Bestowed with the opportunity of playing under the game’s greatest masterminds in Craig Bellamy and Michael Maguire, new South Sydney Rabbitohs Under 18s SG Ball coach, Matt King, is a walking fountain of knowledge.
Handed the reins of taking over a side that reached last season’s SG Ball Grand Final, the iconic league legend relishes the opportunity to help develop younger players, adapting central components from each of his own coaches, including Warrington Wolves coach, Tony Smith in 2008.
“The three coaches were different, so I try to take a little bit out of each,” King told NSWRL.com.au. “Definitely "Bellyache's" (Craig Bellamy’s) intensity and Madge (Michael Maguire) is intense too but Bellyache especially left no stone unturned. I always try to tick a lot of boxes because of that.
“Over in the UK, Smithy (Tony Smith) had a really relaxed way about him which I try to emulate as well and not take things too seriously. Madge's ability to get the best out of his players and the way he does that – I try to emulate that as well.”
However, it’s passing on his first-hand experiences that are more valuable for King, who’s determined to ensure his mistakes aren’t repeated.
King’s rise to the NRL was anything but conventional. Quitting rugby league at the age of 22, King took up several odds jobs – including becoming a garbage collector – before joining the Melbourne Storm in 2003 under Bellamy.
“A good time needs to come second when you're chasing your dreams,” King said. “I love footy and I love my mates and having a good time, but I got my priorities very, very wrong. I needed footy to be at the top of the pile instead of going out and being with my mates when I shouldn't have been.
“A few of the boys are still at school – they've got life pretty cushy at the moment with mum and dad looking after them. When you step out of that environment, you need to fend for yourself. I just wish I had the knowledge when I was 18 and left home about how important it was to be disciplined and work hard. I was a loose little unit and it took me a long time to get to where I wanted to get to. I just wish I had the lessons that I'm trying to put on top of the boys now.”
King stamped his mark as one of the game’s greatest wingers, earning nine jumpers for the NSW Blues and 10 appearances for the Australian side before joining South Sydney in 2012 – where he was key to the Rabbitohs’ 2014 NRL Premiership as part of the coaching staff.
King isn’t taking his mission to educate his side lightly, with full appreciation for what his role means in paving the way for a bright future.
“I love it,” King said. “I love footy and I love having an influence on young people's lives. It ticks a lot of boxes for me.
“If I can get the boys to appreciate what they have, understand they're in a great environment and hope they can achieve their dreams, then you're half way there.
“When I was at Warrington, I helped out with the juniors there and I fell in love with it. That feeling of helping out a young fella and make them better as an individual really gave me a big buzz. I really got into that feeling.”
As for any future endeavours to coach first grade in the big ranks of the NRL, King is simply enjoying his current task of cultivating the next generation of Rabbitohs joining a long and rich history at the club.
“It's a privilege (to coach at South Sydney) - it's exactly what it is,” King said. “That's how I approach it and I know there a million other people out there who would absolutely love to have my job. I wake up, jump in my car and I'm that happy I come into this joint every day.
“I'm really stoked I'm a full timer at the Bunnies. I'm digging my job here with the SG Ball team. But I don't know (about coaching in the NRL), I'll take one small step at a time and see where I end up.”
This story first appeared on NSWRL.com.au.