Star Brumbies player mixes country life with training

MIXING SPORT AND FARMING: Brumbies hooker Josh Mann-Rea with his daughter Avery at home in Jugiong

MIXING SPORT AND FARMING: Brumbies hooker Josh Mann-Rea with his daughter Avery at home in Jugiong

BALING hay, mustering cattle and driving three hours on the Hume Highway every day just to get to training sounds like the typical bush footy routine.

But Josh Mann-Rea isn't swapping his work boots for footy boots just for fun.

So the Brumbies bus slowed down on its way to Wagga on Friday for a pre-season trial against the NSW Waratahs to pick up a hitchhiker and save Mann-Rea a 150km trip to the capital. 

It's fitting that Mann-Rea is better known as "Bongo", because surely that's the word that immediately came to mind when he told the Brumbies he was moving to Jugiong for life on the land. 

While some players fill their spare time with coffee dates or video games, Mann-Rea swaps his footy boots for farm boots and is settling into a world away from Super Rugby.

Mann-Rea said he and his wife Sam were both from small country towns.

“When we were living in Canberra, we didn't have a backyard,” he said.

“There was two metres between houses," Mann-Rea said.

"We just wanted to give our girls (Emerson and Avery) some open space, there's animals all around them and it's something different. Get them away from the TV or the iPad,” he said.

"Get into the bush and get outside a bit more. Hopefully buying a property is still on the cards for us down the track." Mann-Rea's move out to the country shouldn't come as a surprise because his rugby career has been anything but the conventional path.

He was a rising star in the juniors, playing in Australian teams alongside Matt Giteau and Mark Gerrard, but he lost his passion for rugby and chose a career in the mines. He was a goal-kicking hooker on his playing stint in Japan, and then the Brumbies recruited him as an unknown rake on a bargain extended player squad contract. He'll turn 35 in a couple of weeks, but instead of winding down his career Mann-Rea is gearing up for the biggest challenge he has faced so far.

With Brumbies and Wallabies skipper Stephen Moore moving to Queensland next year, Mann-Rea has a chance to be the No. 1 hooker in Canberra. In Jugiong there is a pub, a cafe, a fruit shop, a service station that doubles as a post office and plenty of hay that needs to be cut.

This is all perfect for Mann-Rea, who grew up in Eumundi in country Queensland, where his family had sand and gravel quarries.

"My brother and old man were into horses, we used to do rodeos when we were younger,” he said. “When we were a bit older I went a bit more football," Mann-Rea said.

"I'm just learning stuff, I helped cut some hay bales. Just whenever I can I try to learn in case it's something I want to get involved with down the track,” he said.

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