Rugby league for me started when I was four years old. I had my first game at four in Bowraville. This is where the whole controversy comes in. I played all my juniors in Bowraville.
Back then, there was no rules on where your senior game was. Senior game was first grade. My first first grade game was in Queensland. So, all my juniors was at Bowraville Juniors, from the age of four, right up to 15s, before I moved away to Newcastle.
Even though it was controversial, I could never see myself pulling on a Blues jersey. I represented New South Wales schoolboys, represented New South Wales in, I think it was 15s or 16s.
I think there was more controversy over myself because all my junior league, coming through the grades in New South Wales, and then going to Queensland for a short period of time.
But in Queensland I had a sense of belonging and a sense of family.
There was a family in Queensland that took me in as one of their own kids, and I look towards them as my family away from my family.
State of Origin for me as a kid was laying down in my lounge room waiting for the Origin kick off. Back then it was horrible mascots, the cockroaches and cane toads, I remember that clearly, and I remember the ball as well, clearly. It was the striped ball. Brown and white. I remember that.
I remember just lying there, watching. Just so excited. It didn’t matter who scored, both sides, I just loved that arena.
Steve Renouf was one of the great players. But I enjoyed watching the players, right across the board. I liked Peachey. I loved the way Ricky Stuart changed the game with his passing. Laurie Daley as well. Obviously big Mal and his barnstorming runs. There was a vast variety of players that I really sat back and enjoyed watching growing up and coming through.
When I got to higher levels at Norths Devils in Queensland, at ‘Bashup Park’, which I later found out was a levelled out tip that became Bishop Park, I created some great memories.
I won the Colts there with a guy I also played under 19 Queensland with, and that was Colin Wilkie. Went through there, won in the comp when I was 19. That was my first year there. Was quite special to be honest. Played at Suncorp. The only other time I played there then was for rep footy. Playing a grand final there for 19s Colts was pretty good. We’ve still got the picture at home. At my parent’s place up on the wall. Special times. I made my Cup debut there as well.
So you can see that being a Queenslander for me started off a bit different. It was controversial at the time and still is today.
For me, being a Queensland gave me a sense of belonging, to be honest.
I was with a good bunch of guys, I got billeted out with a family, went to Wavell, just made friends really quick and I’m still mates with a few of them today.
With State of Origin, I came through with Matty Scott and JT was part of that group. Seeing Matty Scott recently and hearing the guys talk about being reunited with family every time Origin came around… I never actually thought about it like that.
But you look forward to camps, look forward to playing those games, but to actually be a Queenslander… what it meant to me putting that Maroons jersey on for the first time is self-pride.
Quite a unique feeling. Something I’ll never forget is that very first camp and first game.
Getting my first call, I actually hung up from my manager at the time at Storm Frank Ponnisi. He was like ‘congratulations, you’ve been selected’ and I was like ‘nah, you’re bullshitting me’ and I just hung up. He tried to call again.
I said ‘stop, I’m over it’. Hung up again. It took Craig Bellamy ringing to me to tell me. I got off the phone and I was like ‘oh, this is actually real… I’ve got to get on a plane in two days’.
I rang mum and dad first, then nan and pop. Rang the family. Yeah, it was a great time.
I didn’t know what to pack so I packed all my wardrobe.
Yeah, I was going in like a deer in the headlights. Yeah, I was blown away by it.
I tried to keep a calm, cool face. You know, there was another five debutants with me. I went into the room and there was the biggest smile on my face.
I was like a little kid. I was like ‘holy shit, this is real’. You know, it was really good. A great feeling.
My first room mate was Brent Tate, so having him there, teaching me the little ins and outs of how to prepare for the big games, and stay relaxed, was good.
I think, though, it was in my nature anyway… I’m a relaxed person. Once I saw the boys training, and going from training, to be able to switch to relax time, did a lot for me as a player developing.
Putting the jersey on for the first time, there was goosebumps. I still get goosebumps talking about it.
I’d played 12 NRL games in the ’05 season and played a few games before actually getting the call up to Origin. You know, I had self-doubt about myself, but I had belief in myself too.
That these guys – Mal and the selectors – actually believed I could do it, with the players around me, it gave me a lot of confidence.
But I just remember walking up to the lockers and seeing the jersey there, at ANZ, seeing it there with my name on it and my Queensland number.
For my first run out, I didn’t hear anything to be honest. I was just like ‘oh my god’.
You know, running out, I had to keep my nerves, keep myself calm. I was like ‘you know, this is it’.
Yeah, I had a mixed night. I was more frustrated or let down that we went into that series possibly losing four series in a row. No one had done that. The pressure was on us.
After that one game, I had bad news. I had stress fractures in my back, so I didn’t play Game II or Game III. I didn’t think I’d be able to get back into that arena again.
I still remember it, because Brett Finch game in as number 20, 24 hours before, and kicked the winning field goal. At that point, I got put to fullback.
When it comes to Origin, the biggest highlights for me were obviously my debut. But one of the biggest highlights was being named captain.
Getting that phone call from Kevie, when he goes ‘I want you to be my main man, be a leader’, yeah, I know it was only two games, the other one I had an injury and the following year was the ACL. So it was only for a short time, but not too many people get to captain Queensland. Yeah, it was a highlight. That’s for sure.
Getting that call I was emotional. There were tears. Tears of joy.
My first phone call after it, was again, to the family. I was lucky enough to be in Townsville, played the Cowboys that night. Coming into camp from there… I asked if I could stay up there. At that time, two of my best mates, who I have been best friends with since Year 2 and Year 6, lived in Townsville. So we ended up celebrating over at Maggie Island, Magnetic Island, for the day. Then came back and sat back and relaxed before I flew into camp the next day. It was really good to share that moment with two of my best mates. Good mates from day one.
In camps, Matt Scott came through with me. Nate Myles is another one. It’s always good to play alongside these guys. But, I think me and Matt Scott, just hit it off from day one in camp and we always stay in touch.
We went through pretty similar injuries. ACLs, shoulders. Always around similar times. He’s had a crook back, crook neck.
Queenslanders, you have equally made my time in maroon enjoyable, to be honest. I can see how much you all look forward to each series. It’s one thing that you look forward to each year.
I got to see the emotion you have, and the joy we brought when we went to remote areas, and had our training days, had our fan days.
It always brought us back to ‘this is what we actually play for’. Made us think, ‘this is what we play for. The fans, these families, fans… who live and bleed maroon’.
It’s very rare that players get to see that other side of it, and for us, we got to see that. It gave us a reality check… ‘you’re not only playing for your family and your team mates, you’re playing for these guys and families, fans’.
It was a blessing for us.
Running out at Suncorp is a feeling you can never, ever describe. It’s loud, it’s raw, it’s rare. Once again, I am so blessed to have been part of that.
My time in maroon is only a small speck in the 40 years that we’ve had. But I am glad to be part of it. For that speck.
We had that dominance over 13 years, where we had great sides, great players beside us, great coaches. And everything else – great camps. Alfie. The yowie. He is such a character. And no one else would get away with what he does.
One time, it was about eight degrees, freezing cold, and we went out for dinner. On the way back he decided to tell the bus driver to pull up. We were staying in a caravan park, in cabins, and he jumped in a wheelie bin so when the boys got off the bus, started walking in, he pops out, jumps out, naked, and starts sprinting down. Another time, in Coolum, he jumped out from behind the sand dunes in a man-kini. That’s just Alf. He brings so much joy and comedy. Most definitely helps.
But in all seriousness, I honestly believe a period of dominance like that won’t ever be repeated. To be part of that dominance, and that legacy, is something I will always remember.
I think the future of Queensland is looking bright though. We’ve got a lot of young guys coming through, a lot of guys that are new to the Origin arena. They have a great leader in Daly.
So if we get more people in camp – Hodges, JT. Guys that know the game in and out, and are passionate about it. There’s Dylan Napa there now, a person who everyone looks to. He can be the big change in the forward front.
But once again, there’s young guys coming through. Every team goes through it. NSW went through it and now they’re starting to click because they’ve stuck with the same players. Same thing will happen with Queensland.
We’re always going to be there, fighting for a series win. Whether it’s this year or not, it won’t be too far off. That’s for sure.
In terms of my future, I’m uncertain what it holds. I didn’t want to go into coaching, but obviously being at Souths and being around the coaching staff, and helping out with the 16s, 18s, our Cup side and 20s, doing stuff underneath Wayne, it has been enjoyable, fun. But I never saw myself as a coach. I signed on more in a mentoring role, but slowly, gradually, it became more a coaching role.
I’m became a development coach down there. Who knows what’s going to happen? I am always looking at developing individuals to make them better players, better people. There’s a lot of talent out there. At the end of the day, I’ll be happy to see these players progress to the next level.
Queensland fans, I just want to finish with a big, massive thank you.
I can’t say thank you enough.
There’s so many feelings that pop to mind when I think of what you all did for me during my time in maroon. What you still do now.
Going to remote areas, seeing you, having that attachment. Putting the Maroons jersey on, the passion stretches so far and wide. A massive thanks for supporting me, supporting the Maroons.