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Ricky Stuart hit Hudson Young straight between the eyes, without a hint of irony.
“If it happened again, I wasn’t going to have a contract at Canberra,” Young says, with the sheepish grin most players on the end of a Sticky spray eventually muster. “He wasn’t wrong. If it happened again, I wasn’t getting a contract at any club.”
It wasn’t the first time Young has had to confront his rugby league mortality, but ideally, it will the last. Young is now 24, with a starting NSW No.12 jersey and an upgraded, three-year Raiders deal worth a reported $2.8 million in the mail as well.
It’s a long way from staring at a dwindling bank balance as a teenager on a $300-a-match lifeline from Canberra. Young, with $700 or so in the bank, would call home asking if he couldn’t pack it in, could his family please “transfer a bit to get by this week”.
He’s even further from the 18-month ban for a prohibited substance, found in an over-the-counter supplement, that at 16 threatened to end Young’s career before it began.
Young found himself in a jail cell, more than once, for dumb decisions and petty acts of vandalism soon after.
Hudson Young on his first day in any NSW camp after never playing at state-level growing up.Credit: James Brickwood
“I always knew I was good enough to play footy,” he says now. “But there was that stage at school when that saga blew up, I thought I’d have to start again from the bottom. And I did bottom out, sure. And when you’re thinking that, you’re thinking, ‘Can I actually do it?’
“I never made any NSW team growing up and I was suspended during under-18s obviously. And that’s a good thing now I think.
“For any kid out there trying to make it, you don’t need to be playing NSW under 16s, 18s or whatever. You put the work in, you get what you deserve back.
“But getting thrown the lifeline at Canberra when I was 18, [former recruitment manager] Peter Mulholland, who’s now sadly passed away, he always backed me and helped bring me back. It’s something I want to repay the club for and I will always be forever grateful for.”
Hudson Young putting his body on the line for Canberra.Credit: Getty
Which brings us back to Stuart and the two eye-gouging charges in 2019 that attracted 13 weeks of suspensions and rubbed Young out of Canberra’s grand final charge.
Young grew up training under the watchful eye of his pop, Terry, dragging a homemade sled – a car tyre, rope and bike tyre tube – up a hill before dawn most mornings.
Stuart revived those solo sessions when Young was banned for his second eye-gouging offence in a year on Warriors back Adam Pompey, making clear to his back-rower that his career was on the line.
“That all happened really fast and there were obviously back-to-back incidents,” Young says. “It wasn’t good enough and Sticky gave it to me straight. He didn’t miss. It was tough love. I wasn’t allowed to train with the team for two weeks and everyone knew it. It made me who I am today through resilience and being able to bounce back from things.
“When I say tough love, he was always still good to me. But he told me some honest truths. If it happened again, I wasn’t going to have a contract at Canberra.
“He wasn’t wrong. If it happened again, I wasn’t getting a contract at any club. I needed to hear it. But Sticky told me that, and then he stuck by me.
“I’m really proud of that to be honest, to repay him and the club with an Origin jersey, they’ve stood by me through a lot. It’s very special.”
Young has copped choice words from plenty of opponents over the years, sledging about his substance ban and judiciary record among them. He doesn’t know if Queensland will revisit those themes in the Origin cauldron, but says they’re welcome to try.
“Words and niggle, they don’t really affect me,” he says. “I’m usually the one dishing it out, so I’ve learned how to cop it back a bit. It doesn’t worry me if Queensland try to give it to me. I might try something on, myself.”
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