Ten years, eight clubs, one dream: The story of Fa’amanu Brown, rugby league’s ultimate journeyman

Ten years, eight clubs, one dream: The story of Fa’amanu Brown, rugby league’s ultimate journeyman
  • PublishedApril 24, 2024

Fa’amanu Brown has had plenty of days to remember though his 10-year, eight-club career in rugby league, but the past week was something new, even for him.

After securing a release from Hull FC, he flew from England on Sunday, landed in Australia on Monday, signed with St George Illawarra on Tuesday, trained with them on Thursday and played in the club’s 30-12 win over the Warriors on Friday.

“I didn’t think I’d play on Friday but Flanno (coach Shane Flanagan) said he’d throw me in the deep end,” Brown said.

“It was surreal to get a win against a quality side like the Warriors and it was the first time we won back-to-back in a couple of years, so that’s important.

“Nobody is ever going to turn down an offer to play in the NRL, even if you’re straight off the plane.”

Brown’s move is the latest chapter of a long, winding journey that started in Christchurch and has taken the 29-year-old from Cronulla, to Canterbury, to Featherstone Rovers in the English second division, to North Sydney Bears in NSW Cup, to Wests Tigers, back to Canterbury, then to Newcastle, Hull FC and finally the Dragons.

That’s nine different stints at eight different clubs across two continents and four different leagues in 11 seasons, for those of you playing at home. The Dragons are the fourth team he’s played for in 18 months.

Throw in his appearances for Samoa, his belated debut for New Zealand – where he played in last year’s record Pacific Championship final belting of Australia – and the fact he overcame a leg injury that left doctors telling him he’d never walk again let alone play, and it’s one of the most remarkable careers in modern rugby league.

Some players might take being described as a journeyman as disparaging. Brown uses it as a sign-off on Instagram and wears it as a badge of honour. Few can match his journey, on the field or off it.

Plenty of people who have faced Brown’s hardships would have retired long ago. The uncertainty of life as a rugby league vagabond isn’t for everyone but Brown has been making the very most of what he’s got his whole life.

A group of rugby league players celebrate a try
Brown has come a long day since he got his start at Cronulla. (Getty Images: Mark Kolbe )

“It’s from my upbringing. We all face adversity on our own journeys but I grew up in a three-bedroom state house as one of nine kids. We just had to deal with what we had,” Brown said.

“It’s the hardships I’ve had to go through. I grew up in a home with domestic violence. I grew up in a house where you had to deal with what you had and I’ve carried that with me.

“When you’re chucked in the deep end it’s swim or drown and I’ve been put in that position my whole life.

“That’s what built my resilience and my character. I’m so lucky with my family and my support base, my fiance Jordan has been with me through everything. She’s been right there on the rollercoaster with me.

“There have been plenty of times when I’ve wanted to retire but I’m so lucky.”

Brown got his first shot at the top grade back in 2014 with Cronulla as the club struggled in the grip of the ASADA scandal.

The Sharks were outscored 56-0 in his first two matches. But, as he’s done so many times, Brown kept at it and Cronulla, somehow, won their following two games – overturning 22-0 and 24-0 deficits in the process.

He stayed at the Sharks until the end of 2017 – that’s where he worked with Flanagan, who was instrumental in bringing him to the Dragons this season — before he headed to Canterbury and began his wandering.

“It sounds like a cliché, but I love giving back. For me, the only way out of the hood was rugby league. That was all I knew. So I have to represent people who do it tough,” Brown said. 

“There’s a lot of kids, some kids who come from nothing, who might be unlucky with injuries or they’re down and out and think there’s no way back, that’s who I represent. If I can do it then, bloody hell, anyone can.

“I never left a stone unturned. You can have all the achievements in the world, but you know in your heart if you gave it your all, if you never stopped fighting.”

That attitude helped Brown the most during the toughest stretch of his career in 2020 when a succession of foot injuries put his career on the brink.

Five doctors told him he’d never play again. Some of them said he’d never run again. At the same time, he was nursing his mother through the final stages of her life as she battled lung cancer.

Amid everything, he found a way to keep going. He always does. He’s realised he’s more than his football career, a perspective that gives him the strength to carry on in the hardest times.

“Rugby league is a part of me, but it’s not all of me. I still have so much away from the game and I’m still young in the real world. I had to learn that rugby league is so important to me but it isn’t me,” Brown said.

“So when you go through injuries, or when you’re on a string of one-year deals or you lose yourself trying to train too hard or think about it too much, you have to remember that, and you only learn it through experiences.”

Brown is still hopeful of having some experiences left. He’ll play for the Dragons on Anzac Day against the Roosters in front of a sold out crowd at the Sydney Football Stadium, which is one of rugby league’s great occasions, and with Flanagan’s coaching beginning to take effect on the Red V, who knows where this season could end up?

A man passes the ball during a rugby league match
Brown landed in Australia just four days before his first game as a Dragon.(NRL Photos: Grant Trouville)

“When you look at the Dragons you can see that when they face adversity they play for one another, they turn up. That’s something they haven’t had in recent years and that’s what I think Flanno has bought, that winning mentality,” Brown said. 

“He knows what he’s doing and a lot of the boys are trusting him and what he’s trying to do.”

For the time being, Brown’s goals are modest. He wants to earn more minutes as he re-acclimatises to the NRL. He wants to lock down a contract for next year, to get just a little bit of security.

He’s taking his career year-by-year at this point, but the end isn’t in sight yet. The man is still on his journey.

“Not many people get to do this, not many people get to be in our shoes, so I was always going to take it with both hands,” Brown said.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s one minute or 80 minutes, you get to be out there in front of 20,000 fans.

“A normal person doesn’t get to experience that, so I’m so grateful for everything, I’m so grateful to be at the elite level and I believe this is where I belong.

“I’m a full believer that everything happens for a reason. With my journey you can’t really write a story like this.”


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