Corey Norman’s mother Sandy was a single parent living in housing commission in Eagleby south of Brisbane and working a graveyard shift at the petrol station to keep from putting her hand out. There was family about, and close friends Corey called “Uncle” and “Aunty”. He’d stay with them sometimes but often as not when Sandy went to work in the dark, young Corey went with her.
“She’d throw me in the back room and set me up with this little red TV we had,” Norman told me a couple of years ago for a story in Inside Sport. “And I had my blankets and that. And she’d work her shift, and I’d be out there sleeping or whatever. And when I got up I’d come out and try to help her out, just running amok around the shop.”
Norman credits his mother for any toughness in him. Sandy’s example was discipline and work ethic. The lesson was: nothing came easily.
In 2017 Corey Norman did what all of us would love to do: he bought his mum a house.
“She’s very strong, independent. She’s a very tough woman. I mean she did it tough sometimes because she didn’t want to put her hand out and ask a lot of people for help.”
Brisbane Broncos U/20s five-eighth of 2009, Corey Norman.
When Norman was old enough to ask about his father, his mum explained that he wasn’t part of his life. For Norman it was like, “if he didn’t want to be a part of my life then, then what’s the point now?” “So I grew up understanding that and I just embraced it. And all I really needed was my mum to be honest.
"I think for me personally, when I got to a stage of understanding, I said you know what, he ain’t gonna be there at the start, what's the point of bringing him in now? If it ever happened, I don’t know what I would do. It’s weird, it’s funny.”In 2012 Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney asked Norman, given his father’s Kiwi heritage, would he consider turning out for New Zealand. Norman couldn’t come to it. It wouldn’t have felt right.
“I just said, to be honest, mate, I’ve had nothing to do with that side of my family. And if I said yes I’d just be kind of doing it for the money.
“I have a lot of Kiwi mates and they are so passionate and proud of where they come from. I have no idea of my background or that culture or whatever. I’d really only be there for the money. So I kind of put that aside. I’d just be taking the piss, really. It just wouldn’t be fair.”
When he was 15 Norman was offered a scholarship to famous Keebra Park High. Brings ‘em in from all over, Keebra. Since Benji Marshall busted out of the joint in 2003 as the Incredible Kid Who Could Step in Mid-air, they’ve come to Keebra from New Zealand, NSW, Polynesia, Melanesia, and all across Queensland. The school takes kids who want to play pro footy. Corey Norman was well aboard that idea.
He’d get up early to catch the 6:15am train. Then he’d change at Helensvale and catch two buses to the school in Southport. Two-and-a-half hour trip. When he first started it was just he and another boy. By Year 12 there was up to 50 of them, kids from Ipswich, all over. The buses were packed.
Suggest to Norman it must’ve built discipline in him, all that travel, he shrugs. “I guess so. Though it was pretty easy travelling a couple of hours a day to school. Heap of mates your age, younger. It was fun.”
And when he got to school, there was footy. It was hard, but good. He reckons the training sessions he did from 15-17 remain among the toughest he’s ever done. A teacher, Kurt Richards, took him up to Brisbane a couple times a week to Broncos Academy. Norman was thrown in with Gerard Beale, Josh Hoffman, Ben Hunt. There was a ridiculous big unit called Israel Folau. Paul Green was running the show and brooked no half-arsery. They trained as top graders trained.
They even took the kids on an army camp out in the hinterland. Norman wasn’t much on that.
“[Smiles] It was pretty tough. We got 2-minute noodles and a pig’s hoof to eat. We were all starving and they fed us these pig’s hooves, there was still hair and stuff on 'em. It was pretty crazy, and a tough day-and-a-half. But a pretty cool experience.”
And so off to the U/20s and plenty of training among the top grade’s claque of stars – Justin Hodges, Corey Parker, Sammy Thaiday. Karmichael Hunt was only 21 but going gangbusters. And there was the biggest Bronco of them all, the great one - Darren Lockyer.
“To play with him … was unbelievable,” says Norman. “I remember once seeing him in the papers, thinking one day I’ll play with him. To do it was so cool. I remember he came back to training after a month off, all the rep stuff he did. And we’d been training our arses off for a good two months. We used to have this fitness test we’d been doing the whole time. And he just rocked up and beat everyone. Such an aura about the bloke. I was so nervous meeting him. I’m still nervous meeting him.”
Norman made his NRL debut in round one of 2010, the derby against the Cowboys. There were 50,000 in Suncorp Stadium. When Norman ran out it felt like he had earplugs in, how loud it was. He played fullback, went pretty well. He was nursed in – twelve games that year, nine games in 2011. Season 2012 he busted out, played all year – 25 games, ten tries, mostly at five-eighth.
In 2013, though, the Broncos did something their incumbent No.6 found a bit odd – they signed a No.6: Scott Prince.
And Ricky Stuart came a-calling.