To me, being a Queenslander means the culmination of a lifelong dream. I grew up in the most southern town of Queensland called Wallangarra, which has now 300 people.
When I was a boy growing up it was a bit bigger, but unfortunately a lot of the industries have shut down in town.
My house was 50 metres on the Queensland side of the border. So the New South Wales, Queensland border and everything it entwines really was quite real for us. ‘Palpable’ is the best word. Because for daylight savings, I’d walk 50 metres and change time zones. You have two New Years Eve celebrations, walking from one side of the trainline to another.
So that border, and everything is entwines, has been part of everything for me growing up.
When I was nine I saw my first State of Origin game. Out at Lang Park on the 8th of July 1980. Like so many hundreds of thousands of Queenslanders, the amount of pride and passion felt when Arthur Beetson took to the field, was immense.
I didn’t know who Arthur Beetson was at that stage. All I remember was how proud my dad was to see Arthur Beetson take to the field in maroon.
That image of him taking to the field, slapping the chalk dusk, saw dust, on his chest, will always live with me.
So to be a Queenslander represented something special.
When I became cognitive to the world, my first ever memories were from 1980, when I was eight, turning nine years old.
I remember the Moscow Olympics, I remember the 1980 NRL grand final, or ARL grand final as it was then, and I remember, clear as day, the 1980 State of Origin.
I remember saying to my parents, ‘all I ever want to do is represent Queensland’.
Rugby league for me started at the Wallangarra Bulls in under 9s. I was five years old. And we played in the Warwick and District competition.
I played one game and I retired.
I can remember I came off the field, supposedly crying because I was obviously too little playing with my older brothers. It was the first and only time I really played with them. I came off the field, because I was just too small, and ran to the canteen and hid behind my mum’s legs, crying.
Anyway, I ended up playing the next year, when I was six, for Wallangarra, in under 9s for the season.
Then unfortunately the meatworks in the town shut down. Wallangarra had 850 people then. Population of 600 men and women worked in the meatworks.
So obviously when that shut down, it devastated the town. All of a sudden a lot of the sporting organisations, along with other things, fell over. The Wallangarra Bulls, both junior and senior clubs, collapsed.
So then I went and played in Tenterfield, the nearest town. I played all my junior football on the border and at Tenterfield, then I went to North Sydney Bears.
When I was 19, we signed one of the greatest players that I ever had the chance to play with - the late, great Peter Jackson, who played for Queensland.
You wouldn’t get a more passionate Queenslander.
He saw me one day, and we were chatting away, and he asked where I was from. I told him. Then he goes ‘does that make you a Queenslander?’ I said, ‘yeah I’m a Queenslander. I spent my life in Queensland, went to school in Queensland, played a little bit of schoolboy football… I’m a Queenslander’.
I said, only thing was, I wasn’t sure what counted as my first senior game, because living on the border, I wasn’t sure.
He goes ‘well, what do think?’ and I said ‘well I did play an under 18 game for Millmerran versus Warwick at Father Ranger Oval in Warwick. I turned up at the game, I was 15, my brother was playing, he was working at the railway out there’.
He said to me, ‘did you play in that game as a 15-year-old? And did you sign a form?’ and I said ‘yes, I did sign a form which qualified me to play’. He said ‘don’t worry, I bet you we can find that form’.
So as it turns out, Peter Jackson told the late, great Ross Livermore about me, in the year I was starting to rise up through the grades.
He said ‘watch this kid, he’s a Queenslander, but not that you’ll know about it’. He said ‘you have to go and find this form that was signed in Warwick about seven or eight years ago, in was cupboard in the back somewhere at Toowoomba Rugby League’. And guess what? They found it.
When I got called up. It was 1992. Queensland unfortunately lost Game I.
At that stage I was training with the great Johnny Lewis, who was Australia’s foremost boxing coach.
So I was at the Newtown Police boys comp, and I trained, and I came home to the house I was staying at in Sydney, and low and behold, my mum happened to be staying with me for a week or so.
Mum answered the phone. She got told that I’d been picked to play for Queensland. I remember coming through the front door and my mum, she played netball for Queensland so she was probably in her early 60s then but quite athletic. She jumped, I reckon five metres through the air, and I ended up catching her.
I said ‘what’s wrong with you?’ and she said ‘you’ve been picked to play for Queensland’. I didn’t believe it at first. I said, ‘you’re kidding me’. She goes, ‘nah, I just got a phone call from Ross Livermore’. I rang to confirm it.
So that was a great memory because that was the only game mum saw me play. She passed away not long after that. So it’s really good that she took the call and she got to be part of that whole journey because I wouldn’t have made Queensland without her. Without a doubt.
My mum was no different to any other country woman. The most selfless human being. I look back now as a parent and go ‘wow’.
I’ve got two kids and it drives me crazy the amount of commitments you’ve got. She had four and we’d drive hundreds of kilometres. If we drive 20 kilometres, we have a whinge these days.
So I look at people like my mum, and think ‘that is the epitome of what volunteering as a parent is all about’. Totally selfless.
When it came to watching footy, I was lucky, because I lived on the border, I got to see plenty.
We’re talking in the early 80s, I got to watch rugby league from both Brisbane and Sydney competitions. We used to get the Saturday afternoon Sydney comp and the Sunday evening Brisbane comp match of the rounds.
So I was a Parramatta fan in Sydney. I looked up to Ray Price, Mr Perpetual Motion. Just his work ethic, commitment and passion was great.
And in Brisbane, I was an Easts Tigers fan. I used to love watching blokes like Gavin Jones, Johnny Lang.
1983 was probably one of the greatest years of my life because those two teams – Parramatta and Easts Tigers – both won their respective competitions. That had never happened before and it hasn’t happened since.
On that, I used to try and not look up to any one specific player. I used to try and take a bit out of the game of all of my favourite players, if that makes sense.
I was a bit of a blend. I used to love all different players and take bits out of their game. Ray Price was one, Wayne Pearce was another and a player I had the great pleasure of playing with, my favourite Queensland player, was Bobby Linder.
You wouldn’t find a bigger big game player than Bob Linder. On the big stage, in big moments, Bob never let anybody down.
My first Queensland camp, in 1992. It’s great I’ve already introduced you to the character that was Peter Jackson. He was my first roomie.
For my first two games, I roomed with Peter Jackson.
Six years I played Origin and I roomed in the same hotel, same room, same bed. It was the Travel Lodge Roma Street, as it was called then.
What I remember, with so much passion now, and I tell the story quite regularly, I had my first ever team meeting, my first day in camp, and like everybody, you’re sitting in a room as a young kid, 20-year-old man, I was sitting there with my heroes.
In the room was Mal Meninga, Allan Langer, Peter Jackson, Gary Belcher, Mick Hancock, Willie Carne, Wally Lewis was in there, Arthur Beetson was in there. I was absolutely in awe.
I remember I left that meeting and went back to my room. I’d just been given my first Queensland tracksuit, and I’d been training five years for it. I started at 15, training hard to be a Queenslander. I’d trained five years to get this tracksuit.
I was looking down at this tracksuit, on the end of my bed, and I was thinking about all of the people that helped me be in that room, right then and there.Billy Moore FOG #75
I’ve always liked to pull back and see the bigger picture.
I thought about my parents, my brothers, my former coaches and team mates, and Jacko walked into the room, and he walked up, he put his hand on my shoulder, and he said he knew exactly what I was thinking.
He said ‘welcome to the Maroons family. Next Wednesday night you have to prove you belong in this family’. I said ‘Jacko! I’m pumped!’.
I said ‘Let’s go train for Queensland’. He goes, ‘train? We don’t train son’. I said ‘what do we do?’ and he said ‘we go to the pub’.
That day, instead of training, we went to the pub on got on the piss.
It was his passion that you saw coming down the tunnel about three or four years later.
And while I’m on Jacko, and I put this in bold, you wonder what it is to be a Queenslander, Peter Jackson told me that. It meant three things.
You want to be a Queenslander, there’s three rules that you must understand to wear the maroon you have to comply with.
First of all, is ‘help your mate’. Second is ‘always find a solution’. And the third one is ‘no excuses’.
You want to be a Queenslander, in the words of Jacko, that’s what you had to do. And I’ve always held that as my own. They’re the three things you need to be a Queenslander.
When it came to my first run out, I’ve always said I didn’t run out, I floated.
It was the greatest moment, at that point in my life. A culmination of a five year dream. I was that pumped. I was a very emotional person. As most have seen.
To run out wearing maroon, like I said, it was the only game my mum saw me play.
I didn’t know that at that stage but, you know, to come out on that field, and full house, first game wearing maroon, at Lang Park, was very special.
As I said, I look back now and I don’t really remember running out. I floated.
I floated on my adrenaline. But the other igniting piece was the crowd. The crowd, when you play for Queensland, is so important. So powerful. They make you, as I said, find the solution. You make every Queensland player find the solution.
If you get fatigued, you’ll find a solution, because the Queensland crowd, they will you on. They carry you home. You will us on, you carry us home.
The highlights for me…. firstly, my first game was significant.
Next, I was on the field for the greatest try that was probably ever scored in rugby league State of Origin history, and I got used as a decoy twice. That was pretty funny, looking back on the 1994 game when Mark Coyne scored the try.
Mark Coyne - Miracle Try
But without a doubt, the greatest thing in my 17 games, was being part of the 1995 team – Fatty’s Neville’s.
Eighteen players were used. We’re all still close today. What we did was unheard of. When you look back on paper now, you go, that’s a good side.
But when they picked that team in 1995, that side had nine rookies. We pulled Ben Ikin from the Gold Coast off the bench, off the bench for the Gold Coast for three games, after playing for Queensland Under 18s. Pulled a couple of blokes off the bench for the Crushers.
It’s the greatest example of a champion team. Not a team of champions, but a champion team.
It personifies what Queensland is all about, in 1995. That’s why I think, behind the 1980 team, Queenslanders probably put that team next down. Because we came up against a team that had 12 Australian players. We were given no hope. The greatest thing that happened was being told we had no chance.
We had Fatty Vautin and Chris Close leading that squad. The more we were told we couldn’t, we knew we could. We were told we wouldn’t win, we knew we would. That’s my greatest Origin moment.
Queenslanders, there’s no one better than you. There’s nothing better than a Queensland fan. Than Queenslanders.
As I said, you have drive and passion to represent Queensland, and when you get there, to have those fans – to have you, in a sense, as part of the journey makes it so worthwhile.
Because Queenslanders, when it comes to Origin, care. That’s the difference. Queensland fans care. You care at a level which New South Wales fans don’t. You buy in to the passion.
I’ve always said Origin is about little brother playing big brother.
When you’re big brother, you know little brother is there but there’s other things on your mind. When you’re little brother, you’re fixated on one thing only - there’s only one thing you want, and that’s to beat big brother.
Queensland fans have that sort of dogged approach where there’s no such thing as a glorious loss to a Queenslander. You’re putting lipstick on a pig. Queensland fans, we are tremendous winners and shocking losers.
But when you get to be around Queensland fans, as a Maroons player, you understand how special and how much of an honour it is to be playing in a Queensland jersey.
There’s so much passion. And the call ‘Queenslander’ is a constant.
About that Queensland chant. That had been around long before everyone first saw it in 1995.
It started back in a game in the late 80s when Queensland had a horrific run of injuries in the match.
Allan Langer and Bobby Linder both broke their leg in the first half. Mal Meninga broke his cheek bone. And Martin Bella was unconscious.
So, half time Queensland had no subs – 13 players, that was it.
We were leading but in Origin you always get fatigued. And Fatty Vautin, Gary Belcher and the late, great Tosser Turner got together and said ‘righto, we’re going to need something special to help carry the team’.
They said, ‘what about we have a word? The word has got to have some meaning’. And the word they came up with was ‘Queenslander’.
What it meant was actually what Jacko told me – about helping your mate, find a solution and no excuses.
So when you say that, it’s not just a word. It means a call to action.
Jacko told me that in 1992 and I loved it as you can tell. I passed it on. Every year it gets passed on to the next batch of young people coming through.
Cue 1995, when the Super League war raged.
Queensland can’t pick players from Super League clubs, so Brisbane, Canberra and Canterbury players couldn’t play for us, which devastates Queensland because there’s such a small catchment pool.
New South Wales, they weren’t affected anywhere near as much.
In 1995, we had nine rookies. We were in the change sheds before the game, Game I 1995, and Gary Larson said to me in his beautiful, dulcet, husky tones ‘mate, tell them the Queenslander thing, will ya?’
So I told them about ‘Queenslander’, and about what Jacko told me, about the three things.
I told them about where the call came from, told them what it meant to me, and that our backs were to the wall and they were going win the game, guaranteed.
That the word needed to be said, but it has to mean something. Everyone was pumped. Everyone started screaming ‘Queenslander’.
We were all pumped up, we turned and we walked down to go onto the field. Game I, 1995, Channel Nine decided to have some new vision. They put a camera in the tunnel. No one knew it was there, we didn’t know it was there, I didn’t know it was there. The other 16 blokes shut up and I screamed it. The camera caught me. The rest is history.
I am so humbled. I never wrote it, it’s not my call. As I say to everybody, the greatest thing is, I don’t own it. Every Queenslander owns it.
It’s the biggest brand in Queensland. It gets bigger and bigger every year. I’m amazed.
You see Queenslanders, it’s our rallying cry. It’s our catch call. We love it. We all buy into the fact it means who we are and what we believe it.
Long after I’m gone, I think ‘Queenslander’ is still going to be around.
But being part of the Queensland story is very humbling. Very humbling.
I think of where I came from, I think of the journey I went on, I think of the people that were with me, some not with me anymore but their spirits are. To actually be a part of that history, which, when it started 40 years ago I was stunned how much I wanted to be part of it, to now, be attached to it, I’m very honoured, humbled and it’s great. It’s great.
State of Origin is great for Queensland, a great thing for rugby league.
It gives balance to the rugby league world because without us, New South Wales wouldn’t have someone to hate and visa versa. There’s a lot to it.
With Origin, I think about Arthur Beetson, Wally Lewis. I think about the modern day players like Lockyer, Thurston… I am nowhere near the calibre of those players. Not in the same ball park. But I have a connection, which I’m very proud of.
The future of Queensland is very, very strong.
Obviously we’ve come off a golden period. When you think of the players who came through together, and what they did, the success they had, was great.
You obviously can’t produce players like that all the time, but Queenslanders are always hungry to continue to find good talent.
And when you think of who has popped up in the last couple of years in Kalyn Ponga, and alike, we’ve got some great young people coming through.
We’ve got a great coach in Kevie Walters, who is passionate about Queensland, and understands the history of it.
We’ve got a fan base – we’ve got you - who won’t accept mediocrity. That’s not how we roll.
I’m very confident in Queensland because of our junior identification lines, the talent that’s in the state.
I live on the Sunshine Coast and rugby league numbers are up for 2020 already. So the talent is there, the game is growing, we’re passionate about it. We’ll be ok.
I know we won’t forget where we come from, I know we value where we are now and we’re excited to where we can go, how good we can become.
So, the Queenslander will be around for many, many years to come.
For me, coming from Wallangarra and living 50 metres from the border, Origin was palpable.
To have grown up and be part of it was a dream come true.
Queenslanders, thank you for being part of my journey. That is all.