Ricky Stuart’s Parramatta Eels of 2013 had a superstar in Jarryd Hayne, a rampaging wing man in Semi Radradra, and a cocky little half called Chris Sandow capable of hot takes and big plays. But outside of resurrected captain Rene Maitua, the Eels were borderline anonymous. And they were whacked by the spoon.
Meanwhile in Brisbane Corey Norman wasn’t sure what the Broncos planned with Scott Prince. And while he was okay with fullback - cool position - he felt five-eighth was his position. He was a better No.6. Plus the Eels money was good. Stuart talked a good game about whom he planned to sign. Crucially he said there’s a spot down here and it’s yours if you want it.
And down to Sin City our Corey came. No family. A couple mates. But Sandow was the only player he knew. Then another person he knew, Stuart, got an offer from Canberra and out the door he went. Norman says he was surprised but, ultimately, cool with it.
“Mate I’m the type of person, it is what it is. It happened. I’m not going to dwell on who’s my coach. It was more, ‘Let’s go'. That stuff doesn't affect me.”
He did enquire of the new coach, however.
“Yeah I asked around about Brad Arthur, and heard nothing but good things. Looking back, Parramatta is very thankful to end up with him.”
Things were still a bit different than at the Broncos, however.
“Parra used to use the stadium for weight sessions and then go to a local field and train. One time Brad did a video session in the shed of the local junior footy club. There was an old projector, an old screen. It was the U/8s’ dressing room. Coming from the Broncos you had the best of the best and to start with I was like, ‘What have I got myself in to?’”
And so Corey Norman did what he’s always done – coasted. He’d always been really good at footy. It’d always come easily. And he just did what had always come naturally. He played. And he did pretty well without busting a gut. For hard-arse coach types, even perceived insouciance is maddening. It was for Arthur. So he sat his five-eighth down.
“Brad said, ‘What do you want to get out of your career?’,” says Norman. “And I couldn’t give him an answer. So I sort of gave him the obvious ones: I want to play Origin, I want to play rep footy. He sort of looked through that.
“And he goes, ‘Are you going to be happy just being a football player, plodding along and not fulfilling your potential? Or do you really wanna crack on and make something of your career?’
“And it kind of hit me. Because I probably was just happy plodding along and just playing. Because it had come so easy. After that he said he’s going to be on my back, riding me. And he has been. And each year I'm getting better and better.”
In game three of 2019, Corey Norman became Maroons Origin player No.201.
Today Norman is doing his best with his clothing line “YTKR” (“You Know The Rules”) which has been running now about four years. And he’ll continue to learn the business of selling clothes and about not being a footballer.
“Football is obviously my main priority and [former Warriors, Penrith and Manly player] Isaac John does a lot of the stuff building the company. But in years to come hopefully we’re still going well and it builds and something big might happen out of it. And hopefully I can find a role in the business and transition out of football fairly easily. It’s probably one of football players’ biggest fears, retirement.”
The NRL offers courses in business, economics, or anything a player would like to get into. Norman hasn’t taken one up. And it worries him, as much as anything can.
“Mate, I was flat out trying to work out school when I was at school,” he says. “I’m not the brightest kid! So thinking about business, or whatever you want to do after footy, mate, it’s a very scary thing. Especially if you’ve come out of school straight into grade.
“I don’t buy into that thing people say that a footballer has missed out on society or being in the workplace, because footy is a workplace. It’s just a different kind of workplace. But it’s the only one I know. Being paid to play football is all I’ve ever done. And re-training for something else … it’s a scary thought.”
For the time being footy fans will continue to enjoy the cool and skilled play of the No.6 for St George Illawarra Dragons and, he hopes, Queensland Maroons. We’ll see him throw tumbling soft passes to team-mates, take on the line with nimble feet, and launch the Steeden long for the line, for territory, for Saints. And coach Paul McGregor will continue to bark at and motivate his talented pivot. And Corey Norman will continue to look like he’s lazing in a hammock on the sands of Seminyak.
“I am very laid back, it’s true,” he says. “And I think, looking back, it’s probably hurt me the most as well. I am very carefree and cruisy. And sometimes that can transfer into my football. When I was young at the Broncos I was guilty of hanging back and not taking the game on.
“But as I’ve got older, I know how to tune in. And when it's time to go it's time to go and I can take the game by the scruff of the neck.”