NRL News: Defiant Roosters stage their own Jennings 300 celebrations, off-contract Bronco star playing for his future


Premiership heroes from 2013 had a starring role as the Sydney Roosters delivered on their promise to celebrate Michael Jennings’ 300-game milestone behind closed doors.

Ahead of Thursday night’s clash against Newcastle, the NRL announced it would not mark Jennings’ milestone with traditional festivities due to the centre’s “past conduct”.

Jennings tested positive to performance-enhancing drugs in 2020, serving a three-year ban. He was also found, following a civil case in the NSW District Court in 2021, to have sexually assaulted his wife four times during their marriage.

Jennings has yet to pay Kirra Wilden the almost $500,000 in damages ordered as part of the case she brought against him. He has not been subject to criminal trial and has denied Wilden’s allegations.

As Jennings’ return to the league divided fans, the NRL made clear that it would not stand in the Tricolours’ way if they chose to celebrate the 35-year-old themselves.

Jennings led the Roosters out at McDonald Jones Stadium on Thursday night with his two children in tow, stopping for photographs to mark the moment.

Michael Jennings celebrates playing 300 games with Daniel Tupou. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

After the Roosters’ 22-20 win, Jennings’ teammates immediately mobbed him in celebration.

“Just the way we’ve seen him come back, fight really hard for a place in the squad, he’s been such a good influence on the squad,” said five-eighth Luke Keary.

A group of Jennings’ friends and family travelled to Newcastle for the game, including brothers George and Robert, who have had NRL careers of their own.

Jennings’ 2013 premiership teammate Frank-Paul Nu’uausala was also in attendance, with family and friends gathering in the sheds post-game to share in the victory over drinks.

The entire party wore custom-made Jennings shirts, which featured photos of the centre in the jerseys of the three clubs he represented: Penrith, Parramatta and the Roosters.

Earlier in the week, the Roosters extended an invite to their 2013 premiership team to visit the club’s headquarters and pay tribute to Jennings, who played at centre in that win over Manly.

Premiership captain Anthony Minichiello was among the visitors.

Such was the extent of the tributes, Daniel Tupou, one of only two other Roosters from that 2013 team still at the club, did not have the chance to make a speech.

“It was sort of a reunion of the 2013 team,” Tupou told AAP. “It was pretty emotional.”

That’s two for Tupou! ????

— Sydney Roosters ???? (@sydneyroosters) April 11, 2024

Tupou had the chance to commemorate Jennings’ career on game day.

“It felt like we were running it back from 2013, 2014, and all those memories we created,” Tupou said of the ensuing win. It’s just a full-circle moment.”

Roosters coach Trent Robinson doubled down on his support for Jennings post-match after receiving criticism from some quarters during the week.

“I’m really proud that he could lead his kids out there. He’s the first Tongan to play 300 games,” he said.

Robinson has already flagged that the State of Origin period could present more opportunities for Jennings to play at NRL level, with the back-line set to be reshuffled to compensate for Tedesco’s likely absence. “It’s all in Robbo’s hands,” Tupou said.

“I’m confident he will get another few more games under his belt this year.”

Oates’ future uncertain

Off-contract Brisbane winger Corey Oates faces an uncertain future but he is certain of the one thing he wants to do for the club before the curtain comes down on his stellar NRL career.

“I probably owe the club a premiership to be honest, that’s about it,” Oates said.

Oates was left sprawled on the turf at the end of normal time in the 2015 grand final as North Queensland winger Kyle Feldt scored in the corner to level the scores. In golden point, Johnathan Thurston put a dagger in Brisbane hearts to secure a 17-16 win.

The 29-year-old has played 203 games for the Broncos and is the only survivor of the 2015 decider still playing at the club.

He was left out of the team for last year’s grand final loss so he has not been back to a season finale since 2015.

Oates will replace starting winger Deine Mariner (fractured back) in Friday night’s clash at Suncorp Stadium with the Dolphins after playing the previous two games off the bench. It’s early days in the season but winning a title is already on his mind.

“It’s what you do. It’s why you play the game. Yes you love it, but the end goal is the premiership,’ Oates said.

“When you’ve been doing it for as long as I have, the last thing you want to do is finish without one.

“It’s not easy to get to, that’s the hardest part – actually getting there. You don’t go through all the pre-season training and all that hard work to not actually win one.

Corey Oates. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

“That’s why you put in every week – all the pain, all the suffering and all the hurt you go through is for the premiership. That’s all I’ve wanted my whole career, especially at this club.”

Oates has been signing one-year extensions more often than not in recent seasons and is used to the pressure that places upon him to perform.

“I’m always hoping there’s something there for me at the end of the year, but I’ve been doing it for a little bit now. I’ll just do it year-by-year,” he said.

“I don’t like making (contract) decisions early on now.

“I didn’t like it when I first did it, but I actually ended up playing my best footy when I did.

“It keeps you honest. It makes you realise it’s a professional job … a full-time job and it’s not something you just go out and do for one year and then get a big contract and chill out.

“The one-year (deals) to be honest I think are probably the best thing for me. They’ve kept me going all this time.”

Oates has scored 119 tries for the Broncos and sits fourth on the all-time list. With Mariner out for up to five weeks he has a chance to reclaim his favourite position.

“It’s very unfortunate for Deine and hopefully he can heal up well and quick, but for me it’s just about going out and doing my job,” Oates said.

“I don’t need to think I need to do any more. I feel what I can bring to a team is beneficial, so as long as I do that I’m pretty happy.”

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