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Foggy memories: It was like a scene out of Gladiator

With two future Immortals in the Queensland Maroons halves for a large chunk of his career, Scott Prince had a simple philosophy about keeping his State of Origin dream alive.

"I thought that if the worst-case scenario was that I couldn’t make rep teams like the Queensland side, then I would still do my best in clubland to push JT and push Locky to be the best they could be,” Prince said.

Prince, who played five games for the Maroons in a 300-game NRL career, certainly did keep Darren Lockyer and Johnathan Thurston more than honest and took the chances that came his way.

After suffering two broken legs in 2001 and 2002 at the Brisbane Broncos, Prince then hurt his knee in the pre-season of 2003.

A move to the Wests Tigers in 2004 coincided with an Origin debut that 12 months earlier seemed a lifetime away

In six seasons in the NRL, he was yet to reach the 20-game mark and representing the Maroons in Game I at ANZ Stadium was the last thing on his mind when the year kicked off.

Donning maroon. Photo: NRL Images
Donning maroon. Photo: NRL Images

"In three years I had played 28 games and the old 'injury prone tag' was given to me through that period, and it didn’t sit well with me,” Prince recalled.

“My ultimate goal was always to play Origin, but in 2004 I just wanted to play a consistent season of rugby league for Wests Tigers to prove to myself and the other doubters that I could complete a full season.

"Not in my wildest dreams did I think I’d get my Maroons chance so soon. I call it the 'Steven Bradbury story' where every halfback in Queensland fell over and I was the last man standing.

"I wasn’t the selectors’ first, second or third preference, but I was the only halfback that was fit and healthy.

“When I got the call from Michael Hagan I was pretty much on standby because Locky had a rib injury.

"I really enjoyed the week. I was sitting on the team bus and Mick Hagan said, 'I can’t wipe the smile off your face', and that was because I was living my childhood dream.

Before we ran out I asked Gorden Tallis what to expect and he said, 'I can tell you it is going to be harder and faster, but words just don’t do it justice' and he was absolutely right.

Scott Prince

Prince, playing half alongside Chris Flannery, vindicated his selection well and truly and may well have been the man of the match had Shaun Timmins not landed an unlikely field goal to give New South Wales a 9-8 victory.

"I ran out at ANZ in front of the Blatchy's Blues and it was like a scene out of Gladiator with Russell Crowe," Prince said.

"The crowd went 'boo' and even though it is a team sport you feel like you are by yourself. Then the Blues ran out and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up as the crowd roared. I thought, 'holy s***. I am here. I can’t hide. Just do your best and don’t let your teammates down'.

"In that game I was lucky to score a try and then found myself in the open and my pass to Brent Tate stuck and he scored in the corner.

"I never thought about it in terms of my individual performance. I just know we had a great opportunity to win.

"There was a 'hoodoo' call that Queensland couldn’t win at ANZ Stadium, but no-one thought Timmins would land the winning field goal.

"When he did I thought we had missed a great opportunity to set it up for the series, given the second game was in Brisbane. The finish to that game was a dagger to the heart."

The Maroons next went to Suncorp Stadium and won 22-18 with Prince playing alongside returned skipper Lockyer in the halves. The match was famous for Slater collecting a Lockyer kick on the fly and chipping and chasing his way to one of the great Origin tries.

"I remember that moment of brilliance by Billy Slater, one of the best tries in State of Origin. I converted his try and I was pretty happy with that, even though I had bugger all to do with setting it up," Prince chuckled.

"That was my little claim to fame."

The decider was a disaster for Queensland with NSW winning 36-14 .

Prince was one of the fall guys for that series loss and was not selected in 2005, a season where he was Dally M captain of the year and the Clive Churchill Medal winner in the Wests Tigers premiership triumph.

"It was a hard pill to swallow. When you get a taste of Origin you want more," Prince said.

"I thought I would get a chance in 2005 but the opinion of three or four selectors was that I hadn’t done anything to give them the trust and faith that I could do the job moving forward.

"That drove me to channel my energy into my club performances and to push JT and push Locky to be the best they could be. Then ultimately, that would help Queensland win.

"Instead of kicking stones I worried about what I could control with the Wests Tigers. It certainly helped my game." 

In 2006 the Maroons began an eight series winning streak and breaking into the side was as tough as it had ever been.

Playing for Gold Coast Titans. Photo: NRL Images
Playing for Gold Coast Titans. Photo: NRL Images

Prince, now captain of the Titans, had to wait until Game II of 2008 to get his recall after a knee injury to Lockyer ruled him out of the final two games of the series.

"I was playing some decent footy for the Titans and was confident of doing the job," Prince said.

"We won 30-nil at Suncorp Stadium in Game II and levelled the series. I felt like I was at home in that arena and where I wanted to be.

"We went down to ANZ Stadium for the decider and the southern media brought up the hoodoo again. We had a great forward pack and a great backline and won [16-10]."

Prince set up a try for Israel Folau in both games with precision kicks that were all part of Queensland's master plan.

"I'd seen him in action for Melbourne and when I trained with Izzy in the prep for both those Origins in 2008 I realised what a weapon he was on the wing. I was in awe of his leaping ability," Prince said.

"Anthony Quinn was on the wing for the Blues and in Game I I thought Queensland had missed some opportunities because he came in high off the line and I thought there was a chance to catch him out by kicking in behind the line.

"When I got called in I had a chat to Mal Meninga and Neil Henry about exposing him. That was part of our plan and it certainly worked. Izzy’s skill finished it off as only he could."

Prince’s final Origin game started well. He set up a try for Folau with a precision bomb before the injury curse struck.

"I started the game feeling awesome and like that was where I was supposed to be but in that first half I broke my arm,” Prince said.

"I played the first 15 minutes and Braith Anasta was taking the ball up for NSW when my forearm connected with the point of his elbow and snapped the bone in my arm.

"It just so happened that was the final game in my short little Origin career.

"After that I worked my backside off and came back to make the Australian team in the 2008 World Cup which was a goal of mine."

In 2010 Prince was the Dally M halfback in the same season the Maroons won the Origin series 3-0, but it was no disgrace to have JT ahead of him.

"I was the only player in that 2010 Dally M team of the year not to be in the Australian team or a rep team, which was pretty crazy," Prince said.

"In another era it might have been a different story, but I am just happy that I got the honour and privilege to represent Queensland.

"JT will be an Immortal so to play alongside him at that level I look on as an honour and a privilege."

Prince has put back into the game since his retirement. He was the assistant coach of the Queensland under 20 side under Justin Hodges in 2018 when the side had their maiden victory over NSW before co-coaching the side in 2019 with Paul Dyer.

In 2019. Photo: NRL Images
In 2019. Photo: NRL Images

He works with the Beyond the Broncos girls academy and as a mentor of the Indigenous program where the focus is on school attendance and Year 12 completion.

Prince has also taken to touch football with a passion where he has been an Australian representative.

"I represented Australia in the men’s 30s and then played in the senior mixed side last year in the 2019 World Cup in Kuala Lumpur where we beat Cook Islands in the final," Prince said.

"I really looked at touch as a physical and mental challenge after I'd been doing NRL pre-seasons since I was 18.

"In my head I thought I retired a year or two too soon and I felt lost to the game.

"Then my cousin called me and asked if I wanted to play touch footy. I hadn’t played it for 10 years but I fell back in love with it.

"Hodgo gives it to me all the time about being too old and giving it up, but I looked at him and said 'my body will tell me when it’s time'. Until that happens I will be extracting all I can out of this old rig."

Acknowledgement of Country

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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