Andrew Kellaway: Straight from the hip

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie speaks after announcing his side for the Springboks clash on Saturday.

Wallabies winger Andrew Kellaway has come to Test footy with a rugby CV that takes in four countries and some robust opinions

Having played professional rugby in four countries before the age of 25, Andrew Kellaway is uniquely placed to comment on Rugby Australia’s so-called “Giteau Law” that governs the eligibility of those who would play for Australia. 

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And Wallaby No.941, holds this unique position: Get rid of it, let’s move on.

“The law’s got to be scrapped,” says Kellaway. “If you’re Australian you should be able to play for Australia. That’s regardless where you’re playing in the world.

“The game’s changing, the world’s changing. If we don’t change with it we’re going to find ourselves far worse off than we are now.

“I hear the argument about Super Rugby ‘dying’ if we let guys come and go. But, to be perfectly honest, I don’t really buy it. If it were the case that any Australian at any stage of their career could just leave and go to another team, easily … it isn’t that easy.

“There aren’t an infinite amount of spots for Australians to play rugby and vanish into good teams. It just doesn’t happen that way ... I don’t buy it.” The man does acknowledge that “guys will slip through the cracks” should the law be removed.

Yet he argues it’s happening anyway. And that Australian rugby is the worse for it.

“At some stage we have to sit down and ask is it about winning or about nurturing the future. If it’s the latter I would be extremely worried. The Wallabies might look like the Waratahs this year. And unfortunately for those guys, it must’ve been a horrendous year to have to sit through that. 

“None of them are to blame, it’s the people who thought it was okay to run what was essentially an ‘academy’ side out of a professional team.

“That’s probably not a popular opinion and a little bit heavy. But I think it’s an absolute no brainer.”

Kellaway’s own journey has been “nothing short of unorthodox”, he says.

Since he signed with the Waratahs out of school he’s gone from Gladesville to Randwick to Armidale to Northampton to Pukekohe to Melbourne to Abiko in the Chiba Prefecture east of Tokyo and back to Melbourne.

His plan out of school was to play for the Waratahs and then the Wallabies and then take the cash in France. He thought that’s just how rugby careers happened. 

Kellaway’s began in Gladesville where he played rugby with his three brothers. They’d watch mum play cricket for NSW and hang out at the Hunters Hill Rugby Club that their dad was a big part of. Andrew headed to Scots College in Sydney’s east and found his way to Randwick Rugby Club.

His highlight playing for the Galloping Greens was a semi-final at Manly Oval in which he played with Wallabies ace Kurtley Beale.

“The week prior in a Test match Quade [Cooper] had been sent off and suspended for a week,” Kellaway recalls. “In order to get his week counted in club footy, a bunch of other Wallabies had to go and play club footy to make it look like it was part of the plan. Kurtley ended up playing for us. So did Steve Hoiles and Matty Carraro.

“We got dusted by the Marlins but it was awesome stuff. You’re playing with a guy like Kurtley, I hadn’t even played for the Waratahs by then. And I was playing with my best mates from school. Great memories.”

Darren Coleman recruited Kellaway to play for the NSW Country Eagles in the National Rugby Championship which begat good times touring around with mates, of boat races in country pubs.

“It was similar to Randwick in that it wasn’t hugely momentous experience in terms of (footy) lessons learned but a really fun time,” Kellaway says. “That’s the sort of stuff that makes you want to keep playing rugby.

“You didn’t have a home ground; you had a new one in every town. Every town you go to you’re the best thing ever. Dubbo, Tamworth, Armidale. They’re rugby strongholds but we neglect them, we forget that they exist because they’re so far away sometimes.

“And that’s me as well, that’s not me being critical. It’s just the truth, unfortunately. But I had such a great time out there, the people get around the rugby like nowhere else.”

Yet it wasn’t all rosy. In four years at the Waratahs Kellaway was injured for two of them. Early in 2018 he played two games and broke his foot. He was looking at five months’ rehab. He also had the feeling patience was wearing thin among his paymasters.

“I think the writing was on the wall. I’d spent two years injured, I hadn’t really gotten any better. They were like lost years. I wasn’t really enjoying it. And it got to the point with the injury, the timing of it … I got the feeling I was on the outer.”

The year before Rob Horne had left for Northampton Saints. Alan Gaffney was Director of Rugby there, Kellaway had spent some time with him at Australia Under 20s. Saints needed a utility back. Would he be interested?

“I said ‘Yep, of course I’m interested’,” Kellaway says. “But I was being polite. I remember thinking, ‘Y’know, I’ll humour him because I’m going to stay with the Tahs another two years. I’ll get back from this injury and be good as gold.”

It didn’t happen. And guillotine remained poised. 

“As much as I didn’t want to accept it, the ultimatum was pretty clear,” Kellaway says. “I never got to the point of asking the Tahs a question [do you still want me?]. But I think if I had they wouldn’t have offered me another deal. So I tried to get ahead of it and took the Saints deal,” he added.

And so off he went to Northampton, wherever that was, miffed that his journey was off on a tangent.

“It was such a weird time in my life, leaving the Tahs and feeling really unfulfilled, there was no closure. I thought I had more to offer and I went to Saints, not ‘reluctantly’ but not super positive about footy either,” he said.

“I was 21, 22, away from home for the first time in this little town in the Midlands and wasn’t’ really that pumped about it.”

Within three months he loved it.

“I still say now I’d drop everything and go back in a heartbeat. I was in a strange place but the people allowed me to be me and be comfortable being me. And it taught me about footy on the way, too.”

Kellaway’s big takeaway was perspective.

At the Waratahs he’d “stubbornly” and “arrogantly” fought against being a utility back. He wanted to be a fullback.

At Saints he filled in at centre for Horne before playing wing, fullback, wing and centre again. And he loved it.

“Northampton taught me that it doesn’t matter where you playing as long as you’re playing. I’d have played maybe 30 games either bench or starting and while I can’t say I played the best footy of my career, Jeez I loved it. I was genuinely happy, is the best way to put it.

“Northampton is what we’d consider a country town. The community is tight knit, the rugby community look after you. You had the freedom to give it a nudge when you liked. You had the freedom to be yourself. And I had a great time on and off the field.”

And then: a phone call begat a huge call. Melbourne Rebels had an opening though the money was a quarter of what he was on at Saints. It was less even than his contract out of school with NSW. He took it.

On the way home from England he picked up a 10 weeks work with Counties Manukau, playing fullback. He figured it would help pay for a planned trip around America with some mates from the Tahs.

The footy was hard. He learned further perspective about rugby, about people. He went to Melbourne and Covid struck. There was an offer from NEC Green Hornets, money that was “too good to turn down”. The Rebels were good. They appreciated that he’d taken the haircut to come home. Told him he’d earned it. Just come back to us as you left.

He did. And here he is, a 25-year-old man clearly not afraid to speak his mind, even to his detriment as an opinion about the All Blacks having lost their aura rather backfired prior to a 57-22 demolition at Eden Park.

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Yet it hasn’t stopped him. And while he doesn’t want to be an example to his fellow players, he does want to be a reminder of what’s possible. That no two journeys need be the same. And that there’s no place like home.

“I remember being told the number of Australian players currently playing outside of Australia and I remember being really shocked by the number. But it needn’t be the case.

“Hopefully with coming home and giving it a nudge, it’s a reminder to guys that it’s still an option if you’re willing to make a choice and do what’s necessary. It wasn’t easy to accept 25 per cent of the deal that I was on in England. That’s a tough thing to do. You talk about life after footy, that probably set me back.

“But then I look at where I am now and that choice was instrumental in putting me in this position. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Kellaway acknowledges his decision wouldn’t work for everyone. That the money in Europe and Japan can be just too enticing for some men and their families. 

“We’re not stupid, it’s not always possible because of the nature of the game and the way things are in our country,” Kellaway says. 

“But we do want as many guys playing in Australia as possible. And guys might see me and think, ‘He was shit when I played against him, if he can do it so can I!”

The interviewer laughs. Kellaway says that he’s “deadly serious”.

“You laugh but there’s so many guys overseas who could be playing for Australia. And there could come a time when we’ll see them playing for Japan. In another life they’d be playing for Australia.”

In this life it’s Andrew Kellaway who’s six Tests in and counting. More power to him.

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