After 10 years in the top grade, more than 70 NRL matches and 99 in the Super League, time spent at some of the game’s greatest clubs playing alongside some of the greatest players ever and an NRL Premiership, you’d be expecting a starting spot wherever you end up.. right?
Admittedly, there’s plenty of footballers that would but get to know the down-to-earth, modest and all-round good guy that is Heath L’Estrange and you’ll start to learn it’s not about what grade you’re playing in, it’s just that you’re still playing.
Back in 2004 a fresh-faced L’Estrange strolled through the doors at Roosters HQ, ready for the biggest challenge he’d ever faced – first grade footy.
Just 18 years old and about to start his professional career alongside the likes of Brad Fittler, Craig Fitzgibbon, Adrian Morley and Craig Wing, L’Estrange was a kid in an NRL candy store.
His dream had come true.
Fast-forward 10 years and L’Estrange again walks his way into Roosters HQ the new guy. He’s not the young-pup starting his career, nor is he the old stalwart brought in to groom the next generation.
He’s just Heath and he’s here to play footy.
In his first stint with the Tricolours, L’Estrange played 29 games in four seasons. He wasn’t the superstar, the Origin representative or the next big thing.
Again, like today, he was just Heath and he was there to play footy.
From there it was time to head North and begin life as a Sea Eagle, where he would spend the next two seasons and appear on 43 occasions for the Manly club – including off the bench in the 2008 Grand Final win.
He wasn’t the superstar halfback that guided them around the park, he wasn’t a twin brother that tore apart oppositions or even a hard-hitting centre.
He was just Heath, playing footy and enjoying every minute along the way.
Starting to see a pattern?
The next stop was England. It wasn’t about the challenge, his reputation, the money or the travel, it was a chance to play some footy somewhere different.
99 matches later and he finishes as one of the Bradford Bulls fan-favourites. That bloke with the shaved head, with the French name from Australia, just getting about his business each week and enjoying his footy.
Then the phone rings. The chance to return to not only Australia but back home to where it all began, the Sydney Roosters, had presented itself.
An opportunity to join the reigning NRL Premiers, the world’s best team, was on the table. Do you stay, take the easy option, play out your career in the Super League or take the risk at 28 years of age in trying to force your way into the world’s best team?
Yes, but not for that reason. You take the chance because there’s an opportunity to go home and play some footy.
“I’m just really enjoying being back here with the Roosters and the Jets,” L’Estrange says.
“To be honest, the best part about it all is that I’m back playing footy in front of my family and friends. It’s really awesome to be able to do that again.”
“I played in a Grand Final with Newtown and to have the chance to add to the already unbelievable memories I have with them makes me happy.”
What about being the new guy, here at HQ or over at Henson Park?
“It’s great playing with the younger guys. You really do get energy off them near the end of games,” he says with a smile.
“The boys have welcomed be back in, as the old fella I guess I am now, but you just get on with everybody. There’s no big heads around Roosters HQ anymore, it’s a totally different culture.”
Really, what’s the difference?
“When I first started it here it was a great culture, with guys like Freddy, Ricko, Fitzy and Moz (Adrian Morley) leading the way.”
“But, after they retired it was almost left to Fitzy to re-build the culture by himself, surrounded by a lot of young guys.”
“Now, it’s incredible. It’s such a tight group of guys. We have breakfast, lunch, do everything together.”
Ok, so why the difference do you think?
Without any hesitation, it seems the answer was an easy one, “To have someone like Robbo setting the standards for all of us.”
“A guy like Mini is a great example. His attitude towards his game now is incredible.”
“I remember speaking to Steve Menzies about it. He was telling me that he really felt in his 20 years as a player, Robbo’s one of the best coaches he’s ever had.”
“He learnt more off him in their six months together than he did in a couple of years under other coaches.”
“So, for me to be here under him I’m very lucky to be in this situation, to be able to come back and play footy with the Premiers and under the best coach in the world at the moment.”
Just to play some footy, aye?
Great to have you back, Stranger.