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Foggy memories: Wayne’s whispers gave Renouf a pearler farewell

With his favourite coach Wayne Bennett whispering motivational messages in his ear, in 1998 Steve Renouf got the Queensland Maroons send-off he had craved for his entire State of Origin career.

The Pearl, as he is universally known, was the silky smooth centre the rugby league gods would have created in their most inspired moments.

His Maroons career was far from smooth however, with injuries and the Super League war conspiring to limit his Origin appearances to 11.

When his final year in Maroons colours rolled around, Renouf had his Brisbane Broncos coach in charge of Queensland for the first time in his career.

The relationship between the duo is a special one. To this day Bennett signs of his texts to Renouf with "coach".

"I have always said I was very Broncos-centric but I was probably more Wayne-centric. I really didn’t like being coached by anyone else," Renouf said.

"I’d always get little messages from Wayne in my ear, via Springer [Tony Spencer] who was our Origin strapper. Wayne would keep the messages flowing to keep me on the ball because my mind often wandered.

"With Wayne as my coach I was comfortable. My mindset was settled and I was relaxed.

"When we won the 1998 series at the SFS I had a bit of a cry. They were tears of joy because finally I had played in all three games in a winning series, and I also knew I was about to pull the pin on my rep career."

The Maroons were chock full of Broncos players in 1998 and they were men inspired in both the club and Origin arena.

"We’d won the 1997 Super League comp but it was treated as a non-event and no-one gave us credit, while Newcastle had won the ARL comp and they had all the accolades," Renouf recalled.

"That year at the Broncos we had a team meeting where we made a pact, that now we were all back together we’d show everyone who the best team was.

"That same mentality filtered through into the Queensland team because we had so many Broncos in it

"Wayne had instilled a belief in the team and it was the perfect balance of older guys like myself, Allan Langer and Kevin Walters with rising stars such as Tunza [Tonie Carroll], Darren Lockyer and Shane Webcke. Gorden Tallis was in that team as well.

"Webby had come on the scene in the Super League Tri-Series the year before but that 1998 series he really arrived and solidified his position as one of the best props in the game.

"People look for individual performances but for me to part of that [2-1] 1998 winning series with Wayne as coach, Alf as captain and a heap of Broncos was special and fun."

Every FOG remembers their first Maroons call-up and Renouf is no different.

"I was 20 years old and in the second year of an electrician’s apprenticeship at the Mater Hospital," Renouf recalled.

"Back then you had to listen to ABC radio to find out if you were in the team. I was starting my career and playing some decent footy but thought I was an outside chance, but I tuned in that afternoon and got named on the bench solely because Dale Shearer was injured.

"It was an amazing feeling to be named. I had goose bumps. And then to be led out onto the old Lang Park by the King, and to play alongside my idol Mal Meninga, was a dream come true."

The Maroons won Renouf’s first Origin clash 6-4 and the next year, once again, he was called up for Game I due to an injury.

Queensland lost that game 14-6 and Renouf went back to the Broncos where he finished the year with a length of the field try in the grand final win over St George and a World Cup final try in Australia’s triumph at Wembley Stadium.

In 1993 the wheel had turned and in Game I he was the starting centre and ready to solidify his Maroons spot, but his Origin nemesis Paul McGregor struck.

"I can remember we were coming out of our quarter. Mal gave me the ball and as I fell Paul McGregor landed on my foot and squashed it," Renouf said.

"It blew up and I was taken off. It turned out to be a Lisfranc injury. I remember in the team bus later I couldn’t even put a shoe on. Wally was the coach in 1994 and when I showed him how bad it was he was shattered."

Renouf was shattered too and missed the rest of the series.

There was a silver lining later that year when he was called into the Test team to play New Zealand. Once again he finished off the year with another Broncos premiership. As he looked to 1994, Renouf was hoping he could finally play consecutive Origin games, but still philosophical.

"I was in, out, in and out. I just wanted a chance to consolidate my position," Renouf said.

"I was also taught not to stress too much about things beyond my control, and that is just the way it was."

At the SFS in 1994, with Lewis as the coach, Renouf played his part in the 'miracle try' to Mark Coyne that snatched a 16-12 win at the death.

There were eight Maroons involved, including Meninga and Langer who both handled twice, in a try that went through a perfect 10 sets of hands.

Mark Coyne - Miracle Try

As he skirted down the left touchline Renouf somehow managed a "miracle pass" to flying Broncos teammate Michael Hancock.

"Willie Carne had come from the opposite wing and given me the ball. I had a bit of space and got the ball back on the inside to Mick Hancock with a funny old openhanded flick," Renouf said.

"As he got driven, Mick’s pass was a beauty to Darren Smith. Smithy did a beautiful pass to Alf who did the same to Mal. Obviously Coyney had work to do to get to the tryline and it all worked out.

"We went from the right side of the field to the left and finished in the right corner in a perfect zigzag. You couldn’t script it."

You couldn't script what happened next to Renouf, who once again was cruelled by misfortune just as his Origin career was kicking off once again. Playing in the 20-14 World Club Challenge loss to Wigan at Brisbane’s ANZ Stadium he tweaked a hamstring.

"The second game of that 1994 Origin series was in Melbourne on June 8, my birthday, and I missed it. I was filthy," Renouf said.

"I’d gone into camp hoping it was fine, but it wasn’t to be."

He was back for the 1994 decider, won by New South Wales, and then missed the 1995 series due to the Super League war.

The 1996 series was a disappointing one for Renouf and the Maroons, beaten 3-nil by a dominant NSW side that boasted one of the most ferocious forward packs of the Origin era.

More than two decades after his Origin career finished, the 49-year-old does not look back with any regrets.

"People often say to me 'you only played 11 Origin games', but I tell them it is not about that," Renouf said.

"I got to play 11 more than a thousand-million other people. I only look at it as a positive. It’s certainly not a negative."

These days Renouf, a proud Aboriginal man, is an ambassador for the Deadly Choices program which has made such a positive impact in the area of Indigenous health.

"This is our tenth year of Deadly Choices and it is about delivering positive health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and we do that through our 21 clinics and Aboriginal medical services," Renouf said.

 
 
 
 
 
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My @deadlychoices today a walk in my area! It might be the beard, but people you can smile 😊 and say gday! The virus is not going to jump from my skin to yours 😳💪🏾

A post shared by Steve Renouf (@steve_renouf) on

"Deadly Choices was developed to get communities involved in their own health and it has worked so well for us because now we are seeing our people get the health checks that they never did before. It is preventative health care that is saving lives across the nation.

"I also work with the Australian Digital Health Agency on the My Health Record where I co-chair one of their committees. That is very important work for the health of the country."  

Renouf is also a columnist and analyst for NRL.com and does work with NRL Travel where he spreads the gospel of rugby league and presses the flesh with members of the public who attend special events on the NRL calendar.

"The NRL is a place I probably never envisaged myself working but they are a good organisation and I am really enjoying what I do with them," Renouf said.

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Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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