‘Either take it now, or this might not be the career for you’: How gamble paid off for Knights journeyman

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The first time Tyson Gamble set foot in Newcastle, more than 13,000 Knights fans booed him, and current teammate Jacob Saifiti gave him an almighty spray.

And on the big screen at McDonald Jones Stadium, Gamble gave them all a smart-arse grin.

“I put a bomb up and [Saifiti] half hit me in the air,” Gamble said with a laugh of Brisbane’s thumping win over the Knights last year, the first time he’d visited the city he would soon help steer to the NRL finals.

“I laid on the ground, milked the penalty, bounced back up and then the whole crowd was booing me. I was on the screen smiling, carrying on.

“J-Saf let me know about it at the time and then [again] as soon as I got here. It was a great start with the Newcastle fans.”

They’ve quickly come around, though, and rightly so. His 47-game career has been a slower burn than most after starting in very rugby league fashion.

Knights five-eighth Tyson Gamble and Canterbury captain Reed Mahoney exchange pleasantries.Credit: NRL Photos

“Might have been a few too many beers, I’m not too sure,” he said with a grin, confirming that his parents missed the second half of his debut for Wests Tigers at Campbelltown in 2018.

In between, Gamble has spent five years becoming an overnight success with the Knights. Alongside Jackson Hastings, he is one half of an unlikely Newcastle halves pairing that has helped steer the club from the bottom four less than three months ago to a 10-game winning streak, a third straight sell-out crowd and an elimination final against the Raiders on Sunday.

Two years ago, a return to the tools – as an electrician, where he started on $8.30 an hour – looked more likely.

“I’d been full-time for four years, had played three games and I was off contract,” the former Bronco said.

Worth the Gamble: Happy times in the Hunter for Newcastle’s No,6.Credit: NRL Photos

“That 2021 season was a tough year for Brisbane and I got an opportunity in a game against the Titans.

“I looked at myself and said, ‘This is it. You’re about to play your fourth game in your fourth year. You either take it now, or this might not be the career path for you.’

“Fortunately enough, I played really well that game. We were down by something like 20-0 in 20 minutes. But we came back and I think I got man of the match.

“I sort of realised that if I knuckle down and look after myself I can actually make a career of this. That was a bit of a turning point in my career. It was make or break: you either take this opportunity or get back on the tools.”

Twenty-two games for Newcastle this year is the result of Gamble taking his latest opportunity. Bonuses triggered by that game time take his cut-price contract to more than $200,000 next season.

Assistant coach Blake Green’s influence has helped the 27-year-old get ahead of the game and “keep my perspective around the ruck”.

“I’m not suddenly hit with, ‘Play the ball right now, I’ve got to do this, this and this’,” he said. “And with Jacko [Hastings] on the ball a lot, I get that extra time to see what’s happening on the field, where defenders are tired or not really in the line.”

His playmaking skills have undoubtedly developed. But Gamble’s starving-dog-with-a-bone mentality will always be his greatest asset.

“Honestly, I just hate losing, and always have,” he said. “Athletics days at school, card games, board games, I just hate losing. I don’t want to lose. Footy was the same; I’d cry as a kid if I’d lost, or if we were losing, I’d cry in the game because I just wanted to win.

“So, ball on the ground, you’re the first bloke to it. If there’s a tackle to be made, you make it.

“The niggles, the pushing and shoving, I love that stuff. If I can get somebody else off the game – whether it’s for one play, two minutes or the whole game – I’ll take that.

“I’ll wear it and I know a lot of people think I’m a bit of a grub, but I’ll wear that name tag if it helps the team.”

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