Legend Q&A: Adrian Vowles

From a punchline on Roy and HG, a one-time Origin representative and the Super League's Man of Steel, Adrian Vowles enjoyed a career of wild contrasts. 

The former Gold Coast Seagulls centre and Cowboys captain details his unusual career which ended up in international honours playing for a country he did not know he was eligible to represent.

Legend Q & A: Adrian Vowles

The first I – and many other rugby league fans – heard of Adrian Vowles was listening to Roy and HG's pre-game show on the ABC on a Sunday afternoon in 1993. Where did their fascination with you come from?

I don't even know how it started but I was absolutely stoked. Someone from the Sydney Tele asked me about it and I said it was awesome. Mum and Dad listened to it all the time out at Charleville and the week after that story came out they got on and said hello to my mum and dad on the show.

Myself and John Skardon were supposed to do a show with them at Seagulls but it got canned last minute so I still haven't met them. My goal in life is to meet Roy and HG.

There was yourself and David Bouveng, Clinton Mohr, Russell Bussian who would get a mention every week. Would you guys listen to it?

We used to listen to it, it was funny as. Even when I played Origin they commentated and when I came on they were like, 'He's on! He's on! The prodigal son is on!' They had me down as the next Australian captain. It was a piss-take but I didn't care. I was just glad that they knew who I was.

What's your earliest rugby league memory?

I didn't want to play as a kid in Cunnamulla. I don't know why. Then one day I decided I wanted to play, went to training and I was hooked. That was 1979. The very first game I made a break and came to the fullback and hurdled him and scored a try.

After the game I was thinking Dad was going to be stoked but he got up me and said "Don't ever hurdle someone like that, you'll end up breaking your neck!".

I was looking at moving to Redcliffe and then I got offered a job on the Gold Coast so I came down as an 18-year-old in 1990 and played for Tweed Seagulls.

In 1991 they brought in this Gold Coast under 21s team so prior to that we were playing trials and I was always starting on the bench. We were playing Steve Rogers' Group 18 A Grade rep side and he was a massive idol of mine.

Adrian Vowles in the gym during his Cowboys days.
Adrian Vowles in the gym during his Cowboys days. ©NRL Photos

We'd warmed up, I was sitting on the bench and he came over to our coach asking for a player because their five-eighth hadn't turned up.

So I went and played for him, scored two tries and set up three more. On the back of that I got a reserve grade trial for Gold Coast Seagulls against the Broncos the next week and I got a contract for $2500. I’d have signed just for the bag of gear they gave me.

Through pure right time, right place I got a contract and that started me off.

In your first season of first grade for Seagulls in 1993 you get player of the year but the team wins just one game. What are your memories of your debut season in first grade?

Back then you sat on the bench for first grade and over three years I sat on the bench more than 20 times and never got a run. I was going to give up but for whatever reason I just kept going so when I eventually played first grade I valued it a lot more.

In our team we had Wally Lewis as coach, Steve Jackson, Brent Todd, Dale Shearer, Peter Gill so it was a terrible year on the field but I was stoked to be playing first grade.

Your only win that year was against Newcastle. What are your memories of that night?

We always loved playing Sydney teams on a Saturday night because we always thought they weren't thinking about the game, they're thinking about Melba's afterwards.

Andrew Johns came off the bench and might have even played fullback. If I'd known that was going to be our first and only win of the year we'd have celebrated for a week.

The club 'won' it's third straight wooden spoon that year, what was the atmosphere around the club at that time?

In our under 21s side in '92 we had myself, Kevin Campion, Scott Sattler, Jamie Goddard, Leigh Groves, Andrew Whittington, Craig Weston ... There were four future Origin players and 10 or more future first-graders. If we had kept those players...

There was always a bit of uncertainty around finances and how the club was run. I don't think it was run as well as it should have been and at times probably not coached as well as it should have been but as players we loved being there and loved playing for the club.

Adrian Vowles was dumped as Cowboys captain.
Adrian Vowles was dumped as Cowboys captain. ©NRL Photos

You've lived on the Coast on and off for the past 20 years, what will it take for the Gold Coast to become a Titans town?

I'm not saying they're not doing it already but they have to fully engage in the community. Every kid at school on the Gold Coast should know every Titans player.

And winning. You've got to win. Even good performances. If they're crap performances no one's going to follow you but if you're having a dig you'll get supporters.

What are your memories of playing Origin in '94?

I came in late. I got wind of it the night before from Don Furner who was the CEO at the time but I got a call from Ross Livermore on the Saturday morning saying I was on standby for Steve Renouf.

Half an hour later, 'You're in.' I rang Mum and Dad, rang my mates, I went and bought a new pair of joggers for $80 but as it turned out I got a new pair in camp.

This is how much my money I had, I had my little three-cylinder Daihatsu Charade and it needed a new clutch and I didn't have the money to get a new clutch. I drove my old car into Brisbane with a dodgy clutch and then all of a sudden here's Mal, Alfie, Kevvie, Gillmeister, Wally, Choppy and it was just amazing.

I listened to the early games with Mal and Wally and Choppy on the wireless and dreamt of playing Origin and then here I was in camp with them all. Then to play in Melbourne at the MCG in front of 87,000 people…

Do you remember moments in the game?

Ricky Stuart and Laurie Daley tackled me at one point near the line and Ricky goes, 'Don't worry about him, he won't be here next game.' They thought they were sledging me but I was thinking, How good's this! I'm playing Origin and getting sledged by Ricky Stuart!. And he was right, I wasn't there the next game.

I tried to put a shot on Brad Clyde. I'd tackled him in club footy no dramas but it was like he was 10 kilos heavier or something. I thought I'd broken my shoulder.

How did the emergence of Super League affect you personally?

I was one of the first to sign with Super League. I went from average money to good money so for me it was like, Wow. I was a cabinetmaker by trade, I'd worked 10-hour days and gone to training three nights a week, getting to bed at 10 and getting up again at 5. I'd earned my right to get better money.

I was thinking, How good's this! I'm playing Origin and getting sledged by Ricky Stuart!

Adrian Vowles

My first four contracts were $2500 sign-on, $5000, $7500 and the year I played first grade I was on zero sign-on. What I earned that year was my sign-on for next year, which was $20,000. When I played Origin I was on 20 grand.

I went to the Cowboys on about 50 grand and a job so then when Super League came knocking, why would I knock that back? I know I was being considered for Fatty's Origin team in '95 so in hindsight I wish I'd listened to the ARL offer but I'd signed straight away.

Tell me how that went down because I've heard players were herded into a hotel room and told to sign straight away. Were you put under unfair pressure?

I don't know if it was unfair. We played the Raiders in Townsville on a Saturday night and I got a phone call the next day telling us to go to the casino and meet in some room.

I'm pretty sure I was the first to go in and was told "Here's a cheque if you sign now, here's your contract". I tried to ring my manager and couldn't get hold of him and I didn't want to let that money go.

Adrian Vowles passes while playing for the Cowboys Old Boys in 2018.
Adrian Vowles passes while playing for the Cowboys Old Boys in 2018. ©NRL Photos

In hindsight I would have waited to talk to my manager but I signed it. The only disappointing thing was that Chris Johns and Michael O'Connor were saying they'd look after you but when I got flicked by Tim Sheens from the Cowboys at the end of '96 I was struggling to get a club. That's why I ended up going to England.

You have two unique pieces of history at the Cowboys in that you were sent off in the club's first game and were the incumbent captain when you were told you weren't wanted after '96.

I didn't miss one game, played half the year with a torn groin and a hernia and it was late when I got told that I wasn't wanted. It was mid-November. We'd already come back and they named a 25-man Super League squad and I wasn't named.

Tim Sheens sat in his chair and his exact words were "You're not big enough, you're not fast enough, you're not strong enough and you've got limited ability".

I don't mind that he didn't want me, but don't belittle me. There was a way to do it. I haven't seen him since that day but things happen for a reason.

Adrian Vowles was sent off for this tackle in North Queensland's first game.
Adrian Vowles was sent off for this tackle in North Queensland's first game. ©NRL Photos

Was there an option to double dip and go back to the ARL at that stage?

I didn't think about that. I just thought because I'd signed Super League I couldn't do that. I got a phone call from Darryl Van de Velde asking if I was interested in going to Castleford and I was just going to go for one year.

It's 20 years since you were named Man of Steel and in two stints you played close to 150 games for Castleford, how do you reflect on that part of your career?

It was the best time of my life. I got up in the middle of the night to watch Castleford beat Hull KR in 1986 and I was going for Castleford because they had Jamie Sandy and Ian French, two Queenslanders.

When I first went to England we lost 11 straight and I was getting hammered by the supporters. Then Stuart Raper came, we escaped relegation and I might have finished that year as captain. I captained them again in '98 and gradually as time went on we got better.

Which fans are tougher, England or Australia?

English. If you went over there and took the mickey and didn't respect the club, they hate you, and there have been plenty of Aussies who have gone over there and been hated. If they haven't had a dig they're hated.

When did you feel as though you'd earned their respect?

The year we escaped relegation they were coming up to me and applauding me. At the start I was like, What am I doing here? and by the end I was like, How good's this! That's why I signed another year.

What's the game you played in England that will forever stick in your mind?

In '99 we lost in the last five seconds against London to make it to the Challenge Cup Final. Steele Retchless – who I'm mates with – scored the try.

In the 1998 Challenge Cup, Graham Murray's first game in charge of Leeds, I put a bomb up right at the end from dummy-half. I wasn't supposed to kick it, I just put a bomb up, and Andrew Schick has flown above everyone and scored it and we won. The crowd at the end where we scored it were just going berserk.

Escaping relegation is massive. We were down 20-0 against Oldham at half-time and if we'd lost that game we were gone. We came back and won 25-20 and there were people crying in the grandstand. Then in '99 we beat Wigan and Leeds in the first two semis and it was like we'd won grand finals both times.

Adrian Vowles coached Fiji's women's team in 2019.
Adrian Vowles coached Fiji's women's team in 2019.

How did you end up playing for Scotland in the 2000 World Cup?

I didn't know I had heritage but it was amazing. I would have loved to have played for Great Britain while I was over there. You get a passion for what it is over there. The World Cup was awesome. If we'd beaten Samoa (Scotland lost 20-12) we would have played Australia which would have been amazing.

You've collected some jerseys in your time, which one has pride of place at home?

I've got nothing up in my house at all but I've got every jersey from when I was a kid all the way through. My Origin jersey is pride of place, Seagulls, Cowboys and my '99 Castleford ones are the pride and joy.

You used to get two jerseys when you played Origin back then and I didn't ask for the second one because I was too shy. I could have given that to Mum and Dad.