He is certainly one of the biggest characters to put on a Tumut Blues jersey in recent years, and now, 2019 premiership winning forward Benny Warner, is suiting up for the Royal Devils in the Tumut Pub 9s.
The Cootamundra product played for the Blues in 2019 alongside Tommy and Joey Warner, and while he was here, he played for the Devils so when he had the call from Mat Chapman and Paddy Bristow to suit up for the Royal, he couldn’t resist.
“When you get in the sheds with blokes like Paddy Bristow and Chappy, they make it more than social footy – they put a bit of spirit into it,” Warner said.
“They pump us up and get us excited and they make it enjoyable and that is why I am back and playing for the Devils.”
The bustling bookend, who is also quick on his feet, is suited to the 9s format, and last Friday night, he was one of the best forwards in both Devil’s games, setting a strong platform for his elusive outside backs.
“We have a mix of some big blokes and fast exciting blokes, that way the big blokes have a few hit ups and suck a few in and the young fellas can play their game and that is why Reggie and Kaidan were splitting them open last week.”
Warner plays in the Group 7 competition these days, lining up with his brothers for the Albion Park-Oak Flats Eagles and he said the Pub 9s competition was a great way to get match-ready and catch up with premiership winning teammates at the same time.
“When you get on and train, you can run shuttles and do fitness all day long, but there is nothing like match fitness, making tackles and getting up off the ground,” Warner said.
“The Pub 9s is great, you can tell how popular it is. The weather hasn’t been great but the crowd still flocks down to it. You can tell there is a big footy culture in the town and it is great to be a part of it.”
Warner hinted the top of the table Royal would only get better this week, with the well-rounded side getting their playing style sorted in the opening weeks, before taking on the Star tonight.
“I think we will improve, there is a few teams that train a bit, and we don’t train, so in that first week, we had to blow the cobwebs out,” Warner said.
“Last week, everyone did their job and now we have a big game against Star on Friday and if we win that, we go a long way to getting that top-two spot.”
Warner pumped up his younger brigade, and hoped to see some of the Gundagai juniors currently playing for the Royal eventually switch allegiances and play for the Blues when push comes to shove.
“Young Hibbo (Jamie Hibbens), he has been a bit of an unsung hero, finishing off the tries, and taking tough carries – all the young fellas are going well,” Warner said.
“I know a few of them are playing with Gundagai, but hopefully they see the light and come to the Blue and White.”
Warner agreed with the Tumut Old Boys and their reasoning for running the annual competition, suggesting the Pub 9s was a great platform to unearth future first graders.
“It’s good for the young guys, it gives them confidence after playing against men and coming out of 19s,” Warner said.
When quizzed on whether he would be coming back to the Tumut Blues in 2021 or beyond, Warner admitted it had crossed his mind, but with his life now in Wollongong, he is committed to helping the Eagles to a Group 7 title.
“I thought about it and that was sort of the attraction to come back and play for the Royal, so I could catch up with everyone,” Warner said.
“The first week back, I caught up with all but four blokes from that (2019) team and it is a good community and it will always be a home away from home for me.”
Warner hopes to lead Albion Park to a premiership too, after their 2020 campaign fell to pieces in the wake of Covid-19.
“I’ll be at Albion Park again this year. This year we will have a full preseason and hopefully Covid doesn’t interrupt it again,” Warner said.
“Last year, we won the Illawarra 9s knockout and flogged Junee in a trial, then it was over for eight weeks with Covid and we lost our momentum.”
For the time being, Warner will focus on the Tumut Pub 9s, with the Royal taking on the Star in the first game tonight.
In other big contests, Commercial need to beat a winless Adelong if they want to stay alive in Roddy Shield competition, while Batlow play Woolpack and Tumbarumba round out the four games when taking on Oriental.
Pub 9s Round 5 draw
6.00pm: Star Redmen v Royal Devils.
6.35pm: Commercial Sharks v Adelong G&G.
7.10pm: Batlow Tigers v Woolpack Jets.
7.45pm: Tumbarumba Greens v Oriental Colts.