A chat with Sam Thaiday
I was determined to go into my interview with Maroons and Broncos back-rower Sam Thaiday with no preconceptions of what we were going to talk about, which I suppose is a preconception in itself.
All I knew was that I wanted to do something different and I thought the best way of achieving that was to copy someone else, notably James Lipton from 'Inside The Actors Studio' fame.
At the end of each interview with Hollywood A-listers, Lipton asks 10 questions he adapted from French journalist Bernard Pivot which endeavours to reveal the true personalities of each of his guests.
But like I said, I wanted this to be different, so I opened with them.
What is your favourite word? Trousers.
What is your least favourite word? 'No' at the moment, because my daughter keeps saying it.
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? Music.
What turns you off? Bad weather.
What is your favourite swear word? It starts with an 's' and ends in a 't'.
What sound or noise do you love? Fart noises, because they're always hilarious.
What sound or noise do you hate? Fart noises! I hate things that are repetitive, like sirens. I think that's why your alarm clock is an annoying sound because it makes you get up and turn it off.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? I always wanted to be a builder and I'd love to still give that a crack at some stage. I'd love to be able to build a beautiful home.
What profession would you not like to do? I'd hate to be in the Army; it's too tough.
And if Heaven does exist, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? G'day mate.
It was the opening two minutes of our close to 20-minute chat but in many ways encapsulates the man who finds most pleasure in family, football and music; the man who presents the light-hearted tones of the joker yet maintains a deep spiritual connection that grounds him in reality.
Now a husband and father as well as son and brother, Thaiday's 12 seasons in the NRL began a month after his 18th birthday with a 40-4 hammering at the hands of the Bulldogs in an Origin-depleted Broncos outfit in 2003 that gave rise to further doubts as to whether "this 17-year-old chubby kid who had come down from Townsville" genuinely had what it took to succeed in rugby league.
"I can remember rocking up and thinking how good it was that I had this opportunity to first of all be a part of the Broncos. That all kind of changed really quickly when I came to training and saw the talent pool that was there. I thought I'd never play for the Broncos because we had so many great players," Thaiday recalls.
"I got a taste of first grade early but there was always that doubt in your mind. The first game, I got injured, I was out for six weeks after that and thinking, I'll never come back, all these other people are in front of me now and then even over recent years. Having the [Broncos] captaincy given to you and then taken away from you, those things are always tough to deal with and they make you sit back and think, Are you still good enough to be doing what you're doing?"
As has been the case throughout his career, when Thaiday was forced to front up to a press conference in January and tell the world that he was handing over captaincy of the Broncos, his wife and high-school sweetheart Rachel was by his side.
Where the rugby league-loving public get to share the happy-go-lucky Thaiday who permeates positivity, Rachel is the one he leans on when the highs sometimes turn into lows.
Thaiday admits that every loss impacts on his demeanour for often days at a time – a timeframe he has been able to reduce following the birth of daughter Gracie last year – but it is always Rachel with whom he can confide.
At no time in their relationship has her support been more important than when Thaiday, Karmichael Hunt and Darius Boyd were caught up in allegations of sexual assault in a Brisbane nightclub in September 2008.
All three were cleared following an extensive police investigation but told by Broncos officials that they were on their final warnings, an ordeal Thaiday says went some way to shaping the person he is today.
"That was probably the toughest period of my life and having to ring my parents up and tell my parents, telling family and friends. Just having your name dragged through the media with all these allegations; you just want to dig a hole and go and lay in it," Thaiday says.
"You just want to hide away from the world but that wasn't an option. We had to deal with the issue and continue to do what we were doing at the same time and trying to play some good footy. That made me realise how easy it is to lose it all.
"That was probably one of the biggest things and then in more recent years, getting married and having a family of my own. It's made me so proud of what I am doing now as a footballer and now as a father and a husband as well."
Thaiday's sense of community stems from his parents, Billy and Julie, who not only had three sons of their own but adopted two more for good measure.
"My parents didn't have to take them in but that just shows the love and care that they've always had in their hearts," says the now 29-year-old. "My father still wants to take in kids now at his age and Mum wants to kill him every time he does it but that's just the way Mum and Dad are.
"They're very helpful and very loving people and will do anything to help out family and friends and that's kind of been ingrained in not just myself but all my brothers are exactly the same way."
It's an example Thaiday is now setting for his daughter through his extensive community and charity work that earned him the Ken Stephen Medal in 2011 as well as fostering a deep connection to the Thaiday family culture.
Gracie is too young to grasp the importance of Grandad Billy's heritage on Yam Island in the Torres Strait but those lessons will come in time.
"I do want to wait until she's a little bit older [before taking Gracie to Yam Island] so she can remember it, not just look back on photos," says Thaiday. "That's something that I still want to do with Dad and Mum and make sure it's a whole family thing so everyone can go up there and we'll make a big celebration of it and make a big deal of it and have the whole family go up there together.
"Dad is so connected with his culture and if he can teach her anything, even a little bit of language or a couple of different songs, it's only going to make her more interested down the track to learn and be more involved in her culture."
But for this week at least, the most important culture associated with the Thaiday family is that of the Queensland Origin team, a team that is still trying to come to terms with the fact that their eight-year reign of interstate superiority has now come to a close.
When he arrives at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night, Thaiday will head into the familiar home dressing sheds to prepare for his 22nd match as a Maroon. He made the gut-wrenching decision prior to the team being announced for Game One to withdraw from selection due to a calf injury and remains determined to continue to be a part of successful Queensland teams into the future.
"It didn't hit until the next day really that the success was over but I don't think it's ever over. We've still got a lot more we want to do as a team and there's still a lot more success left in this Queensland squad," he says of the end of the winning sequence. "Yes, the streak's over, but that doesn't mean we're not going to ever win a Series again. It just means the shoe's on the other foot now and we're chasing them.
"It's still the best feeling. You walk into the change-rooms, the change-rooms are all decked out in Maroons stuff, there are photos on the wall of past players. You walk into the actual change-room part and your jersey's hanging there with your number and your name on the back... it's still an amazing feeling every time.
"The best feeling of it all is that first roar when you run out there. It's deafening, it gives you goose bumps on your head – that's when you know that something's amazing – and I'm looking forward to doing it all again.
"This is my 22nd game for Queensland and I want to play another 22 more. It's such an amazing team to be a part of and I'm so lucky and blessed to have been on the journey for so long."