MAN OF STEEL: Grafton Ghosts captain-coach Danny Wicks stands tall by the iconic Grafton Bridge.
MAN OF STEEL: Grafton Ghosts captain-coach Danny Wicks stands tall by the iconic Grafton Bridge. Adam Hourigan

Wicks 'standing tall' at home on the Clarence

RUGBY LEAGUE: While the royal blue of Grafton Ghosts is similar to that of Parramatta Eels, it is clear Danny Wicks has left the life of NRL stardom in the rear-view mirror.

Now at the helm of his former junior club, the pre-season work on Frank McGuren Field looks eerily similar to what is happening at Parramatta Stadium, but it is a far cry from the sport's top level.

Always one to pull jokes and force a smile from Eels teammates during the toughest of pre-season training drills, the 30-year-old footballer now leads them, putting his troops through their well-worn paces.

While the former Eels hardman never thought of coaching across his 104-game career, after getting halfway through a gruelling six-week pre-season program, Wicks is quickly warming to the clipboard in his hand.

 

LEAVING THE NRL: Danny Wicks is returning home to the Clarence Valley after closing the book on a storied NRL career.
LEAVING THE NRL: Danny Wicks is returning home to the Clarence Valley after closing the book on a storied NRL career. AAP/PAUL MILLER

After spending three years under the tutelage of Brad Arthur - one of the sport's toughest leaders - Wicks is not afraid to command the group.

"After the first couple of sessions, I went home and was explaining to (wife) Leo that I did enjoy it only because you can do what you want to do," he said.

"Whether you are right or wrong, I guess you die on your sword as a coach.

"At the end of the day if it fails, it is all BA's stuff so I will just blame him. It's a win-win for me.

"This club is very professional, it has gone to another level since I was last here. The boys really turn up ready to get into it, they are all very easy to coach."

While bush football does not have the standards placed on it as much as the NRL, coaching can become a merry-go-round role, with Wicks now becoming the Ghosts fourth in seven years.

Even with performance pressures on his shoulders, Wicks is not fazed, as he said after spending 18 months in Glen Innes jail on drug charges and missing out on rugby league for four years, he knew a thing or two about pressure.

"I am definitely not feeling any pressure up here," he said. "I was even all right in Sydney to be honest, the pressure never really got to me. I could always recall on things that happened in my past that I would consider to be high pressure situations.

"I think they were somewhat stressful and I handled them all right, so something like this more so than pressure, it is a challenge, and I am excited about it."

 

LIFE ON THE CLARENCE: Grafton Ghosts captain coach Danny Wicks sets a good score in the King Of the River steer ride at the Maclean Twilight Rodeo
LIFE ON THE CLARENCE: Grafton Ghosts captain coach Danny Wicks sets a good score in the King Of the River steer ride at the Maclean Twilight Rodeo Adam Hourigan Photography

As the NRL season gets set to kick off and with the recent hype around the Auckland Nines and All Star game, it would be understandable if the hulking front-rower was getting a case of the itchy feet.

But with spending whatever days he is not pouring slabs at work for Sewell Concrete out on the boat and evenings with wife Leona and kids Chelsea-Laine, 5, and Clay, 2, Wicks has got his sights set firmly on life in Yamba.

"I have got no feelings of regret, not a chance," he laughed.

"I often call the Parra boys, stir them up about all the clean air and all the fishing I am doing when they are doing mountains at training.

"Honestly there is no regrets whatsoever.

"I get home, the kids are smiling, the wife is smiling. Having league starting doesn't faze me in the slightest, I know I am in the right spot."

 

BACK IN BLUE: Danny Wicks stretches out to score a try for Grafton Ghosts against Northern United Dirrawongs in 2010.
BACK IN BLUE: Danny Wicks stretches out to score a try for Grafton Ghosts against Northern United Dirrawongs in 2010.

That is the focus Wicks wants for the rest of life. Rather than constantly chasing the invisible brass ring, he wants to focus on raising his kids right.

"Life is just about the one percenters in the sense that it is the little things that will make you happy," he said.

"You can spend years chasing these things that are just out of reach, but life is life and you need to enjoy it and be happy.

"I have been extremely fortunate, there is no ifs and buts about it. It was purely the support around me that got me to where I was. Everyone around me standing tall is what led me to standing tall."



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