Nathan Thomas has already proved to be a dab hand at three footy codes, but his rugby-mad Dad only has one rule – no soccer.
Growing up in Tugun, Thomas was a league kid through and through. So when he took up rugby with Milton Keynes after he moved to London to work as a teacher, his father Ray couldn’t have been prouder. Then Nathan threw another curve ball, taking up AFL with the Bond Bull Sharks on his return from the UK.
The defender clearly remembers breaking the news to his father five years ago.
“Dad said, ‘as long as you’re not playing soccer I don’t really care’,” Nathan said.
“The best piece of advice he’s ever given me is to bring my rugby league and union background into AFL and just tackle blokes.
“There is a lot more open space, it can be hard to tackle. In league and union they’re running straight at you so now I have to chase a bit more than what I am used to.”
Ray admits to being floored by his son’s decision to join Bond’s backline.
“I was really shocked,” he said.
“Admittedly he had a couple of injuries and shoulder problems from playing league, and he’d undergone spinal surgery. He wanted to play AFL which involves a lot more running.”
The father and son joined Bond University together in 2018, albeit in different club houses.
Ray took up the assistant coaching role with the Bull Sharks first grade rugby side after spending nine years as head coach then assistant coach with the Gold Coast Breakers.
Despite Ray’s passion for rugby, the family’s true roots are in AFL. Ray took up rugby as a teenager after his family moved to New Zealand.
His father John, who also lives on the Gold Coast, captained and coached Victorian Football League team Box Hill.
“Dad just comes down to the Bond oval by himself and sits in the stands and watches,” said Ray.
Nathan said his grandpa ‘disappears’ after the game but passes on ‘pointers’ to his grandson during the week.
The Bull Sharks sit third on the ladder with one match remaining before the QAFL Division 2 finals. On Saturday they will battle first-placed Carrara who defeated them by five points last time they met in June.
Nathan, who won the seniors grand final with Bond in 2019, has been buoyed by his team’s gritty one point win over Coolangatta last weekend.
“That was a good boost for us. The culture is great here. No one gets paid to play here. We’re all here because we generally like each other’s company and like playing footy.”
He also gets healthy banter from his father, who is always on hand to remind him of his superior skill.
“I still kick better than him, but I played five-eighth so I could actually kick but I still back myself,” said Ray.
Nathan concedes he is a lost cause with the boot.
“I still can’t kick, they won’t let me go inside the forward 50, I’m banned,” Nathan said with a laugh.