Steve Cummins & Will Skelton: Opponents, but best mates

By Pete Fairbairn, 28.09.16

The 2016 Buildcorp NRC enters its’ penultimate regular season round this weekend and as we’ve done all season, this week another player in Melbourne Rising lock Steve Cummins has written exclusively for the RUPA website.

24-year-old Cummins is turning out for the Rising for the second straight year in 2016, having moved to Melbourne ahead of the 2015 Super Rugby season to join the Rebels. This followed a stint in South Africa’s Currie Cup, while Cummins has also Captained Australia at Schoolboys level and played for his country at the U20 World Rugby Championships.

Ahead of the Melbourne Rising’s Round Six clash with the Greater Sydney Rams at Harlequin Rugby Club on Sunday afternoon, where the Rising will look to secure a third straight win on the back of last weekend’s Horan-Little Shield victory against the Vikings in Canberra, Cummins writes about his best mate; a man he’s known since he was 11, who he grew up with and with whom he shares a realised childhood dream of becoming a professional athlete.

The unusual aspect of this friendship? His best mate is none other than Rams, NSW Waratahs and Wallabies lock Will Skelton, his opponent this weekend…

Steve Cummins - In His Own Words, 2016 Buildcorp NRC Round Seven:

This weekend, I will be playing against my best mate Will for the first time as professionals. He made his NSW Waratahs debut back in 2013 and then I made my Rebels debut in 2015, but we haven’t played NRC or Super Rugby against each other yet.

The last time we played against each other was in the Shute Shield when I played for Eastwood against Sydney Uni in 2013, and the time before that was in 2010 at the National Schoolboys Championships when he played for Combined States and I played for NSW, and I’m pleased to say I’m up 2-0 against him at present. For the most part of our friendship, which is nearly 15 years old, Will and I have been teammates however we were on opposing sides when we first ever met and I still remember it distinctly.

Will moved over to Australia from Auckland when he was 11, and in that first year he was playing Rugby League for the Parramatta Eels and I was playing for the (nearby) Seven Hills Kangaroos. Back at that stage I was the biggest kid in the competition by a long way, but I remember we ran out that day and I saw this bloke who was the same height as me but would have had about 40kg on me as well.

After that, we used to see each other around the traps and would always talk here and there, and then when I was 14 I changed schools and joined him at The Hills Sports High School where we hit it off and became best mates, doing everything together. Not long after that I transferred across to join him in the same Rugby League team at the Wentworthville Magpies, so we spent the next three or four seasons playing both Rugby League and Rugby, where we played school 1st XV, together. Rugby gave us the chance to travel to Japan and represent New South Wales together at U16 and U18 level alongside one another which was a great buzz.

Will’s always been a mischievous, funny character with quick wit and a good sense of humour, he’s always been very kind-hearted and of course he’s always been a big boy! I used to pack twice as much food for my school lunch every day because I knew he would eat at least half of it, if not more. He had this pair of size 18 or 19 Rugby boots which he got the absolute maximum amount of wear out of because it was such a challenge to get boots that size. They were covered in strapping tape to cover all of the different holes and he had them for a good two or three years.

In Year 12, Will was sitting around 150kg and I was sitting around 100kg, and we used to tell each other that he would drop weight and I would put some on and we could meet halfway. I think I’ve gotten close to holding up my end of the bargain, so I might have to take him back up on that one!

Will has always been quite bright and he initially wanted to be a lawyer, but then his cousin Brad Mika made his All Blacks debut and suddenly Will’s dream was to be a professional Rugby player and nothing else. Spending so much time with Will, Reynold (his father), Alofa (his mother) and his brothers, Cameron and Logan, I got to know how he raised, what made him tick and understand a bit more about their culture.

His parents are such honest, hardworking people and that shines through in Will to this day. He’s always had a work ethic that is really second to none, and that hard work is something that his dad instilled in him at a young age. Will was always putting in the ground work, running hills and punishing himself, while he took time to grow into his body; a lot of people don’t obviously see that behind the scenes. You don’t see many kids running around in school who are Will’s size, but by the time his muscles caught up with his bones he really shot through and started to look like somebody who would not only be a professional player, but a very good one at that.

I once said to my Dad that I thought if Will got an opportunity and got his fitness right then he could be anything. I said that I thought he would be a Wallaby within five years’ time, and sure enough it came true comfortably.

Without speaking to Will, of course I know that he would rather be in South Africa with the Wallabies this weekend than heading to Melbourne to play in the NRC. Any player can tell you that when you are left out of a squad it’s really tough, especially when you know within yourself that you have so much value to add.

I know Will, and I believe that for him it’s just a matter of continuing to work hard and then playing the kind of footy that he was when he originally earned Wallaby selection. It’s just a matter of using this time wisely to work on his strength and the areas he has been asked to focus on, and I think he will be back in the Wallaby squad soon enough and even better than he was before.

Since I moved to Melbourne to join the Rebels in late 2014, our friendship has become even closer. In Sydney, we were literally doing everything together; we went to school together, played for the same representative and academy Rugby teams, and then worked together after school as well. Now that we have a bit of distance between us we can appreciate the friendship a bit more.

We can go a long time without speaking to each other and it’s like we’re never been apart, but in saying that we probably speak two or three times a week. He’s been a great supporter of me and I certainly bounce things off him here and there. It’s not always about footy either; Will has a great perspective on life in general and gives great advice.

Will married Kate last year in Port Douglas, and I was his best man but I almost missed out on being at the wedding! They set the date on a weekend when the Waratahs had a bye, which was four weeks after I had made my Super Rugby debut for the Rebels.

Fortunately, in some respects I suppose, I got dropped from the team that week by the Rebels so I had the all clear to head to the wedding and I was able to write my last minute Best Man’s speech on the plane on the way up; he had his brother Cameron on standby to step up if need be!

Being able to watch my best mate get married blew me away a bit, but it was amazing to see them tie the knot. Kate is lovely and she is very strong and driven, and I see a lot of him in her; they are a great match. Will and I were actually together on a night out in Sydney when he first met Kate, and as they say the rest is history.

I really believe she is one of the best things that has ever happened to Will and they keep one another on the right path and really drive one another to bigger and better things. They’re a great couple and I have so much respect for them both.

Will and I have already spoken this week but we haven’t discussed much about the game to be honest. On the field we have our own jobs to do for our respective sides, so you go into game mode and everything becomes second nature. I’m sure we will cross paths here and there throughout the 80 minutes but we will be enemies on the field and then mates again afterwards. There will be a little bit of chat here and there, but his banter isn’t the best so it will be easy for me to just brush it off.

The Horan-Little Shield is on the line this week, after we went up to Canberra last week and beat the Vikings to claim the Shield. It was a big win for our confidence as a team; we had a whole heap of self-belief which we have maintained throughout the whole competition, but we have also obviously had some patches in games where we have fallen away and either lost or won by less than we should have.

It was probably our most well-rounded effort of the season, and it certainly re-affirms our belief that we belong with the top sides this year and we have a real shot at winning it. We’re very keen to hang on to the Shield for as long as possible now and have no intention of giving it up. We held it at the start of last year and it has been a long time between drinks to get it back, so hopefully we can keep it down here for a long time to come.

2016 Buildcorp NRC, Round Six (all times AEST):
- QLD Country vs. NSW Country Eagles, 1:00pm Saturday October 1st, Clive Berghofer Stadium, Toowoomba
- Sydney Rays vs. Canberra Vikings, 3:00pm Saturday October 1st, Pittwater Rugby Park, Sydney (live on Fox Sports)
- Melbourne Rising vs. Western Sydney Rams, 3:00pm Sunday October 2nd, Harlequin Rugby Club, Melbourne (live on Fox Sports)
- Perth Spirit vs. Brisbane City, 5:00pm Sunday October 2nd, UWA Sports Park, Perth

Pete Fairbairn
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