Melbourne Rebels boss Baden Stephenson has doused any suggestion of a Super Rugby boycott from his players, guaranteeing they are all locked in for what could be more than a fortnight away from home to relaunch the season.
The Melbourne Rebels have been busy shoppers this Super Rugby offseason. The Victorian franchise has signed at least ten new players to fill vacancies on their roster for the 2020 season.
Boyd Killingworth will be among the newcomers. The Shute Shield veteran recently signed a one-year deal with the Rebels, his first with a Super Rugby team.
“I’m excited. I think it’s great,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity to play at a higher level and do some things down there next season.”
At 27 years old, Sydneysider Killingworth will get his first crack at Super Rugby later than most. Among the uncapped Rebel newbies, he is a full three years senior to the next oldest, Cameron Orr.
Killingworth’s long journey to Super Rugby began as a child raised on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. His father was a zone-level rugby coach and his grandfather, Wal Killingworth, was once the Australian record-holder for pole vault.
With his favourable sporting genes Killingworth showed early promise both on the pitch and on the sand. He participated in the Nippers surf lifesaving program where one of his fiercest competitors was none other than Wallabies captain Michael Hooper.
After opting for balls over budgie smugglers, Killingworth was on the express route to his local senior rugby club, the Warringah Rats.
He made his Shute Shield debut with the team in 2011 aged just 19. That same year he stepped up to represent Waratahs A in a hit-out against the Western Force.
The teenaged Killingworth was on a steep trajectory and other teams soon began to take notice. With Melbourne suffering an injury crisis during the 2012 season, they dispatched a rather significant emissary to scout Killingworth.
“(Former Wallabies coach) Rod Macqueen came to watch me when the Rebels were down a few No. 7s in 2012,” he divulges. “I played alright against Easts, but then had a shocker against Eastwood. That was the last I heard from that interest.”
With that door closed, Killingworth continued to plug away with the Rats. It would be a few more years before his toil got rewarded with more representative honours. It came with the North Harbour Rays of the National Rugby Championship with whom he notched ten caps in two seasons.
His impressive performances with the Sydney outfit put him on the cusp of his first professional contract. However, it is was not with a Super Rugby franchise. In fact it was not even in the 15-a-side realm.
The Australian Sevens set-up signed Killingworth in late 2015 after spotting him earlier in the year playing Sevens for NSW.
Over the next three years Killingworth played in numerous World Rugby Sevens Series tournaments as well as the Commonwealth Games and the Sevens World Cup. He relished the chance globetrot and represent his country.
“It’s great playing for Australia, and going to new places was exciting. It was great fun heading to different parts of the world like Vancouver, Las Vegas, Dubai and Cape Town, especially as a young adult.”
Killingworth was a constant thorn in the opposition’s side on the Sevens circuit. His quickness and tenacity enabled him to be a turnover machine at the breakdown. He was no slouch with the ball either, touching down for an impressive 18 tries in the green and gold jersey.
With the dream of playing Super Rugby still inside him, Killingworth decided to revert back to 15-a-side rugby this year. Suiting up again in his familiar green and white hooped jersey, Killingworth had an outstanding 2019 Shute Shield campaign with Warringah.
It did not go unnoticed. Seven long years after their former coach had looked and passed on Killingworth, the Rebels were finally convinced that he was their man.
He is now assiduously preparing for the Super Rugby season ahead. Despite leaving the small-sided version of the game behind him, Killingworth is looking to capitalise on the strengths he gained as a Sevens player.
“I think I’m quite unique from playing Sevens, as I’m quicker than most forwards. I led the team in pilfers in both 2016 and 2017, so that’s definitely a strength.”
He certainly has the toe, but will Killingworth have the muscle?
Apparently he does. Since signing with the Rebels near the end of the Shute Shield campaign, Killingworth has been on a mission to bulk up. He now tips the scales at 104 kilograms, which is six kilograms heavier than his Sevens-playing days.
Killingworth is not just an impressive physical specimen. He also revels in the mental side of the game and getting under the skin of his opponents.
“I’m a bit lippy on the field,” he admitted. “I like to get in player’s faces and put them off their game.”
When quizzed on an opponent’s likely opinion of him, Killingworth was candid. “They’d probably use the ‘C’ word!”
With one foot now inside the Super Rugby door, Killingworth’s next step will be earning his place in Melbourne’s match-day 23. Competition for one of their three backrow spots will be fierce, with the Rebels having a fully stocked cupboard of loose forwards at their disposal. The ‘loosies’ equate to nearly a full team’s worth of players, notes Killingworth.
“There’s been gags about that in the locker room already. Are they the only positions we’re playing next year?”
Among the contenders for the Nos. 6, 7 and 8 jerseys are a couple of Wallabies: Isi Naisarani and Richard Hardwick. Added to that duo are Rob Leota, Michael Wells, Brad Wilkin, Josh Kemeny, Angus Cottrell and Killingworth. Locks Luke Jones and Ross Haylett-Petty are also options on the side of the scrum.
Rising above the pack will be a challenge for Killingworth. He is one of only two of the aforementioned players to be uncapped in Super Rugby. Despite this, he still has high hopes of winning a starting berth and more.
“I want to have the Rebels No. 7 jersey every game, and lead the competition in turnovers,” he said.
These are bold ambitions. But, why not?
This fit, fast and feisty flanker is an inspiring story of perseverance who should not be underestimated.
Don’t be surprised if Killingworth – just like his grandfather once did on the athletics track – focuses, charges then vaults over all of the competitors in his way, and grabs that No. 7 Rebels jersey. Keep watching this space.