Blake Ferguson is home.
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The former Australian representative and NRL premiership winner has joined the Wellington Cowboys in one of the biggest signings in the club's proud history.
A Cowboys junior who left the town of 4000 people to chase his NRL dream in 2007, Ferguson has been visiting family at Wellington regularly in recent months.
Each time he did so, the desire to stay would get a little greater.
It got to point where he decided to do just that and, after settling in, his signing has been confirmed by the Cowboys and he'll run out in maroon for the first time in more than a decade this weekend in the Peter McDonald Premiership.
"It's home," he told the Daily Liberal of what it means to be back.
"It's like when you go see the house you grew up in. You feel like you're one with it.
"It feels good being back home and hopefully we can help out the community and get the juniors competing."
Ferguson always had a desire to rejoin the Cowboys and it was something he spoke about during his glittering, yet sometimes controversial, NRL career.
Having made the move from the west to Cronulla, the powerful outside back played 250 NRL matches across stints with the Sharks, Canberra, Parramatta and the Roosters while he played nine Origin matches for the Blues and represented Australia seven times.
He also enjoyed a stint in England, where he helped the Leigh Centurions gain promotion to the Super League last year.
He returned to Australian shores and initially signed with the Thirlmere Roosters in the Macarthur competition for season 2023.
He played two matches for the Roosters but he had been having plenty of discussions with Cowboys captain-coach Justin Toomey-White while visiting home and the decision was soon made to stay at Wellington.
"It feels really good. I've been here for a month or so trying to get it going," Ferguson said.
"I've spoken to Justo quite a bit over the last few months and I just told him to keep a spot open for me. It's a lot earlier than I expected but I'm happy to be back and throwing on a jersey on Sunday.
"I've just been coming home a lot. Every time I'd come home I'd feel like I wanted to stay longer and then eventually I just ended up staying."
The signing is a huge statement of intent from the Cowboys and it provides another huge boost for a club which has already started the season in eye-catching fashion.
The club barely had a sponsor in 2022 and even getting something simple like playing jerseys was a challenge but the turnaround in a short space of time has been immense.
While the failure to form an under 18s side this season was a blow, the Cowboys' senior sides have taken great strides forward while there's a great desire for the club to connect with the community and help make a difference for the people living there.
Senior numbers have improved while the first grade side has won two from three to start the season after winning just once in 2022.
When you grow up here you understand what footy means to the town.- Blake Ferguson
Ferguson said he's keen to help the Cowboys build on that and he's committed to playing out the rest of the 2023 season.
Despite achieving almost everything anyone could dream of in a professional career, the chance to represent the town where he grew up is something which means a huge amount to Ferguson.
"Nothing really compares to it," he said.
"The colours and the history of the club. When you grow up here you understand what footy means to the town. It plays a massive role in kids' lives.
"If we can win footy games then there's kids wanting to play football more and more."
He added the excitement of pulling on the maroon jumper this weekend is the same as it was in 2007 when he was named for his Wellington first grade debut in Group 11.
"It's exactly what it feels like now. That hasn't changed," he said.
"I've only watched one or two games since I left. It's pretty crazy that now I get to have a run."
Ferguson started his junior footy career in Sydney with the Earlwood Saints before making the move west to live with his grandparents.
Those grandparents are still living in Wellington now, as are a number of Ferguson's brothers and sisters.
He said the chance to be close to family was a huge factor in his decision to move home earlier than he ever planned to.
"We're all here," he said.
Ferguson will make his return to bush footy on Sunday when the Wellington Cowboys welcome PMP defending premiers Forbes to Kennard Park.
That match is scheduled to kick-off at 2.30pm.
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