No one in Rugby League could have predicted the wild and unexpected journey that season 2021 took, but for Sydney Rooster #1152 Dale Copley, the circumstances opened up an opportunity to not only return to the Roosters but to finish off his career in the famous Red, White and Blue.
The 30-year-old outside back answered a rescue call for the Tricolours midway through the season following the competition's relocation to Queensland, coming into the side which scrambled to name a consistent line up.
For Copley, it was a chance to not only return to first grade, but to recommit to the Club he had first joined back in 2016.
While that season, in particular, might not positively resonate with Members and supporters, it was one that Copley looks back on as the stepping stone which would allow him to eventually finish his career at the Roosters.
“There was a fair bit of change that year,” Copley recalled.
“Jimmy Maloney and Roger (Tuivasa-Sheck) both moved on, there was a real influx of young guys.
“I came to the Club fairly late, I got there around the end of January. It was my first time changing clubs, I had always lived in Brisbane so it was a challenge for me away from footy.
“It had always been easy to focus on footy for me, and then moving to Sydney to a new club, there was a bit going on with injuries. I did my pec in Round 3 and had an injury early on, so it was a pretty tough year.
“In saying that, I think I was drawn to the Club after meeting Robbo (Trent Robinson) pretty early as the Broncos made their decision to move me on. It took a little while to get it over the line, but I was pretty sold after that first meeting.
“I love the detail of footy and Robbo is as well; his attention to detail is as good as anyone I’ve ever been involved with. That drew me in straight away, it felt right and I was sold."
Fast-forward to 2021 and Copley was back in Brisbane, but consistent time in the NRL eluded him with just three appearances for the season.
Ironically he had been a part of the Broncos side that had upset the Roosters in Round 11, but found himself on the outer, that is until the call from Robinson saw him back in the Tricolours.
“I only signed a one-year deal at Brisbane, so I knew potentially it could be my last, but I hadn’t made a decision,” Copley explained.
“Midway through the year I was playing Queensland Cup and I was definitely learning that way. For the first time in a while, I was fit but not getting picked, and that was a bit different for me.
Tedesco Puts it on the Toe for Copley
“But then the opportunity to link up back at the Roosters came up and it breathed a bit of life back into me. To get the chance to play NRL again and at a Club I was familiar with meant I could string a few games and possibly get another deal as well.
“The injuries were pretty unrelenting and something I hadn’t really seen before in terms of one positional group being hit so hard, so I kind of thought they’d be in the market, and with the competition moving up to Brisbane it really opened up.
“It’s quite hard to move clubs mid-year and pick everything up so late, so I think the fact I had been familiar with half of the playing squad and certainly the coaches played in my favour too. It was the perfect storm."
One of the biggest factors for Copley linking back up with Robinson and co was the chance to reunite with the youngsters that took out the 2016 National Youth Competition who have now become established NRL players.
The likes of Victor Radley, Sitili Tupouniua, Joseph Manu and Nat Butcher have gone on to claim NRL Premierships, and have since nailed down places in the best seventeen each week - which was no surprise for the returning Copley.
The chance to play again at such a great Club with such a great bunch of players was something I jumped at. I certainly enjoyed the last eight weeks with the Roosters.Dale Copley Sydney Rooster #1152
“It made you feel a bit older I suppose,” he laughed.
“But back in 2016 the Roosters won the Under 20s competition, so a lot of those guys – whilst I knew of them – I didn’t really know very well; guys like Victor Radley, Sitili Tupouniua and Joey Manu who played a few NRL games that year.
“Ever since I left, I really followed the Club with interest and tried to watch a lot of the games. Those guys have grown into phenomenal players, they’re in the top bracket of their position in the NRL but back then they were working and playing Under 20s.
“Five years is a long time in Rugby League, and the trajectory those guys have gone on is pretty amazing. It’s a credit to them and the Club as well.”
Despite featuring in just two games before injury intervened, the veteran winger was not only able to score tries in both matches but also contribute to wins that would set up the side's charge to the finals.
This of course included a one-point win over former club Brisbane in Round 21, in no doubt one of the highlights of the season.
For now though, Copley enters the next chapter of his life with a young family and a Law Degree in tow, but will always look back fondly at his time at the Club and the chance to finish his 13-year career there.
Tedesco Delivers For Copley
“After two games I broke my foot and that kind of was the straw that broke the camel’s back. That was kind of when my mind was made up,” he explained.
“I really thanked Robbo for the chance to finish my career that way, and I know I didn’t play the two finals games but to be involved was a really enjoyable way to finish my career.
“I’ve got a little bit yet to finish my law degree, that’s the main focus for me now and hopefully I can secure a job in the new few months. I’m having my little break at the moment and spending time with my family and getting some exams out of the way.
“The chance to play again at such a great Club with such a great bunch of players was something I jumped at. I certainly enjoyed the last eight weeks with the Roosters.”
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