Bryce Donovan is back at Norths, fresh from a season unique in the Devils’ long history.
Donovan played in the Devils’ first and last games of 2022 – only for different teams.
He was in the Devils’ team that opened its Hostplus Cup premiership defence with a quality win over the Blackhawks in Townsville.
And he played against the Devils in the grand final, wearing a Redcliffe jersey in a gripping decider that fell to Norths.
After the first round match, Donovan took up an opportunity with the Dolphins – with whom he won a premiership in 2018 alongside the likes of Kotoni Staggs – and had an excellent season in the halves.
But now he’s back at Norths and ready to rekindle the friendships that featured when Donovan was a part of the 2021 squad that claimed the premiership.
What’s the main reason that Donovan has returned?
“Because Jack Ahearn hasn’t stopped pestering me since the day I went to Redcliffe,” Donovan joked about the premiership co-captain.
“I was grateful for the season and for the chance to develop at Redcliffe.
“But it’s great to be back. There is an opportunity here at Norths and it’s one that I’m keen to explore.
“I’m grateful that Ravs (Devils CEO Troy Rovelli) reached out to me and I really enjoyed talking to (new Devils coach) Dave Elliott so it’s going to be exciting.”
Donovan begins pre-season training tonight, joining a squad that looks a little different to when he left in March.
His 2021 backline teammates Jon Reuben and Bernard Gregorius are also back at Bishop Park after playing elsewhere in 2022 while Elliott is also introducing new faces.
“The squad is similar in some ways but it’s also different in some important ways,” Donovan said.
“Whenever you have success, you know that you will lose players who are targeted by other clubs, particularly in the NRL or UK.
“But the difference between the good clubs and the great clubs is that the great clubs evolve every year and make it work.”
Donovan will bring valuable leadership experience into Elliott’s squad with the departure of co-captain Michael Sio as the warrior forward predicted at the end of the season.
Donovan was among a host of good players for the Dolphins in their mid-season thrashing of the Devils at Redcliffe, which helped to catapult them into premiership favouritism.
But Donovan said he always knew that the Devils would be a significant threat in the premiership race.
“A few people wrote them off but I knew just how tough they were going to be because there is so much experience in the squad,” Donovan said.
“It was a bit crazy playing against them in the grand final but it was a great experience. What a game.”
Donovan and wife Jessica will bring daughter Willow, 14 months, back into a Devils squad stacked with parents of young children.
The return continues an eventful football journey for Donovan, first played football as a five-year-old for the Waratah Mayfield Cheetahs before moving to Wests Newcastle.
He was inspired by his father Darren, who was a highly regarded local player before injury affected his career.
Donovan was signed into the Newcastle Knights system as a 14-year-old, playing Under 20s and NSW Cup for the Knights before moving to Redcliffe.
Photo by Alan Drinnen