [one time].”

The anonymity of life in London as a professional rugby league player has also been different to that in the NRL goldfish of Sydney.

“Yeah it is and it isn’t,” Harrison admits.

“London’s still got a bit of a fanbase as well, which we need to keep growing as well for the game. It’s a big area to develop as well, so we need to start getting kids in there.

“It’s a different atmosphere but I enjoy it. It’s a lot more low-key but we’re looking to build it up.

“We love all the fans to come in and scream and cheer for us. One day we’ll get back up to Super League and have that spotlight back up on us again.”

One of the secrets of London’s success this season has been their move to Ealing, a permanent base for the club where all of the Broncos sides can train and play together. A community feel at the club, which has often been lacking in the past, has been created.

“Ealing’s real good, it’s great base to have there as well,” Harrison said.

“All the grades train there, we’d had the 19s play there before us on our home games, which is real good.

“The fans get to see two games and see the young kids coming through. It’s been a real good move for us.”

Harrison is off-contract next season and has yet to decide on his future. But he has warmed to London and is open to continuing his stay. A shot at Super League is a challenge he would relish.

“I haven’t really made any decisions,” he said.

“I’d like to stay another year or so and see how we go. I’ve got my partner over here so we’ve been discussing it.

“I’ve spoken to Hendo and let him know I’m keen to stay another year if he wants me, we’ll just have to see what happens from there.

“Yeah I think everyone’s goal is to have a crack in Super League.

“To do it with the team you’ve started playing with, and have that feeling that you’ve come from the Championship to Super League, and try and prove yourself again, would be a great opportunity.

“I think it’s every player’s aim to get to Super League.”

From Brookvale back-rower to backpacker, Harrison is making the most of his European odyssey. With the likes of the ex-Manly forward, captain Wes Naiqama, Mark Ioane and Api Pewhairangi in their side, the Broncos have the top-flight experience to give the Middle 8s a real shake.

“If we get there it will be a whole different game,” Harrison admitted.

“Hopefully we can get in the top four at the end of the year and we’ll get a bit of a taste of the Super League teams, see how we go.”

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