FAMILY MAN: Stanley returns to where it all kicked off
RUGBY LEAGUE: After helping rebuild the South Grafton Rebels into a dominant force in Group 2 rugby league, Hughie Stanley is ready to take flight toward a new challenge.
The seasoned backline star has signed on for former club Lower Clarence Magpies, who he won a premiership with in 2009, as they begin to re-climb the NRRRL tree.
Stanley hopes to be a driving force behind the club's next generation as they break into senior football for the first time.
But while the challenge that awaits him excites the 27-year-old, there is one reason for the move that is much closer to his heart.
"The main reason for the move is just the change and a bit of a challenge,” he said.
"But also my family as well. They have been missing out on a lot of time with travelling all the time up to Grafton. I was on the road more than the field.”
Stanley will also get the opportunity to coach his five-year-old son Ochre in the Clarence Coast Magpies Under 7s team.
For the youngest Stanley family member, it is a chance to carry on a proud family legacy on the field.
"It's the little fella's first go at football. He was hounding us all last year to play, he wants to play football, so we will both play here at the Magpies,” Stanley said. "It is a proud moment for me. So I am pretty stoked he wants to play football.
"It's also a family tradition. Cobie's (Stanley's wife) grandmother used to be club president here and her pop played a few years at the Magpies.”
Stanley was only 17 when he played for the Magpies in 2009, and then joined the Sydney Roosters Under 20s the following season.
He returned to the South Grafton Rebels in 2015 to immediate success, as he and a band of Kempsey stars helped the club to its first major premiership in 40 years, even scoring the opening try of the decider.
But it was their effort the following year to become the first ever South Grafton side to claim back-to-back premierships that was the true testament to the efforts of Stanley.
When many players had left the club to reform the Macleay Valley Mustangs, Stanley stayed, and helped carve out a new chapter in the Rebels proud history.
And while he has helped them get to three back-to-back grand finals, he also knew it was time to close the book on that chapter. But it was not without a lot of thought.
"I can remember the phone call I had with Johnny Matthews,” he said. "I called him first and explained the reasons to him and he was quite happy for me. He said you don't owe anything to me, and you don't owe anything to this club. I got a bit teary I have to admit.
"That club brought me in with open arms, and took my family in. That is what football is all about, it's not just the 80 minutes on the field, it's the relationships you form with people both on and off the field.
"I love that club with all my heart up there, but it's time for a bit of a change.”
Despite showing plenty of heart and determination, the Magpies struggled to put the results on the board last season. But Stanley said it was just about putting the fine touches on the side's on-field execution.
"I don't want to change that much. They are doing the right thing as a club, but I think they might just need some guidance on field from a few older heads,” he said. "I am not the key or the solution, but with the right core group of people, you can steer a side in the right direction. It is a good chance to rebuild.” That core group got another boost at the beginning of the week with the re-signing of captain Dan Randall.