Wayne 'Ticker' Heming is a veteran rugby league correspondent who has attended more than 100 State of Origin matches. Approaching the first game of the 2018 Origin series, held on June 6 in Melbourne, 'Ticker' will delve into the memory banks to recall some of his standout moments and individuals from one of the world's greatest sporting contests.
Who is the toughest player to pull on a Maroon jumper?
That’s a really hard question to answer, because how do you measure toughness?
Let me say from the outset that this is only my personal opinion. I believe any player who pulls on a maroon, sky blue, or green and gold jersey, is made of pretty tough stuff.
You don’t get to play at that level unless you are tough.
The question is, how do you define toughness?
Do you measure it by the number of scars or stitches, or the number of times a player is knocked out during his career - or maybe how many consecutive Origin games he plays?
Are bigger players, the forwards who cart the ball up only to be brutally smashed every carry, tougher than the smaller ball players who take the ball deep into the line and get wiped out late by a cheap shot?
For me, Origin victories are built on the courage and tenacity of the forwards who engage in frightening high-speed collisions to gain every metre they can.
But that doesn’t automatically give them claim to the title of ‘hardest man’ to play for Queensland over other smaller players who give away up to 25 kilos and dozens of centimetres to their rivals.
It’s important to also take into account recent changes to the rules from the old wild west days, when players suffered serious injuries from king hits behind the play, to now when punching, lifting tackles and shoulder charges are all outlawed.
A lot of the foul play has been taken out of Origins battles, but the modern-day player is a far more finely-tuned athlete and physical contact is inflicted with greater force.
But back to the original question.
Let me run through the players I regarded as truly tough, hard Maroon men from Origin’s early days until now.
First cab off the rank has to be Arthur Beetson, who set the toughness bar pretty high in the historic first Origin game at Lang Park back in 1980.
Beetson, who only played that one Origin game, laid the foundation for it to become the phenomenon it is today after belting his Parramatta team-mate Michael Cronin thus breathing life into the “state against state, mate against mate” mantra.
He set the standard for future enforcers like Greg Dowling, Trevor Gillmeister, Andrew Gee, Gavin Allen, Gorden Tallis, Peter Ryan, Petero Civoniceva and Shane Webcke.
They are my toughest players, primarily because of the roles they had.
I could easily throw in Wally Lewis, Allan Langer, Darren Lockyer, Johnathan Thurston, Billy Slater and Cameron Smith into the mix, given the hammering those players received as the most targeted Queenslanders over many years.
Those players, and no doubt several others I have overlooked, have claims to the title.
Gillmeister and Ryan were two of the hardest and most feared hitters to wear maroon along with Tonie Carroll.
Past players talk about Allen as a genuine hard man who was widely feared for his tackling power.
Tallis had a similar reputation. ‘The Raging Bull’ never took a backward step, even against referees, and exemplified the passion required, what it meant to wear the Maroon jersey and to do it justice.
After weighing everything up, I have split my vote between Civoniceva – a Fijian who arrived in Queensland as a baby and was highly respected by his rivals - and fellow prop Webcke - nicknamed ‘Warhorse’, a young fearless teenager who was driven to succeed by the shattering death of his father, killed in a work accident when he was only 19.
I can’t recall anyone throwing a punch at the 193cm, 116kg Fijian giant in the fiery Origin arena – maybe because most players were uncertain of the havoc Civoniceva could cause if provoked.
Civoniceva retired as one the game’s most respected players because of the way he played.
Webcke wasn’t the best when it came to the biffo, but he always stood his ground against some pretty tough New South Wales rivals.
There was no better forward in the game at grinding out the dirty, hard metres.
Together Webcke and Civoniceva stepped out in 54 games for Queensland between 1998 until 2012, not once letting down their teammates or their state.