LUKE O’DONNELL will arrive in England for the start of Super League XVI confident he can prove a Giant hit.
Huddersfield have finally completed a four-year deal to bring the former Australia Test back-row forward from North Queensland Cowboys to the Galpharm Stadium.
The 29-year-old rejected offers from the Cowboys, as well as fellow Australian NRL clubs Newcastle Knights and Cronulla Sharks, to test himself in the English game, amid rumours he had become frustrated by the disciplinary system Down Under. Over the years he has incurred the wrath of the judiciary
It’s a claim hotly disputed by O’Donnell, with the value of the Giants deal an appealing aspect, although it is known to be well short of the £1m reported in the Australian press.
Instead, it is the prospect of experiencing life on the other side of the world that tipped the balance, which O’Donnell concedes is incredibly exciting.
“I absolutely loved my time in England when I toured with Australia for the 2005 Tri-Nations,” said O’Donnell.
“That’s when I really started to think about the prospect of playing in England at some stage.
“But it’s taken until now for that opportunity to come along, and I’m delighted a deal’s been done. It’s a bit of a dream to be honest.
“I know a lot has been made in the media about how I’d had enough of the judiciary system, but I wouldn’t read too much into that. I didn’t say anything myself.
“It’s true there were a few decisions that disappointed me, but that definitely wasn’t the reason for wanting to come and play in England.
“This is an incredible opportunity for me and my family, and I know it’s going to be an amazing experience.”
O’Donnell will arrive in England around Christmas time with his wife, Tania, and daughter Leila (nine months).
And he admits Tania’s blessing was crucial in the final decision being made.
“It’s obviously a daunting prospect, not just for me but for Tania,” he added.
“She was obviously a little worried at first, but we know opportunities like this don’t come along very often.
“It’s the chance to experience a different culture and see Europe at the same time. Tania has family in Italy, and this is a great chance to pay them a visit.
“Clearly, we didn’t rush into a decision and we took a lot of advice from people we already knew over there.
“Someone I spoke to about life on and off the pitch was David Faiumu.
“We were teammates at the Cowboys and someone I knew I could trust to get a fair assessment of what it’s like.
“It’s pretty obvious he’s having a great time, and that was a big factor.
“He enjoys the lifestyle and he enjoys the footy, so you can’t really go much wrong.
“And from what I’ve seen the Giants do play a good brand of footy.
“They had a great year last year, and could still have a big shout in the semis this time, too.
“We don’t get to see many Super League games over here in Australia, which is a real shame, but they do show the odd game on Foxtel.
“I’ll obviously be keeping a very sloe eye out for the Giants now.”
LUKE O’DONNELL made his first-grade debut with Balmain Tigers on July 31, 1999, making three appearances from the bench.
From 2000, the 29-year-old played four seasons with Wests Tigers, playing a total of 48 Australian NRL games.
However, in the second game of the 2003 season, O’Donnell received an 11-week ban for a late, high tackle that left current Warrington Wolves hooker Michael Monaghan with a broken jaw and played no further games for the Tigers. At the time it was the second longest suspension in NRL history.
O’Donnell joined North Queensland Cowboys from the 2004 season and was soon earning representative honours.
In 2004, he was in the first Cowboys team to make the NRL semi-finals, and in 2005 he played in the Grand Final against the Tigers.
That was also the year he was picked for Australia for the 2005 Tri-Nations series in England, where he made the first of his 10 Test appearances.
Early in the 2007 season, O’Donnell was involved in a ‘wishbone’ tackle that pulled all his hamstring muscles on his left leg away from the pelvic bone, ruling him out for the rest of the year.
The opposition players involved, including former Giants star Liam Fulton and Bronson Harrison were not charged over the incident.
In 2008, O’Donnell received a seven-week suspension relating to two separate striking charges and abusing a sideline official.
However, in August, 2008, he was named in the preliminary 46-man Kangaroos squad for the 2008 Rugby League World Cup.
O’Donnell was selected for City in the City v Country match on May 8, 2009, and later that month he was named in the 17-man squad to represent New South Wales in the opening State of Origin match in Melbourne.
And last month, O’Donnell was banned for three weeks for a spear tackle on Queensland’s Darius Boyd in State of Origin II, which sparked a mass brawl during which he appeared to head butt Dave Taylor.
He is now back from suspension and determined to finish the season with the Cowboys as strongly as possible.
Date of birth: October 22, 1980.
Place of birth: Liverpool, New South Wales, Australia.
Height: 186cm (6ft 1in).
Weight: 102kg (16st 1lb).
Position: Second row, loose forward.
Representative honours: City, New South Wales, Australia (10 Tests).
Previous clubs: Balmain, Wests Tigers.