Constant presence behind Nonggorr’s ‘hectic’ rise

Murray Wenzel |

Zane Nonggorr is ready to make a big impact for the Queensland Reds.
Zane Nonggorr is ready to make a big impact for the Queensland Reds.

Zane Nonggorr was 10 when he, his big brother and grandmother packed their bags and left Papua New Guinea for the Gold Coast.

For more than a decade Beryl Britton was a constant in the Queensland Reds prop’s rugby rise.

She was there when he got his first taste of the sport, and a different way of life, at The Southport School (TSS). 

And Nonggorr was able to tell her he’d made the Wallabies’ World Cup squad before she died last year.

Britton would have been 93 on Saturday, when the Reds open their Super Rugby Pacific season against NSW Waratahs at Suncorp Stadium.

“Mum and Dad were working (in PNG) so she took care of us, drove us around, cooked, everything,” the 22-year-old told AAP.

“She was pretty special to me, and being able to tell her about the World Cup, that was a cool moment.

“She drove me to my first rugby game and we watched the Reds win the 2011 Super final together.”

Nonggorr came to Australia for a better eduction and is now studying law at Bond University.

“Very different to where I was growing up in Mt Hagan,” he said.

“We went from blackboards and chalk to those smart boards. 

“In Mt Hagan we had four actual computers in the whole school, and the school was probably the size of one TSS field.”

However, the physical attributes of the man dubbed “Baby Thor”, in a nod to former Reds prop Taniela Tupou, have kept his studies on the backburner.

Identified by former Reds coach Brad Thorn, then fast-tracked by now-departed Wallabies coach Eddie Jones, Nonggorr found himself playing in a World Cup as a 22-year-old.

“The personal journey of development for me, it’s pretty hectic to look back on,” he said of his finish to 2023.

“The training we did (under Jones) was some of the hardest I’ve done, ever, and every experience helped.”

His Test debut in Pretoria against South Africa was another eye-opener for the prop, who has returned to Ballymore keen to make his mark under new coach Les Kiss.

“We all want to win,” Nonggorr said of the side that won just once against New Zealand opposition last year.

“It was a big year. I just want to build on it and use my experiences I learnt.”

Kiss can see a driven man arriving at a telling moment in his career.

“This is the type of game you find out some important things about where he can go,” the coach said of the Suncorp Stadium contest.

Reds coach Les Kiss
Reds coach Les Kiss can’t wait for the Super Rugby Pacific opener in Brisbane against the Waratahs.

“The expectation of himself is massive. He’s smelt it now. 

“He’s got a big task against Belly (Angus Bell), a formidable guy.

“That’s his bread and butter – manage that, then find the solutions to get in front of it.”

The Reds will start favourites after a comfortable trial victory in Roma two weeks ago, while the Waratahs have had to shuffle their backline after Lalakai Foketi’s neck injury at Thursday’s training.

Fullback Joey Walton will shift to centre, while 19-year-old Max Jorgensen, named on the bench, will instead wear the No.15 in his comeback from a broken leg suffered during the Wallabies’ World Cup camp.