The Wright Stuff: Sea Eagles rue loss of hot Wallaby wing

Matt Cleary
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Tom Wright’s Wikipedia page is skinny and bad.

The link to his Manly Sea Eagles player profile takes you to “404” and “Oops”.

Same thing happens on his ACT Brumbies profile except there it says “Sorry”.

Another link takes you to Tom Wright who played rugby league for Toowoomba in 1928.

The page adds that Wright played five NRL games (it’s four) for Manly Sea Eagles and five Test matches (it’s 10) for the Wallabies.

What ol’ Wiki does get right, however, is that 25-year-old Wright’s signing by ACT Brumbies at the end of 2018 was “a coup for rugby union”.

And as his slashing form for the Wallabies has shown, Manly Sea Eagles may have missed a trick in letting him go.

Tom Wright versus England. Pic: Planet Rugby.

Wright grew up in the eastern suburbs of Sydney in the mid-2000s where he played league for Clovelly Crocodiles one day, Rugby for Clovelly Eagles the next, as footy-mad young’ns are wont to do.

In 2009 Wright was off to famous rugby nursery, St Joseph’s College – “Joeys” – in Hunters Hill. For all bar the first term, Wright lived on site as a boarder from Year 7 through Year 12. He says it was the making of him, that he learned self-reliance, independence and time management.

He also learned, of course, rugby, where he was a star player, mainly at fly-half. Good enough to attract attention from one of rugby league’s greatest, Bob ‘Bozo’ Fulton, who was looking to replace the Parramatta Eels-bound Kieran Foran.

“Bob and his son Scott were heavily involved in getting me to Manly,” Wright says. “It was obviously a tough decision at the time. But nonetheless, I wouldn’t change the decision looking back on it.”

The pitch? Plenty of flattery, according to Wright.

Artful Dodger: Tom Wright in action for St Joseph’s College. Pic: St Joseph’s College.

“A lot of the time they were just reinforcing how good you are!” Wright smiles. “They were there to plant a seed, I suppose. But it was also around the fact that there was an opportunity at the club. Kieran Foran had gone to Parramatta at the time and there was a chance to play five-eighth.

“But what I jumped at the most was probably the opportunity to rub shoulders straightaway with the NRL squad in pre-season. Two or three weeks earlier I’d been watching these guys on TV.

“It was a pretty awesome opportunity straight out of school.”

Manly were happy, too. Sea Eagles CEO Joe Kelly described Wright as “the most exciting schoolboy rugby prospect in Australia.”

After two seasons of U/20s Wright came off the bench wearing jumper No.18 as the Sea Eagles took on Brisbane Broncos at Suncorp Stadium in Indigenous Round of 2018.

Manly had the home sheds because they’d taken their home game to Suncorp Stadium. It was the second game of a double-header (Melbourne Storm vs Gold Coast Titans was the other).

Tom Wright in action for Manly Sea Eagles. Pic: Manly Sea Eagles.

“It was pretty cool,” Wright recalls. “Cliff Lyons presented me with my jersey. I’ve got in a frame at home and it’s pretty awesome to walk up the stairs every day and look at it, it’s a pretty cool Indigenous pattern.

“And it was a dream to run out in first grade.”

Even if it was only coming on the 75th minute, making two runs for 15 metres with 6m post-contact.  There was one play-the-ball, four tackles and a penalty with 20 seconds to go.

“So yeah, that was my first little first dabble in the top grade. It wasn’t a great year for the club. You look at the results, we weren’t going particularly awesome. Lot of injuries, we were decimated at stage. But yeah, again – to have that opportunity was unbelievable,” Wright says.

He would play four NRL games for Trent Barrett’s beleaguered Manly side that finished just one game from the club’s first wooden spoon.

Tom Wright has excelled for ACT Brumbies. Pic:

Dan McKellar at the Brumbies offered another opportunity: come down to Canberra, see how you go. There’s a Rugby World Cup in 2023. You’ll be cherry ripe for it.

Two years after that first chat Wright scored on debut for the Wallabies in their 24-22 win over New Zealand All Blacks in Brisbane.

He’s now played 11 Test matches. He kept Sulivasi Vunivalu on the bench. You could say he is on a bit of a roll.

The Wallabies were on one, too, in the second half of the second Test match against England after clawing their way back from 19-0 down to get within five points with 18 minutes to play. That’s when Wright took a pass from Noah Lolesio in their 22 – and took off.

He hot-footed out of trouble, bolted into space, beat three white jumpers, kicked ahead, watched Tommy Freeman come across in cover before dragging the left winger into touch by the scruff of the neck.

It was a huge and inspirational play. Field position and possession. And 47,000 fans were up as one.

Alas a pair of dud lineouts was slow poison for the Wallabies as England’s hard-boned physicality and sharp-shooter Owen Farrell killed off the Australian fightback.

Tom Wright scores for Australia in the third Test match against England. Pic: Rugby Australia.

In the third Test Wright handled twice in a cracking try. Again, alas, the Poms were too strong, the Wallabies left to rue several early missed chances.

How much of a missed chance for Manly is Wright we may never know, though Dylan Walker and Foran 2.0 have had their moments in the No.6 jumper.

Wright has never ruled out returning to rugby league. Yet if his hot form continues this year and into the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France, the Sea Eagles won’t be the only ones counting the beans to see what they can offer.

And his Wikipedia page will be fatter and better, too.

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