After a stellar career, Cory Paterson finally hung up his boots last year to concentrate on running a café in his adopted hometown of Leigh.
It was a decision that the 32-year-old didn’t take lightly with his rugby league journey, which spanned over 200 games, taking him from Newcastle in Australia to Toronto in Canada.
Born in Perth, Paterson joined the junior ranks at the Knights aged just 15 and made his debut four years later.
As I sat down with the towering backrower in his new café, this is where our conversation began.
“It was a massive buzz,” he said with a smile. “It’s every kids dream to represent the team and the town you’ve come through the ranks with.
“Now I’m finished playing I appreciate it even more when I look back. My mates came to watch me and it was great talking about it the day after at barbecues.
“It was surreal as a kid – playing, training and then having a beer with your idol Andrew Johns, I’ll never forget it.”
Whilst at the Knights, Paterson played three times for the Indigenous All Stars.
As with many who get the chance to pull on that famous jersey, it was obvious just how much it meant to him.
“It’s hard to explain or to put it into perspective,” he said. “You’re not just playing for the shirt, you’re playing for your people and your culture.
“As an Indigenous man, you’re playing for your family and the players lining up with you.
“I was very fortunate, it was a dream come true and an honour to play alongside Johnathan Thurston and Greg Inglis.
“It was definitely in the top three moments of my career.”
After two years at the North Queensland Cowboys, Paterson made the big decision to leave his homeland in 2012.
With opportunities in the NRL limited, he took the chance to move to England and play for Hull KR in Super League.
“The coach at Rovers (Craig Sandercock) coached me at Newcastle and asked if I wanted to come over,” he explained.
“It was a new adventure, but at first it was hard. The weather here stops a lot of outdoor training and the fields might be messed up with snow.
“December in Australia is hot and we have the full use of all facilities. It was a huge change for me.”
Some unfinished business in the NRL tempted Paterson back down under in 2014, taking up a contract with the Wests Tigers.
Despite playing well, a hand injury kept him out for four months and he left the club after one season to return to England.
Now 26, Paterson joined the ‘Devilution’ at Salford in 2015 and whilst his side struggled that year, he played a big part in helping the club survive relegation – scoring 10 tries in 21 games.
The powerful second-rower then dropped down a division, with teammates Reni Maitua, Harrison Hansen and Rangi Chase joining him at Leigh, as the Centurions went all out for promotion.
It was a risk worth taking at first, as they gained promotion to Super League, but their stay in top-flight rugby was brief, suffering relegation after just one season.
“That promotion season was another special moment,” said Paterson. “It was much more of a team thing because we went on a run over 30 (games) unbeaten.
“To be a part of a team like that was special and I was vice captain, something I’m very proud of.
“The whole town was awesome, everyone was pumped and they all got behind the team.
“What goes up must come down though, that’s sport. It’s part of the highs and lows.
“It’s a rollercoaster and although the players enjoy it the most, they always hurt the most and that’s what fans sometimes don’t understand.”
Another huge career move came in 2018 as the Australian joined Toronto Wolfpack – professional sport’s first ever transatlantic sports team.
It was a switch that brought the best out in Paterson, as he flourished in a winning team and he unsurprisingly has fond memories of his time at the Canadian club.
“Paul Rowley was the coach there, who I signed for at Leigh,” he said. “That was one of my favourite years, living in Canada coming back and forth here, living with the boys, winning plenty of games and having a good time off the field as well.
“It does involve a lot of travel, but you just deal with it. The positives far outweigh the negatives because the people and the City are awesome, they have a good structure there and I’m glad I did it.
“They paired us in fully-furnished apartments, so me and one of the other boys. If their family came over I’d move in with a few of the other boys for a few days, we’re all in it together.
“That’s where the team spirit comes from, it’s not like an Aussie guy coming over here missing his family. We’re all missing our family and friends, we all lean on each other and we’ve all got each other’s backs.
“It’s awesome they’re in Super League, I’ll go and see them for sure.”
Paterson’s popularity among the players and supporters of all his previous clubs has helped his new business venture thrive.
No matter how big the name, they have been to experience his neat little café in Leigh.
“Sonny Bill (Williams) has been in here, Jackson Hastings too,” he revealed. “I’m lucky being here because I’ve got Leigh and Salford fans coming in and even Toronto fans.
“It shows if you leave a club on good terms, the fans will always remember you. I never burned any bridges and always gave my all.
“Fans aren’t dumb, they might not know the technical side but they know if you’re having a go or not.”
At the end of the 2018 season, which ended with the Wolfpack losing the Million Pound Game to London, Paterson hung up his boots.
However, he was to be tempted out of retirement by a transitioning Leigh side just a few months later.
Like many players who leave the game in their early thirties, it was obvious that he has struggled with the initial transition last year.
“Coming out of retirement was an easy decision to make,” he admitted. “I was lost and didn’t really have any purpose.
“The owner (Derek Beaumont) rang up and said ‘what are you doing?’ and I said ‘not much.'”
After playing a dozen games for Leigh, he began to lay the foundations for his new career in the catering business –the Jacora Coffee Shop in Astley, near Leigh.
Explaining the reasons for his unlikely career move, Paterson said: “In Australia the café scene is a big part of our culture, we grew up around it.
“There’s not many cafes in this area and I thought I’d try and bring a part of Australia to it. The name (of the cafe) is just a combination of my son’s name Jax , mine and my daughter Ora.
“They love it in here. I’ve got a purpose in my life now. This is my new passion, so far it seems to be what I’m good at.
“People enjoy the experience, they enjoy a coffee. If people come back it means it’s a nice experience and I want to provide that.”
I finished by asking Cory about his career and who was his toughest opponent, as well as the greatest influence on him while playing rugby league.
“In terms of toughest, Sam Burgess was always hard to play against and Dallas Jonson was amazingly tough.
“Harrison Hansen as well, but every player is tough. The best player I played with would be Andrew Johns and the best I played against would be Sonny Bill (Williams) or Greg Inglis.
“Kim Williams, who’s now at Huddersfield on development, had a great influence on my career.
“He got me when I was 15 and showed me what it was like to be professional. Warren Smiles signed me for the Knights but there’s no one person that’s shaped my career, plenty have had influence.
“I still keep in touch with Rowls (Paul Rowley). Some coaches have been good, some bad for my life, but everyone comes into your life for a reason.”
If you are in or around Leigh, make sure to pop in and see a great player making his way outside the game. Click here for a link to the cafe’s Facebook page.