'We upset a few neighbours': The 'ratbag' who became an Origin player

Google Maps will tell you that the pristine patch of turf on the corner of Butler Street and McKinnon Drive in Noosa is called Sir Thomas Riley Park.

To anyone with even a passing connection to the game of rugby league it is known as Pirate Park.

To Moses Mbye, the newest Queensland Maroons representative, it is quite simply “sacred ground”.

As youngsters, Mbye and his brothers Joe and Matt would jump on their pushbikes and ride the five minutes from their house to kick the footy at Pirate Park.

Sometimes they would borrow their neighbours' "pushies".

It was where they and their friends would congregate and to this day the place where Mbye hones his skills whenever the Wests Tigers skipper is home on the Sunshine Coast, an hour north of Brisbane.

"For me it's a bit of a sacred ground,” Mbye tells NRL.com.

Moses Mbye playing as a junior with the Noosa Pirates.
Moses Mbye playing as a junior with the Noosa Pirates. ©NRL Photos

“It's where I played all my junior footy, where I made the majority of my friends and where I met people I call family.

"If you spoke to the right locals they might call us ratbags, me and my brothers. We certainly upset a few of the neighbours but we had a lot of fun and our thing was footy.

“That's what we did before school, after school, weekends, we got together and played backyard footy and then we'd get on our pushies and ride down to Pirate Park and play more footy down there.

"Every time I get home I make sure I get down to Pirate Park and run a few laps, kick the ball around with a couple of the local kids that are down there.”

Raised by a single mother, Kay, Mbye could easily have veered down a wayward path if not for the strong but supportive hand of his mum and the influence of some key individuals associated with the Pirates.

Playing almost all of his junior footy with Jake Friend’s younger brother Zac, Mbye knew their parents Lester and Julie well, the president and treasurer of the Pirates respectively for a period.

But it was Shane Hart, a Pirates player himself who coached the boys to six consecutive premierships from the age of 11, who provided a guiding hand when Mbye's mother needed an additional voice of reason.

Hart will be in the stands on Wednesday night to see Mbye join the ranks of Maroons representatives.

“He used to give his Mum a little bit of grief every so often,” Hart recalls.

“His Mum used to ring me up and say, ‘Shane, I need you to come around and have a word with Moey.’ I’d go and pick him up and we’d go for a fish or go for a canoe and check the crab pots and have a bit of a chinwag, take some pressure off his Mum.

“Certain times when young fellas wouldn’t listen to their parents, they’d rather listen to someone outside the family. That was my role, to help him with that.

“We shared many a little adventure Moey and I.”

Other than carrying his name and sharing Gambian descent, Mbye has next to no memory of his father and says Hart was an important figure in his formative years in the game.

"There is a list of people to thank but ‘Harty’ coached me for the best part of 10 years. He gave me a massive platform towards rugby league,” Mbye says.

"He was only a young coach so he was like a big brother to a lot of the boys. Not really a father figure but a big brother and he taught you the importance of the game and how to love the game.

Young Moses Mbye playing with the Noosa Pirates.
Young Moses Mbye playing with the Noosa Pirates. ©NRL Photos

"After training he and I would go check the crab pots, go fishing and things like that, he was more like a big brother.”

Although he jokes about running amok through Noosa with his brothers growing up, Mbye says the freedom they were allowed by their mother shaped them into the well-adjusted young men they went on to become.

"What we had was the most priceless thing you can get in life and for me that's freedom,” says Mbye.

“As kids we had a lot of freedom to do what we wanted to do and what we enjoyed. My mum did a really good job of allowing that and also being able to police it and control it.

“That was her quality, to allow us to have a lot of freedom to explore and enjoy the things we enjoyed doing and along the way we learnt through a lot of mistakes and little lessons and we grew up quick.

"All three of us are quite mature but that's because my mum and the community allowed us to do that.”

Young Moses Mbye in his Noosa Pirates jersey.
Young Moses Mbye in his Noosa Pirates jersey. ©NRL Photos

And it is a community now eagerly anticipating another Sunny Coast product entering the Origin arena.

The likes of Ben Ross, Casey McGuire, Chris Flannery and Matt Gillett have come through the ranks of the Sunshine Coast to play Origin for their state but Mbye might just be the most popular selection of all.

“I think the whole Sunshine Coast does feel totally connected to Moses,” says Flannery, a 10-time Queensland representative and now the CEO of the Sunshine Coast Falcons.

“We’re all really proud of him. We do always celebrate our players when they do play Origin or get selected from the Sunshine Coast because there hasn’t been a huge number.”

Everybody associated with the Pirates will be in Mbye's corner on Wednesday night for a special celebration at the Pirate Park clubhouse.

“Everyone’s stoked. The amount of people and supporters talking about him is unreal,” Pirates president Greg Christensen said.

“I don’t know whether the club can afford free beer until he runs on but we’ll be doing something special.

“He’s been around the club all his life. Every time the seniors would play, Moses and his brothers were down there being the ball-boys at every home game, running around.

“Football is like an out for some people, where they can go to and all their mates are there and they feel safe when they go there.

“If he wasn’t playing when he was a junior, they were always down at the oval kicking the ball. It was like their second home.”