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Macdonald to live out North Queensland dream

It's fitting Nene Macdonald's career kicked off with an extraordinary act of agility and it is equally apt that it will now continue at the North Queensland Cowboys, within driving distance of his Cairns-based family after seven years away from home.

The 23-year-old winger was signed when he was 15 in remarkable circumstances when current Cowboys recruitment manager Clint Zammit was working as a player agent.

"Nene was at Northern Pride under 16s training and I saw him jump clear over a four-or-five-foot agility pole. I signed him when I hadn't even seen him play," Zammit told

"I knew straight away he was an athlete. Then I watched him in the training session and he had skill, balance and was six-foot-three.

"I took a punt on him, got him into a good system at Kirwan High [in Townsville] and a year later he was playing Australian Schoolboys.

"He has a wonderful family in Cairns. Nene joining the Cowboys is a good fit for him and a good fit for us."

Macdonald was in the Titans system while attending Kirwan before Zammit got him a deal with the Sydney Roosters in 2012. He made his NRL debut two years later.

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An NRL stint with the Titans was followed by two seasons at the St George Illawarra Dragons where his strong kick-returns and freakish finishing talents made the PNG international a regular in Paul McGregor's side.

He was on contract for 2019 but a heart-to-heart with McGregor about his homesickness cleared the way for Macdonald to join the Cowboys on a three-year deal.

I left home when I was 16 to pursue my NRL dream but I had another dream to play in front of my family

Nene Macdonald

"Mary [McGregor] was really understanding," Macdonald told

"He said 'we'd love you to stay and don't want you to go, but family always comes first'. They are the morals he lives by and I will forever be thankful to him for that.

"Then it all happened pretty fast. My ex-manager, Clint Zammit, is in Cowboys recruitment now and he knew I always dreamed of coming home, and said to let him know whenever I was ready.

"I was so close to all the boys at the Dragons so to make this move was the biggest decision I have made in a long while, but I hardly see my mum [Bessie] or my five older brothers and we are pretty close.

"To get the opportunity to come back and see them all the time was what I based the decision on."

Macdonald is also joining a team that has been dear to his heart all his life.

"I supported the Cowboys growing up when they had Ty Williams, Matt Sing, Josh Hannay and Matty Bowen who was my favourite player," Macdonald said.

Cowboys winger Nene Macdonald.
Cowboys winger Nene Macdonald. ©

"I left home when I was 16 to pursue my NRL dream but I had another dream to play in front of my family, and now I get to do it.

"I have some family here in Townsville but most of them are in Cairns and they could only watch me on TV. After seven years away it was time to come home."

Zammit said Macdonald, a member of the Emerging Maroons, has also come home at just the right time for the Cowboys after the retirement last year of club stalwart Antonio Winterstein.

"Nene is a real finisher and his 'play two' carry is one of the best in the game," Zammit said.

"He starts your sets off really well and is like another big forward because he is so strong."

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The former Dragon has no doubt he is part of a side that can repeat the heroics of the 2015 grand final.

"I'll never forget that night. That was the best grand final I have ever seen and I was going off at the TV when the Cowboys won," Macdonald said.

"They've done it before and there is in doubt we can do it again. Josh McGuire coming in is going to be a spark for the team and having Jordan McLean, Matt Scott and Michael Morgan back hopefully for the whole year.

"The backline is pretty exciting. Benny Barba has all the skills. He's won the Man of Steel in Super League and the Dally M, so he has been one of the best in the game before and I'm sure he can do it again. I'm excited to play alongside him.

"On the other wing is Kyle Feldt and he's another big body so I can't wait to see how our combination goes."


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Acknowledgement of Country

North Queensland Cowboys respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.