From a western Sydney lounge-room floor to one of the toughest jobs on rugby league’s biggest stage. From crippling pain whenever he jumped, because his 193-centimetre frame was growing too quickly for his body, to being one of the NRL’s most impressive physical specimens.
Stephen Crichton, 21, and still just midway through his third season in the NRL, takes it all in his giant stride.
Proud parents Sina and Va’a, who uprooted Stephen and his siblings from Samoa to settle in Mt Druitt, will make the trip across the country with Stephen’s partner, Leone. It’s a smaller contingent than the 49 family and friends Crichton shouted tickets for to Origin I out of his match payments, but they played the largest part of all in his rise to NSW honours.
“Mum and Dad raised six kids when they first landed in Oz, then eight of us all together, in a three-bedroom house,” Crichton said. “I’ll always look after them because they looked after me.
“They took that leap for us as kids when they were comfortable in Samoa, and they’ve sacrificed so much for us all over the years. Dad’s proud as anything and he’s the one who encouraged me to keep going with footy. I’ll always be grateful for that.”
Crichton’s obvious athletic gifts meant he seemingly had the sporting world at his feet: there was interest from the AFL’s GWS Giants and Australian schoolboy trials in basketball and rugby league. But when a debilitating case of patella tendonitis, known as jumper’s knee, meant every leap the then 17-year-old took left him in pain when he landed.
“He has the athleticism of guys like Israel Folau, and then fullback-level fitness,” veteran NSW conditioner Hayden Knowles said.
“But his outlook and where he’s come from, that’s what I really love about him. He’s grown up tough and grateful. He just took that injury and everything else in his stride.
“There’s a family of fighters there, he didn’t even have his own bedroom until he was 17 or so. They shared a lounge room floor; they’ve scrapped and worked for everything they have that family and that’s what’s made sure he’s made the most of his talent.
“You expect him to smash those vertical leap tests, and he does. But I’ve seen him in a kickboxing session, he’s kicked the punching bag and made contact over his head.
Stephen Crichton packing a punch in Origin campCredit:Getty
“Then he’s capable of running the same distance as guys like James Tedesco and Gutho [Clint Gutherson]. There’s nothing the kid can’t do. If you’re designing an athlete, you end up with Stephen Crichton.”
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