Remember Tom Kingston? He’s the fresh-faced outside back who burst onto the scene for the Waratahs in 2011, took out the Young Waratah of the year, and seemed set to take Australian rugby by storm.
In that same year, he stood out among a pretty star-studded Australia Under 20s side, which finished third at the Junior World Championship in Italy. In that same side were names including Sio, Siliva, Alo-Emile, Enever, Hooper, Colby Fainga'a, Chris Kuridrani, Metcher, Jones, and Butler, among others.
He started in 14 of the Waratahs’ 15 games of 2012, but finished the 2013 season on the bench and evidently, out of favour completely. A two year deal with the Melbourne Rebels was supposed to reignite the career, but it just didn’t quite work out that way.
After playing twelves games for the Rebels in 2014, Kingston didn’t play at all in 2015 with ongoing complaints from a patella tendonitis injury.
Fit and firing again, Kingston returned to Sydney for this year’s Buildcorp National Rugby Championship, where he has been one of the Sydney Stars’ best in a very good start to the current campaign. Playing at fullback, and captaining the side in the absence of David Hickey in recent weeks, Kingston is very quickly reminding everyone of his rugby capabilities, and is determined to play his way out of his current unattached Super Rugby status.
“I am currently unattached at the moment, yeah,” Kingston told www.BuildcorpNRC.com.au this week. “I’m just exploring things at the moment; the NRC has been great because it’s given me the opportunity to get a bit of footage back out there and it’s put me back in the shop window.
“It’s also reinvigorated me, in that I know I want to keep [playing professional rugby]. So it’s sort of a ‘keep the phone handy’ type of situation. I’m trying to play the best that I can for the Stars, but I’m also just trying to enjoy it. You sort of don’t know how long you get to play for, and all of those clichés, but they do become important when you’ve been doing it for a while.
“I’ve played professional rugby for five years now, and it’s been great and I want to keep going, so we’ll see where it ends up. Ideally, it would be to stay within Australia, but I want to keep doing it so depending on where the opportunities are might dictate where I end up in 2016.
Kingston confirmed that he is exploring opportunities wherever they pop up, but that he’s also yet to get a full handle on how the Australian sides might view the NRC form of a 24-year-old uncontracted player.
“The NRC’s sort of been the breeding ground for the young guys who haven’t been there before,” he said. “I’m sort of in this odd position where I’m coming off injury and had an experience in Melbourne that just didn’t work out, so we’ll see where it ends up. It’s not stressing me out, though, and I’m really enjoying playing for Stars and being involved in the whole program.”
Kingston’s own form is a good reference point of the Stars themselves. After a disappointing 2014, the Stars started the 2015 NRC with three straight wins straight out of the classic ‘basement to penthouse’ storyline. But after a loss to the NSW Country Eagles up in Tamworth on Saturday, it made asking the obligatory ‘you must be a rapt with your start’ question a bit difficult.
“Yeah, if you’d have asked that on Friday, I’d have said that,” Kingston laughed, sympathetic to my timing.
“Not ideal losing on the weekend, but we’re having a lot of fun, and it’s a really enjoyable environment at the Stars. The coaching staff, obviously Pete Playford, but also Dan Parkes and David Lyons, are doing a great job and they’re making it really enjoyable, which is a major thing, I reckon, after such a long year.
“You’ve got to have guys that want to play, and want to turn up, and want to train. That’s the real challenge, I find, at this time of year. So, no, it’s been fun.”
The talk about enjoyment, and being challenged at this time of year would be music to the ears of coach Playford, who we profiled only a few weeks back himself. Playford spoke of enjoyment being the crucial difference between evenly-matched teams: “That enjoyment or that curiosity to get better, that’s the five percent that you’ve got to unleash,” he told us.
Kingston clearly agrees: “Yeah, definitely. I think at this level, everyone’s got the talent, and they’ve varied the Laws so it’s not ‘orthodox rugby’, and I find that what Pete’s trying to do is not necessarily to focus - we certainly work on general skills - but the focus for Pete is about having something to buy into, having something to play for, having a reason to do it all.
“That’s what he’s continually harping back on, ‘why are we doing this?’ Because if you do have a reason why you’re doing it, it’s so much easier to buy into, and to enjoy what you’re doing.
“At the end of a long year, with a young group, if you have something central driving everything, it really doesn’t matter who the guys are. We’ve had ten or fifteen blokes get injured - or suspended, in Tom Carter’s case - and I really don’t feel like we’ve take a backward step.”
With that, two things become clear; that Playford wasn’t joking when during an earlier interview this NRC season, he told me that Kingston was one of the more intellectual footballers he’d ever coached, and secondly, that Kingston explains things like someone much older than just 24, and with much more experience than just five years on the professional scene.
All that experience, along with that of his young teammates, will be tested in Canberra tonight, when Kingston leads the Sydney Stars into battles against the unbeaten University of Canberra Vikings. For the Stars, it represents their biggest challenge of the 2015 season, coming up against a side with 13 Brumbies in the starting XV.
“They’re a really good side,” Kingston said. “Even if you just look at them 1 to 15 across the park, they’re really talented. And also, just the way the NRC [teams are] jigged, you’d have to think that any time you come up against a Melbourne, Perth, or a Canberra, as a Sydney- or a Brisbane-based side, you’re at a bit of a disadvantage in terms of the player pool you can derive from.”
But Kingston says rather than get caught up in the prospect of facing a near Super Rugby side, his team will just stick with what they know, play their roles, and knock over whoever’s in front of them.
“We’re not really interested in individuals, or match-ups 1 to 15; we’re just trying to create something that everyone can buy into, and it’s a sort of ‘next man up’ scenario, where people can come into the Stars side, and we all know the way we want to play. It’s not dependant on an individual scoring 15 points, or making ten line breaks and having a great game.
“They’re a good side, and if we play the way we did last Saturday, we’re going to do it tough, but I think we can play better than we did in Tamworth, mainly because it was mainly mental errors we made, and we’ll have guys that if I have anything to say about it, won’t be doing that again!”
Catch all the latest news and views from the 2015 Buildcorp NRC at www.buildcorpnrc.com.au