A crane driver who was raised in Perth and moved to Brisbane on a hunch is set to make his finals debut for Norths Devils on Sunday.
Jayden Stephens’ unique story will continue when he plays in the qualifying final against Burleigh Bears at Pizzey Park.
Stephens, 24, has become a Devils regular since he made his club debut against PNG Hunters in Round 7 this season. He has missed just one game since, alternating between the starting team and the bench.
Where to start with the Stephens story?
He is the brother of Curtis Rona.
Rona was the NRL’s leading tryscorer in 2015 through his speed and skill as an outside back with the Bulldogs. He switched to rugby union and represented the Wallabies before his current club contract with London Irish.
Stephens is a prop who has never considered playing anywhere but the middle of the field.
He had a taste of rugby league growing up as one of seven children in Perth before the family moved to Townsville when Rona was signed by the North Queensland Cowboys.
Stephens played junior football in Townsville and was part of the Blackhawks’ Colts team that lost the 2018 grand final to a Devils team featuring Liam Horne and future NRL players Jordan Riki, Ethan Bullemor, Kobe Hetherington and Cory Paix.
The Blackhawks gave Stephens a taste of Cup football the following season but he was unable to nail down a permanent contract so headed for Brisbane to try his luck.
“I didn’t have any guarantees coming here but I’m glad I did because it’s worked out well,” Stephens said.
“Norths has a real brotherhood feel to it. Everyone has been so welcoming since I arrived. We’re having fun. It’s been awesome here.”
One of the reasons for Stephens’ development with the Devils has been his improved fitness.
He has lost almost 20kgs since arriving at Bishop Park and his weight of 102kg, on a 194cm frame, is about as light as Stephens has played in senior football.
“I’ve just done through training hard and eating well,” Stephens said.
“I haven’t been this weight since high school and that’s probably why I’ve felt good this season.
“It’s also been busy juggling footy with work so that’s helped to keep me active.”
Stephens works as a crane driver at the Port of Brisbane, mixing day and night shifts with his training and playing commitments.
He’s managed it well, taking a gamble by leaving his big family home in Townsville to live on his own in Brisbane.
He stays in close touch with Rona although pandemic impacts and football commitments in different hemispheres have prevented the brothers from seeing each other for several years.
Rona follows closely the career of Stephens, who will take another step with finals football.
The Devils will go into the match as outsiders against minor premiers Burleigh, which has won this year’s two clashes between the teams.
But the Devils enter this match with four consecutive wins, fewer injuries and more confidence than when the teams last played in Roma in Country Week in July.
“It’s been a good few weeks and we’re starting to gel together so we’re looking forward to September,” Stephens said.