CORBIN Kiernan spurned the opportunity to join the Queensland Reds to instead link with Avignon Bisons, but hasn’t ruled out a potential switch to French rugby.
Gold Coast-raised Kiernan is now based in the former hometown of religious royalty helping the Bisons’ charge towards the finals while weighing up a return to the 15-man format.
Kiernan knocked back the chance to join Queensland Cup side Northern Pride; and also a trial at Queensland Reds’ feeder club, Queensland Country, ahead of the 2015 National Rugby Championship.
Instead the 23-year-old joined French Federation of Rugby League Elite 1 club Avignon on a recommendation from former Catalans Dragons winger Dimitro Pelo.
Pelo, who hails from the Gold Coast, played for union club Montpellier Herault before spending four seasons in Perpignan at the Dragons from 2007 and briefed Kiernan on the intricacies of life in France.
A switch to rugby union wouldn’t be too great a stretch for New Zealand-born Kiernan, who played rugby league as a kid before turning to rugby union in his teens at GPS heavyweights The Southport School on the Gold Coast.
Kiernan left TSS at 16 before completing his final year of high school at rugby league nursery, Keebra Park State High School.
It was there he returned to rugby league and played a part in the school’s charge towards the 2010 ARL Schoolboy Cup Final.
Kiernan joined Intrust Super Cup side Burleigh Bears after graduation, but couldn’t make the club’s under-19 team.
Instead he found himself battling in the centres for the club’s third string under-19 side.
“I think it’s pretty crazy that we play on a field like that.” – Corbin Kiernan
A move to Easts Tigers, and a newfound commitment to a self-designed speed and agility program, saw Kiernan not only break into the club’s under-19 team but progress through the ranks and make his Queensland Cup debut for the Tigers.
“In high school I was real skinny but fast so I could win over 20m but I’d never win over 100m,” Kiernan explained.
“Once school finished I knew that if I wanted to play against men I’d have to put on more size and get more powerful. My theory was that I wanted to get big but stay fast so I went to the gym and started practicing technique drills by myself that I picked up from footy along the way.
“I just practiced takeoffs, and getting into my stride and I did that until I was 18 or 19, and I still do that now because it helps.”
He returned to the Bears ahead of the 2014 season but struggled to cement a place in the Gold Coast Titans feeder club’s ISC team after a dislocated shoulder in the first trial of the season put him out for the opening few months.
It was there where he spoke to Pelo about making the most of his sporting talents to see the world, and decided to take up a contract with the Bisons and move to Avignon.
“So I asked him and he put me in contact with a manager here in France and we went back and forwards, and went from there,” said Kiernan, who has attracted interest from the Catalans Dragons.
“I had a little trial with the Queensland Reds, but a week after the France thing went through so I didn’t follow up with the Reds.
“Last year after the season, (the Reds) were in the National Rugby Championship, the ITM equivalent, and Queensland Country was the team I was supposed to train for.
“I went to training and did a physical test and they said my shoulder, the one that I dislocated, wasn’t strong enough to play. I said that I just played the whole season, I can still play, and they said they’d have to get back to me after seeing our doctors and that.
“And then the next week the French thing came up and I took that. I felt like going to experience another country would be better for me.”
Kiernan and girlfriend Phoebe Mitai took Pelo’s advice and have spent plenty of time exploring Avignon and getting to know the city where seven successive Popes called home from 1309-1377.
His speed and evasiveness on Avignon’s left side has been a highlight of the young side’s attack since he moved to the Avignon.
Kiernan, housemate Roman Pourret and their Bison teammates will tackle a red hot St Esteve Catalans Dragons side in Perpignan on Sunday in their second Pool B match of the finals series.
Both sides are unbeaten in the season’s second phase and are vying for fourth place on the competition’s ladder.
Avignon head into the match off the bye while the Dragons were convincing 64-4 winners over Albi Tigers last weekend.
The last time the two sides met, Avignon proved too strong on their home (synthetic) turf, running out 34-24 winners.
The talk of turf is always a contentious one for anyone who has played rugby league in Avignon.
Unlike traditional grass rugby league fields, Avignon’s home base at St Ruf Stadium utilizes a synthetic artificial turf, which looks like real grass and is similar to that used by a number of NFL clubs.
It’s a spectator’s dream as its conducive to a free-flowing style of rugby league during the winter months, but as Kiernan can attest, it does take its toll on the players’ bodies.
He’s currently managing pain in his heels and has resorted to wearing sneakers during training sessions on the field to lessen the impact.
“I think it’s pretty crazy that we play on a field like that,” Kiernan said.
“My heels are destroyed. I think I’ve got bruised heels from the field because the field doesn’t suit my boots. Everyone wears runners at training because it’s real bad for your groins and that – it’s not a good field for your legs. I’ve had a bruised heel for about six weeks. It kills me, but I just get through the games.
“I’d never even seen anything like that before. It’s cool. It’s just really different. It’s good when it’s raining, the field. In the house it’s not real good when all that black stuff (rubber) goes everywhere after every training.”
As for what’s ahead of him, Kiernan isn’t about to rush into making a decision but he is not convinced he can handle another season on the synthetic surface.
“I might go to union, I might go back to Oz (and) play league – French rugby is an option too,” he said.
“I wouldn’t mind trying that. I told my manager and they think it’s a good idea. It’s good money and another city to experience and it’s a different sport here than it is at home.
“I was even looking at the Catalans and they asked if I had a Tongan or Samoan passport (but) I don’t have either … if that came up I’d be happy to do that as well.”