Kieran Foran thought he’d finish his career at Manly, however as he’s learnt many times throughout his 15-year career, “it never goes to script.”
He’s only ever wanted to play rugby league, but both injuries and off-field issues have forced him to stare right in the face of an early retirement twice.
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Foran has won a premiership and represented New Zealand 28 times. He’s also had to ring around to find a new contract because no club wanted to sign him.
It’d be hard to find a player in the current game that’s experienced more highs and lows on the rugby league rollercoaster than Foran.
The 32-year-old reflected on it all — from his cherished relationship with Des Hasler to the darkest point in his life — on the latest episode of the Fox League Podcast.
FOX LEAGUE PODCAST – KIERAN FORAN
In one of his rawest interviews, Kieran Foran opens up about the darkest period of his career, the countless injury hurdles he’s had to overcome — and reveals there was a time where no club wanted him. Listen here >>
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While the Titans have had an inconsistent start to 2023, there’s no denying that Foran has had a positive impact on the club.
He’s unlocked David Fifita — more on that later — and he’s injected some much-needed leadership and experience into the spine.
But the only reason he’s ended up at the club is because the Sea Eagles couldn’t offer him the type of deal he knew he deserved.
Foran overcame an injury-riddled stint with the Bulldogs to string together 25 games for Manly in 2021 and 24 in 2022. It was the most games he’d played since 2013.
When it came to negotiating a new deal for 2023 and beyond, he and the club were on different pages. So he got in touch with the Titans — and not for the first time.
“That was the plan going back to Manly, in the back of my mind I was thinking ‘this would be a great place to finish my career’,” Foran recalled.
“It’s where I started, I’ve come back and thoroughly enjoyed my time, reconnected with a lot of great mates and thought ‘this would just be the dream come true to finish my career here.’
“As it turns out, it never goes to script. They had salary cap restraints and had re-signed a lot of these up-and-coming players. The position they were in at the time, they were really honest about that. They couldn’t offer me more than potentially one year at a cut-price deal again.
“I just felt like I had been playing consistent enough footy at least to warrant a two-year deal and at this stage of my career that was something I was after.
“Manly weren’t able to do that so then it became a discussion between me and my manager about which other clubs out there would potentially see the up-side in me on a two-year deal. That’s when he began talking to Gold Coast.
“I previously chatted to Gold Cost a few years earlier. I wasn’t in the position to go there, (but we) picked up that discussion again when I knew that Manly wasn’t an option.
“I felt good about it, it felt right chatting to Justin (Holbrook) and the board with the direction the Titans were heading in.”
Manly is where Foran started his career. He spent seven seasons there and won a premiership before leaving at the end of 2015.
To find his way back there and then have to leave again, Foran admitted “that was hard,” but he’s forever grateful for the club and is open to returning in — in whatever capacity.
“I thought when I got back there that it would be where it would finish for me. But that’s life — it doesn’t always go to script,” he said.
“Manly have been so wonderful to me over my career, I wouldn’t be the person or player that I am today without the Sea Eagles. That’s just the huge part they’ve played in my rugby league journey and my life.
“There’s a lot of people there that I’ll remain friends with for a long time, a lot of people that have had a massive influence on my career.
“I love the area, love the place and would never rule out going back there at some point in the future.”
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INSIDE HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH DES HASLER
Foran is the first to admit that Manly legend and former coach Des Hasler has had a “monumental” impact on his career.
Hasler was Foran’s first coach in the NRL and he was the only coach that was willing to offer him a lifeline much later in his career.
“My relationship with Des has always felt right,” Foran said.
“It’s hard to explain but coming there (to Manly) as a young kid you’re heavily influenced and Des just straight away had a massive impact on me as a person and a footballer.
“The way he approached rugby league was exactly the same way I thought about rugby league.
“I just loved his attention to detail, his thoroughness and his intensity. I’m an intense bloke and me and Des are on that same level so I think that’s always been the connection between us.”
When asked if Hasler was fiercely loyal to his players, Foran said: “For sure.”
“That’s probably the other component that makes me admire him,” he added before opening up on the “punt” Hasler took on him when he rejoined Manly.
“You’ve got to remember when I went to Canterbury I signed there to be with Des… and unfortunately Des was sacked three months later so I never got to enjoy that experience.
“I had a horror injury run at the Bulldogs and at the end of that deal no one wanted to sign me. My options were gone — I thought my career was over.
“You talk about Des’ loyalty, but Des sees something in me that no one else could see at the time and he knows the person that I am, he knows the footballer and he backs me on that.
“I think that’s why I’ve loved him so much.
“When no one else thought I was worthy of a contract, Des said ‘he’s still got something to offer, I just know it’. He took a punt on me and it worked out to be — hopefully — the right decision.
“He’s been monumental in my career, you can’t ever deny that.”
When the Bulldogs chose not to re-sign Foran after three years, he reached out to Hasler at Manly.
He was nursing a torn pectoral suffered in the final weeks of the season but knew this wasn’t it for him — he wasn’t ready to retire.
“Canterbury didn’t want to re-sign me — that was their decision. I was happy to stay there, but they wanted to move in a different direction,” he said.
“That was at the back end of the year, I had just torn my pec and no club wanted me. I got my manager to ring around and no one wanted to take a punt on me.
“That was when I reached out to Des and I said ‘I know I’ve still got something to offer, I’ve just had a really unlucky run. But I know I’ll get going again, you’ve just got to be prepared to take a punt on me.’
“I went back to Manly on a cut-price deal, worked my backside off and got my career going again. I wouldn’t have gotten that opportunity had Des not shown the belief in me.
“I’ve always had a strong belief… I know what sort of person I am and I know what sort of footballer I am. I know how hard I’m prepared to work and if you work hard in life you get what you deserve.”
It just wouldn’t be right though to talk about Hasler without touching on his qurkiness and what player knows him better than Foran?
He’s seen and heard it all from the man they call ‘the mad professor’ — including that infamous half-time spray at Parramatta Stadium.
“He’s just a really different character, if you can say it in that way. Highly intense, but certainly knows how to give his players a cuddle at the right time,” Foran said.
“His fashion is a good laugh, he wears the same shoes from 20 years ago. You can’t buy them anymore but he still wears them.
“When I was a young bloke and he ripped the door off the hinges at Parramatta — that was an experience.
“(I was) like a kid in a classroom, you’re just petrified to move, you don’t even want to breathe. It was definitely an experience but showed his intent very early on.”
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They come part and parcel with being a professional athlete but no one seems to have worse luck than Foran.
He’s suffered just about every injury there is, but there’s one that sticks out to him as the worst.
“The timing of the one in 2019 in New Zealand when I felt like I had just rediscovered some form for Canterbury at the back end of that season and then was selected to go away with the Kiwis,” Foran recalled, referencing the shoulder injury he suffered while representing the Kiwis.
“I got my shot and then dislocated my shoulder three minutes into that match. The ramifications for that dislocation was that I had re-injured a whole lot of old stuff in the shoulder and I was looking at nine to 12 months on the sideline.
“‘Would your shoulder ever be right? I don’t know if you’ll be able to play again,’ there was all these sorts of discussions going on.
“I think that mentally was a time where I was really challenged with ‘do you have to accept that maybe your body is just not going to be able to do what you want it to do?’”
Foran, who was coming off contract, had previously had two operations on that shoulder prior to the latest injury. The surgeon that worked on him called it a “monstrous injury.”
But he got a little bit of luck when he needed it most.
“Covid actually saved my career,” Foran said.
“I was meant to miss that entire 2020 season… but the game postponed and that actually gave me time to rehab the injury as fast as I could. I ended up getting back and playing 14 games that season.”
Those 14 games helped convince Hasler that Foran was worth signing — torn pec and all.
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ROCK BOTTOM — AND THE LIFELINE THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING
Unfortunately injuries are not the biggest hurdles Foran has had to overcome.
In 2016, after just nine games with his new club, the Parramatta Eels, Foran quit the NRL indefinitely — and walked away from a mega-money contract.
He was dealing with painful personal issues, which included the breakdown of a relationship, and was struggling with the pressure of the NRL.
He was admitted to hospital after a frightening incident where he overdosed on prescription medication.
“At that point in my footy career and life, I was really done with rugby league,” he recalled.
“When I made the decision to quit Parramatta I didn’t feel like I needed (rugby league) in my life anymore.
“My life was in a rabble, I needed to fix a whole lot of areas in my life. I was really, very depressed and just not enjoying life at all.”
Three months after making the shocking call to leave the game, Foran’s comeback was locked in when he signed a one-year deal with the Warriors.
It was Jim Doyle — the club’s CEO at the time — who made the call which saved Foran’s career.
In fact, Foran admitted: “Without the Warriors reaching out I probably never get my career back on track, to be honest.”
“When I quit Parramatta and left the game, I really didn’t feel like being anywhere in Sydney or anywhere near rugby league,” he added.
“But when (Doyle) reached out and floated the idea of ‘I know you don’t want to move away from Sydney for long because of your kids but what about the opportunity to come over here and get your career back on track — just play footy but do it away from the spotlight.?’
“I remember at the time chatting with my family and thinking ‘maybe that’s just what I need.’ To go back to New Zealand, be around family and connect with myself again because I had lost myself, I had lost the sense of who I was.
“I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted to be and I think that opportunity to go back to New Zealand… without that window back there I don’t think I probably ever get back into footy.
“I felt like nothing was going right for me here, I was dealing with a lot off the field. I couldn’t find myself.”
Foran has come a long way from the 25-year-old that made a decision he now calls “ludicrous.”
“I went through a really horror time off the field — and it was the worst timing in the world — when I signed with Parramatta my life started to fall apart and it all bubbled to the surface,” he said.
“The fact that I thought rugby league didn’t need to be in my life is ludicrous and it shows how unwell I was at that time in the head to make a decision like that and to walk away from a game that had given me so much and been such a big part of my life.
“I decided that I didn’t want it in my life, ‘I hate this game, I hate what it’s done’ and I tried to blame everyone else and everything else for my problems.
“It wasn’t the problem at all — I was the problem and I had to fix that.
“The game made me who I was and gave me so much. I know that now, I realise that and I’m thankful for everything rugby league has done for me.”
Foran “really enjoyed” his time with the Warriors and he knows that some fans might’ve questioned why he didn’t stick around longer to repay the club.
“I would’ve loved to and we did speak about it early on the potential to extend but it was purely a family decision. When I had gone there I knew I couldn’t be away from my kids for long… and they understood that,” he explained.
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TITANS MOVE AND UNLOCKING FIFITA
Fast forward to now and Foran is loving life on the Gold Coast.
He’s not officially the captain but he’s the most experienced player at the club and has taken on a mentoring role.
“That’s been one of the great experiences of coming up here — the amount of youth I am surrounded by,” he said.
“There’s a lot of exciting and up-and-coming talent in this side and that was one of the things that drew me to coming up here — being a part of those guys’ development.”
One player that’s benefited hugely from Foran’s arrival is Fifita. He’s in career-best form and got a well-deserved Queensland recall for Origin I.
Many pundits have credited Foran for that but he heaped praise on the star second-rower.
However, he did give insight into why we’re seeing more from Fifita this season.
“I don’t really like taking too much credit for the performances Dave’s put in this season. A lot of that comes down to him and the work the coaches have put into him over the pre-season,” he said.
“I think he deserves a lot of that credit himself, he was the one sacrificed a lot in the pre-season, got himself in the best physical shape and did the work. Now he’s reaping the rewards.
“But I guess for a bloke like myself I’ve just tried to ride David as hard I can on those little effort areas in the game. I’m someone that can continuously talk to him throughout a game of footy.
“I’m not sure whether he’s had that in the past or if he’s just lacked that experience around him, but it’s an area that I’ve tried (to help in).
“He’s got it all, he’s got the x-factor, he can do things that other players can’t. But I think what we’re seeing from David this year is just those effort areas (which) is something he’s really bought into and he’s just doing it on a consistent basis.”
Foran and Fifita weren’t actually meant to play alongside each other on the Titans’ left edge. It was only when Beau Fermor ruptured his ACL three days before their Round 1 clash that Holbrook created the combination.
“Justin said ‘you know what, Dave enjoys playing on the left so let’s put him there.’ We didn’t train together heading into Round 1, we’re still building that combination but it’s been amazing and surprising how well we’ve picked up on one another’s games,” Foran said.
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Foran is signed with the Titans until the end of next season. He’ll be 34-years old by the time that contract ends, but isn’t thinking about retirement just yet.
“I’d be a brave man to write myself off,” he laughed.
“You never say never, I’ve learnt in this game you just never know how you’re going to respond to things or where things are going to be at.
“I do know it’s a results-driven business… I know I’ve got to improve the side and if I’m doing that at 34 and my body’s feeling good enough, why couldn’t I do it into 35?
“But I’m a realist too and I know that I need to be getting the results and having the impact.
“Age isn’t on my side and every game I play now I’m treating it like it could be my last… But I’ve been doing that for a few years.
“I want to be playing for as long as I feel I can be adding something. You’re a long time retired, once it’s done it’s done. In saying that, I don’t want to just be another number.”
But when he does decide it’s time to hang up the boots, what will be next?
“I’ve never been a guy that’s put much time into anything else other than rugby league… I’ve never really focused on anything else or got a skill set in any other area,” he said.
“So I’d like think I’d stay involved in rugby league in some capacity — that’s probably what I’ll end up doing for the rest of my life provided there’s opportunities for me.”