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‘I just remember being so nervous’

Dear Queenslanders,

It was from an early age that I got an understanding of what State of Origin was all about.

I grew up in Redcliffe, on the northside of Brisbane, and being a rugby league town, my favourite time of the year, was Origin nights.

Like every other family in the state, we always gathered around the TV and cheered our heroes on.

The thing that stood out to me was that pride and that passion in that mighty Queensland Maroons jersey.

It was instilled through what you would see on the TV - deeds of courage, playing for your mate, and fighting to the death to bring that shield home. 

There were those great memories of primary school when Queensland won, going to school the next day with a heart full of pride and that’s how it really started; that building of the passion and the understanding of identity and what that Maroons jersey stood for.

I grew up during the ‘80s and early ‘90s when we led by King Wally, Big Mal, Gene Miles, Peter Jackson, Bobby Lindner and a young Alfie Langer – some amazing players. They were my heroes growing up.

That was pretty much where it all started for me, remembering those Origin series battles back then.

A few years later, I would make my debut for Queensland in 2001, with nine other debutants.

In 2001. Photo: NRL Images
In 2001. Photo: NRL Images

My name had been bandied around and I think I got the phone call ... it was from Ross Livermore and just to get that phone call was just everything. Everything that you dream about, to get that call up.

It’s a great moment when you make your debut in the NRL, then to take the next step to become a representative player for the first time… that’s just everything.

And I think too, when your family remember the boyhood dreams of kicking the footy in the backyard. Then a few years later, you’re called to duty for the mighty Maroons – their emotion and the pride in their eyes is something you never forget.

That’s what resonates with you if you are fortunate to pull on the Maroons jersey as a player ... just remembering and reminiscing about those wonderful memories as a kid, growing up and idolising the Queensland jersey and all of sudden, it’s your responsibility and then to understand what that responsibility is all about.

The first day in camp – what I remember is just the nerves. Meeting Chris ‘Choppy’ Close – an Origin legend as our team manager, seeing selector Gene Miles, Wally Lewis in his media role, and having the chance to play alongside Alfie… this was my childhood dream coming true. 

I was so grateful to be there, but I remember being so nervous.

That’s something that I battled with a lot - the nerves and not wanting to let my heroes down.

You are in a room with guys you idolised, you look up to and they are expecting you to go out there and do a job, as well as the whole state.

As ‘the Godfather’ of Queensland Origin, Dick ‘Tosser’ Turner would tell us – Queensland expects you to do your duty.

As my first Origin camp ticked over day by day, I remember the excitement just knowing that I was only days away from pulling on the Maroons jersey for the first time.

Before you know it – it’s game day, that day you’ve waited for is now here.

I will never forget that first time donning that jersey, then running out onto Lang Park – the last time before it was to be redeveloped into Suncorp Stadium.

I ran out to the Milton Road end, where a few years before, I sat in that concrete terrace as a wide-eyed school boy.

That roar – that chest thumping roar as you cross the white touch line is like nothing else you will ever experience.

We would go onto to win that first game then our hero Alfie returned from England to steer us to a famous 2001 series win. 

The front row is where I plied my trade, and in those early days, Shane Webcke and Steve Price, who I would go onto partner for the majority of my time in maroon, were great mentors and allies.

In 2007. Photo: NRL Images
In 2007. Photo: NRL Images

Then a few years later, I think about guys like Matty Scott and Dave Shillington, Dallas Johnson, Ash Harrison, Jacob Lillyman, Ben Hannant, Sam Thaiday and Nate Myles, who were all on the rise at that time, who you knew were never going to let anyone down – we were going to be in great hands up front. 

As a senior player, all you want is the best for them and you just try to help them as best as possible, whether it’s just a little bit of advice or you try to lead by example on the training paddock and when we play. 

I think they give you a lot too, because you feed off their enthusiasm and their energy and they keep pushing you to be better. 

There was a stage in my career too where Matty Scott and Dave Shillington were the best young props going around, so you had to be on your toes to try and hold your spot in there.

It’s all part and parcel of the Origin journey – you can never take it for granted.

Then, it goes by so quick… 12 years and 33 games later for me.

In 2004. Photo: NRL Images
In 2004. Photo: NRL Images

For me, my last game for Queensland in 2012 was very emotional, it almost didn’t happen.

I was 36 years old and in my final year of footy in the NRL, I had announced my retirement at year’s end.

I told coach Mal Meninga that I felt my form for the Brisbane Broncos wasn’t up to scratch – and there were more deserving front rowers to pick.

Mal, quite bluntly, told me to pull my head in, the boys need me to be there, my presence alone would be good for the lads…. I replied I wouldn’t let him down.

What a series it was.

In Game III, Cooper Cronk kicked the series-winning field goal – what a champion he is and champions always rise to the occasion.

I remember doing a lap of honour with the lads and seeing those faces of our supporters in the crowd, that feeling of absolute gratitude, having had the opportunity to have done it for so long ... to ride the wave of the highs and lows of Origin, just saying goodbye to that chapter in your life, because it is such a wonderful time.

One of the great traditions Mal brought in was, as a team, we would travel out to the regions early in our preparations.

If you ever needed a reminder of what Origin means and what Queensland pride is all about – you would see it firsthand.

I remember our trips to Emerald and Roma especially, communities going through great hardship. The stories of families driving for three, four hours to see us in the flesh.

We would walk down the main streets and see them lined along the footpaths for a photo, an autograph – that maroon pride and passion.

We were told it meant a lot to these people for us to come out there, but to be honest it meant more to us.

Then a few nights later, when it came time to run out in front of 80,000 at ANZ Stadium, Sydney – you would see those faces back in Roma and Emerald. That’s who you were going to do it for, and we did.

I love how Kevie has kept that tradition going and you don’t getter a prouder Queenslander than him - that pride runs thick and heavy through his veins.

We have an amazing group of current Maroons, and having Kev at the helm and continuing to make these trips ensures we will never forget who we do it for – our Maroons mob, our people. 

I enjoyed that opportunity in footy to travel and meet the fans – to meet you - and listening to your Origin memories and stories.

I just remember so many occasions when I was playing that we just felt down and we were busted and there was no petrol left in the tank – but that crowd just gets behind you and wills you on and you know?

I think we can credit a lot of Queensland’s success to the way you can feel the pride and passion of the crowd, the way they cheer; to the way you can feel that Queenslander pride and passion of our supporters.

The way they – you - cheer from the stands when you are out there in the middle or in front of their TV at home yelling and screaming.

Hearing those stories of Origin nights, riding every tackle, every run – it’s wonderful and is what makes Origin so special – as it did for me as a kid back in Redcliffe all those years ago. 

I am very privileged to have had that opportunity and I know what Queenslanders appreciate, giving time to  sit down and have a yarn and share an Origin story over a cold beer or two – nothing better I reckon!

Thank you,

Petero Civoniceva

FOG #120