From playing beach footy to playing in the Canberra Raiders Cup, Dale Cooper-Shields, 25, and his two brothers Jese Smith-Shields, 19, and Harley Smith-Shields, 17, made history when they became the first set of three brothers to play First Grade for the Gungahlin Bulls.
Having come through the junior ranks at the North Canberra Bears, the three brothers played together for the first time when Harley, having finished a successful season with the Canberra Raiders SG Ball side, was called up to play against the Yass Magpies.
“It was basically a dream come true,” Harley said. “I’ve thought about it since we were all young and playing footy together. I didn’t think I’d see the day happen. It was pretty surreal.”
For Dale, the moment had extra significance as he returned to rugby league in the hope that he would get to play with his two younger brothers.
Having stopped playing rugby league to focus on his career as a ceramic tiler, Dale started playing again with the goal of playing alongside Jese last year but he had to put those plans on hold.
“I coached Jese two years ago and then I got the itch to play the year afterwards because I wanted to play alongside the boys,” Dale said. “Unfortunately, Jese had a bad back injury which put him out of action for a year so I couldn’t play with him.”
However, Dale did manage to play alongside Jese early this season before the youngest brother, Harley, also managed to break into first grade.
“[It meant] that I was going to be the smallest brother on the field,” Dale said. “Going from the oldest to the smallest was a bit of a bummer but I knew they would look after me no matter what.”
“It was quite the experience [playing with Jese and Harley]. It’s something you look forward to doing when you are playing beach footy together when you are young and you aspire to do that together in a higher competition.”
However, their father Braden was unable to see the boys run out together for the first time due carrying out a promise to his wife Vesna.
“Harley actually said that he may be playing first grade with Jese and Dale,” Braden said. “There were two emotions for me, pride – I was absolutely ecstatic for them – but the other one was when I realised that I was on holidays overseas with my wife which I had been promising her for eight years.”
“My wife was very good about it she said we could fly back early but there was just no way shape or form that we were going to be able to make it.”
“Actually my oldest son (Dale) sent me the link to Bar TV and I actually watched the replay in Rome Airport and I was screaming and shouting as if I was there!”
Although the Bulls were defeated by an impressive Yass Magpies outfit on that occasion, the boys were picked once again to face the Woden Valley Rams.
With their father there watching them, all three brothers played impressive roles in their teams win with Harley scoring a try and Jese setting up a try for Dale.
“It was fabulous [to see them play],” Braden said. “I was grinning from ear to ear. I was proud as punch, my chest was poked out and I was strutting around.”
Harley was also thrilled to have his dad there watching them play.
“It felt surreal,” Harley said. “It just felt like we were back on the beach playing footy together.”