“It all happened so fast!” exclaimed Atlanta Rhinos rugby league center, Terrance Williams, sharing his excitement about signing his first semi-professional contract to play rugby league in Australia with the Yass Magpies in Canberra.
By Jennie Reid
Curtis Goddard, who also signed on with the Magpies. recommended Williams to Magpies Coach Steven Naughton, when it was expressed that the team was in need of a center this season. Goddard has both played against Williams in USARL 2015 National Championship opponent (Boston 13s), and alongside each other for the USA in last years Colonial Cup against Canada.
Williams was initially suggested to the Magpies by former Yass Magpie and Atlanta Rhinos coach, Jordan Smedley last year, but they weren’t in a position to bring him over at that stage. Through Goddard’s recommendation, plus Naughton’s additional communication Smedley, everything came together for Williams very quickly. Unlike most contract negotiations Williams found himself on an airplane and headed to Canberra in a mere 3 weeks from the initial contact from Goddard about the idea.
Williams, who is pursuing a Nutrition and Dietetics Degree as a graduate student at Life University, and is a dual sport athlete. He plays rugby union at Life University in the fall and spring, which is known as one of the premier rugby programs in the USA. He plays rugby league in the summers with the Atlanta Rhinos, the 2015 USARL national championship runners-up. In all, this would have put him in a very comfortable position for the upcoming 2016 sporting seasons in the Greater Atlanta area.
Unfortunately for Williams, but fortunately for rugby and rugby league, he was not selected to receive the gridiron (football) college scholarship he had always dreamed for. He had been playing football since age 10, and being snubbed was devastating. Thanks to his roommate, Alex Nevis, who played rugby, he invited him to practice that same day and Williams never turned back. Initially he wasn’t sure it was for him; not knowing what was going on at first, but he decided to press on and joined the team at Georgia Southern University
In his very first game playing rugby union versus Georgia Tech in 2013, he scored two tries and was absolutely hooked.
In 2014, Terrance joined new franchise team the Atlanta Rhinos and began playing rugby league and his transferable skills and athleticism from his gridiron days were immediately evident, and even more pronounced. After a successful debut season he was invited, along with Joseph Eichner, as the only two Americans to spend the week training with Brian McDermott and the Leeds Rhinos, where they found themselves playing against the USA Pioneers International developmental squad. “I got selected, because I had a breakout season,” said Williams.
“Training with the Leeds Rhinos was unbelievable! They made me feel like I was a part of the team, and those guys will be my brothers for life.”
After receiving two caps for the USARL Hawks in both Colonial Cup games, Williams knows this is exactly what he wants to do; pursue a professional rugby league career, represent his country, and travel the world in doing so. Beginning his career with the Yass Magpies in Australia in the Canberra Raiders Cup competition will offer him an opportunity to play at a high level in the NSW region of Australia, outside of the NRL and New South Wales Cup Competitions. This incredible opportunity will also allow him to continue improve his game under the direct guidance of former Sydney Rooster, Steven Naughton. This should lead nicely into his preparation to hopefully once again be selected for the USARL Hawks in the upcoming 2017 Rugby League World Cup.
“Doing this undoubtedly bumps you up in the pool of USARL players, and allows you to be the best you can be at the highest possible level, better enabling you to put your destiny into your own hands.” said Goddard
As his USARL Hawks teammate and opponent in the 2015 USARL National Championship, Goddard knew about Williams’ abilities first-hand and knows that he is a rare find. “Terrance is an extraordinary athlete, and it is rare to have somebody with the size to run over defenders in the backline or the athleticism to step around them and then beat them down the field in a footrace.” Naugton also recognizes his athleticism. “His (Williams) physical attributes – both speed and power will hopefully hold him in good stead when transitioning to this competition.”
Williams will be a “piece to the puzzle that will help the Magpies be more competitive in the Canberra Cup Comp,” said Goddard. Also, because of the willingness and knowledge of the coaches to not just pick the best side, but also develop talent, Goddard knows that it will be a good fit for Williams in his journey to one-day play at the highest professional levels of rugby league. The willingness of the Magpies coaches to spend extra time with Goddard and Williams to teach them the nuances of the game will undoubtedly help them turn the corner as rugby league players. “I have been doing extra work with Curtis, and aim to do the same with Terrance in order to bring them both up to speed with game in Australia and help them improve.” said Naughton.
Goddard already had a few weeks of practice and one pre-season match with the Magpies, and his insight for Williams about expectations and the culture of the team was huge in his decision making process in selecting the club. There are other teams in Australia open to bringing in more USA players as well, which “provides them with the opportunity to play the game at a much faster pace, build their resume, and get out of their comfort zone,” said Goddard. With the Magpies, Williams has a very good chance of starting, because of their need at center, whereas he may not have had such an opportunity at the higher-grade Australian teams he was considering. “It’s going where you’re not only wanted, but needed,” said Goddard.
Williams and Goddard, once opponents in a national championship final, and one-time teammates for the USARL Hawks national team, are now going to be teammates in Australia, learning even more of the culture of rugby league together.
Beyond that, they will be roommates along with Goddard’s fiancée Brigitte and son Ivan in Goddard’s home until Williams gets settled. This is an excellent demonstration of the sportsmanship and camaraderie of rugby league athletes. Williams’ passion and dedication to rugby league is evident upon speaking with him. In his final days before departing for Australia, Williams said, “I’m doing everything I can to get prepared.” He’s focused on nutrition to gain weight, and relentless gym sessions. With this rugby league passionate attitude, he’s ready for the thrill of boosting his level of playing rugby league in Australia and building his technical skills with his Yass Magpies teammates and coaches.
“Rugby changed my life,” said Williams. The relationships developed globally through rugby league are exciting and unique. Williams gives his sincere thanks and much appreciation to Salesi Tongamoa and Nick Newlin for coaching the Atlanta Rhinos last season when they did not have a coach. He truly appreciates their excellent advice on and off the pitch. In building strength, he thanks his coaches Steve Pharr and Wayne Groves for their training programs. “Without people like this, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I am truly grateful for them and my amazing family, who are my greatest support system.