You have skipped the navigation, tab for page content

As Toby Couchman rose to his feet on the Dragons bench to prepare to become this season's 11th NRL debutant, his mother Bec also stood up in the concourse on the opposite side of Netstrata Jubilee Stadium and walked from her seat.

“Bec can’t sit there and watch,” husband Ben explains. “As soon as she saw Toby get up and grab the interchange card she said, ‘I’m off’.

“I know she watches the game because she sends me messages, but she just prefers to walk around the stadium. If Bec had a GPS on she would probably cover more distance during the game than Toby.”

An NRL debut is a special occasion for not only the player involved, but also his family, friends and others who have helped him along the way.

Couchman celebrates his NRL debut with parents Ben and Bec, twin Ryan and members of his junior club
Couchman celebrates his NRL debut with parents Ben and Bec, twin Ryan and members of his junior club ©Brett Costello/NRL Photos

Couchman’s junior club, the Thirroul Butchers, for whom Ben also played and is still involved, bought two busloads of supporters to Kogarah for the match.

St George Illawarra also supplied more than 40 tickets for close friends and family members, who include Toby’s twin Ryan. The club announced on Monday that Toby and Ryan had signed contract extensions until 2025.

It had been a hectic day for the Couchmans, with Ben coaching youngest son Fletcher in a junior trial at Shellharbour before they travelled to Kogarah to watch Ryan play against the Bulldogs followed by Toby's NRL debut.

On Saturday, the family had attended the official jersey presentation for Toby, during which Ben spoke before Bec handed him the No.16 jersey he wore in Sunday night's 32-18 triumph against the Titans.

Toby Couchman jersey presentation

After the match there were emotional scenes as Toby and Ryan, who played in the earlier NSW Cup match, came to the fence to celebrate with their family, friends and former club mates, who included Gold Coast centre Aaron Schoupp.

“It’s beautiful how it just brings everyone together,” Ben said before kick-off. "It just means a little bit to everyone.

“There is a lot of our family here, and all of the boys [from the Butchers] are up on the hill. I watched most of the NSW Cup with them, and now I just want to settle in and watch Toby.”

The 19-year-old was thrust into action in the 24th minute when he replaced lock Jack Bird and Dragons coach Anthony Griffin had no definite plan on how long Couchman, who started the season on a trial-and-trial contract, would play.

Couchman carried the ball 103 metres in 11 runs and made 12 tackles during a 33-minute stint before being forced from the field for a HIA after a head collision with Gold Coast second-rower Joe Stimson midway through the second half.

Toby Couchman played 33 minutes in his NRL debut
Toby Couchman played 33 minutes in his NRL debut ©Brett Costello/NRL Photos

“That sort of sucked the life out of the occasion for everyone,” Ben said. “They just went quiet because we all realised that he wouldn’t come back on.

“But as soon as he came down to the bench and we could see he was okay everyone just enjoyed the rest of the game. I thought he played well, and he generated some real energy when he went on.”

Ben had a brief stint in the Dragons lower grades in 2003 – the year Toby and Ryan were born - under former Wests Tigers and Bulldogs mentor Mick Potter, who told that a great work ethic enabled him to make the most of his talent.

Toby and Ryan Couchman with Titans centre and Thirroul Butchers junior club-mate Aaron Schoupp
Toby and Ryan Couchman with Titans centre and Thirroul Butchers junior club-mate Aaron Schoupp ©Brett Costello/NRL Photos

Bec is a cousin of Darren and Dean Mercer, who were household names in Australia and had their faces on Nutri-Grain cereal packets after dominating Ironman surf-lifesaving events in the 1990s.

“They were sporting icons and they built what they achieved on a lot of hard work. I don’t think you could find a more tenacious set of brothers,” Ben said.

“Darren sent a beautiful message today to Toby. He has always had a soft spot for the boys.”

Eventually the family hope that Ryan, who earned Australian Schoolboys selection in 2021, will also get the opportunity to play in the NRL ranks but for now he is enjoying Toby’s success.

“I always love watching them play together and watching them play together at his level would be something else," Ben said.

When the time is right, and if they are both playing good footy and there is a genuine need for them, I would love to see that.

“Bec and I get the credit and sure we put a lot of work into helping them as they were growing up, but for me it was never about whether they made it or not, it was about supporting their passion.

“It goes without saying that to get there is something else again, and I know already that Toby doesn’t want this game to be a one-off.

"He wants to sustain a career now, and that will have its up and downs, but we are all going to be there with him.”

Acknowledgement of Country

St George Illawarra Dragons 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 Islanders peoples, where our games are played, our programs are conducted and in the communities we support.

Major Partner

Apparel Partners

Icon Partners

View All Partners