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'I ran at Gallen... it hurt a lot'

Dear Queenslanders,

What does being a Queenslander mean to me? Being a Queenslander, to me, means unity.

When I think of Queenslanders, I think straight away that we help each other out through anything. And we’ve had a lot of hard times, so we’re tough people.

We’re loyal. We’re very good at looking after each other. If one Queenslander is in trouble, we’re the first to put our hands up to help. And if you’re not a Queenslander, we’ll still help as well.

When it comes to rugby league, it all started for me at Grovely State School. That’s where I played my first game of rugby league.

My best friend Cam Starkey was the one who introduced me to footy.

I played soccer before I played rugby league. It would have been around under 10s at school, so I don’t know what grade that is. But that’s when Cam showed me rugby league. I started playing it on the oval. I really just enjoyed playing the game.

The difference between soccer and rugby league, for me, is… soccer is a team sport but I felt like there was a lot of individuals in a lot of the teams I played in when I played soccer, but in rugby league, it was so different.

Everyone wanted to help each other. And make sure we won the game as a team.

I most definitely remember State of Origin at home, as a kid. I think, when I talk about Origin, it was the only rugby league I really, really watched from start to finish.

I had a pretty short attention span, I had a lot of energy when I was a kid, couldn’t keep still. So if I was watching a footy game with my grandfather, I’d probably only last the first 15 in the first half and the last 10 minutes of the second half.

With my grandparents. Photo: NRL Images
With my grandparents. Photo: NRL Images

Just because I was so excited to go and play footy with my brothers or my cousins. But when it came to Origin, there was no moving. It was another thing.

The lead up to it, when there was someone talking about it on the field… I still see it in my head, that camera view revolving around someone talking about the game. Most of the time, I think it was Gus Gould.

But yeah, the best memories I have was watching Origin.

When I was in high school, it was all about getting together and watching with your mates and enjoying the time together. And knowing always, there was tough times, obviously as a Queenslander, growing up here, because we didn’t win every year and there was a lot of dominance from New South Wales. But like I said before, being a Queenslander is being loyal. I stuck with them. I enjoyed watching Queensland as a kid.

I looked up to someone a bit different. I know I’m a Queenslander, but Preston Campbell was someone who I looked up to and aspired to be like because he was so small in the game, and so good culturally as well around Indigenous people.

But if I have to talk about someone who paved the way for us Indigenous kids, it’s obviously Arthur Beetson.

Jharal Yow Yeh FOG #172

Every time I think of Artie and re-watch those films of him, they’re the reason why I wanted to play Origin. There was obviously times I’d watch Greg Inglis, when I was younger as well. But I think Arthur Beetson was definitely the key stakeholder for me wanting to play.

My whole family went for NSW, by the way. It was really hard in my home. They all went for NSW purely because they didn’t like the Broncos, which is another weird thing, because the Broncos were so dominant when I was growing up. So, my grandparents and my mum, they all went for NSW. Don’t know why.

But as soon as I put on an Origin jersey, man, I’ve never them jump ship so quickly. I always went for Queensland. I didn’t go for NSW - ever.

It baffled me. My mum goes for Queensland now, and so do my grandparents, my grandfather, but yeah they did go for NSW. I think they thought the NSW players were nicer.

But Origin is not nice. You just go out there. There was a lot of Broncos players who were successful. My family was very for the underdog most of the time.

I most definitely remember my first call up. I actually have memory of two calls actually.

One was in 2010, when I was 18th man for Origin. And that was weird because I was only 19 years old when I got that call. So I went into camp. When I got told, I honestly thought it was a joke. Because at the Broncos, they take the piss a lot. And there’s a lot of gee ups. So yeah, the first one was when I was 18th man and I didn’t believe it. But yeah, I went into camp.

I sort of knew the second one was coming because I’d previously played for Australian three weeks earlier. And I was in the mix. I remember the call. I remember my coach telling me. But I remember talking to Mal and it was clear. He sort of just said ‘how do you feel about putting a Queensland jersey on?’ I just got goosebumps thinking about that, because it’s every kid’s dream.

It is literally every kid’s dream to play for their state when you grow up and play footy.

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

You don’t think about anything else and I mean, I can only speak for myself, but that’s the only thing I ever thought about when I grew up, that was putting a Maroons jersey on, definitely.

Realising I was going to wear that Maroons jersey for the first time, there was a lot of nerves. Definitely a lot of nerves, because I know how important that game is to Queensland.

So, you know, I was one of 17 people picked in the whole entire competition to put that jersey on. So there was nerves.

But I think I was so confident because man, I looked around me, and I was like ‘holy shit… I don’t really need to do too much to be honest’. The calibre of players that we had was outstanding.

I think another thing I was scared of, I was scared of being in the team that lost the run we had. I’d been in the run where we did six in a row so you know, there was a lot of pressure on Queensland from when I got called up. I think it was nerves and I was scared of letting the people of Queensland down.

But when I went into camp I lost that pretty quickly because the right edge was me, Hodgo, Sammy, Locky. It was a Broncos right edge. So I was basically just changing jersey and playing in another team. Same edge.

There’s a lot that goes on during Origin camps. The reason why we’re so close is because we don’t tell a lot of those stories. But just the way we bond, it’s like a brotherhood. I went into that camp so nervous, but the first five hours I felt normal. It’s like playing in the team you’ve played in your club week in, week out. You just have that bond.

One of the stories, when I first went to camp, I went up to my room and Billy Slater was my roommate. I hadn’t really met Bill properly. I’d been in camp the year before but I hadn’t had a one-on-one with him, like this.

I shook his hand and I said ‘hey I’m Jharal’ and he goes ‘yes, I know’.

Jharal Yow Yeh FOG #172

Why I would say something like that? I don’t know. But I did.

When you leave training, you’re always together. When you do something, you’re doing it together. There’s never groups that go off by themselves. You do everything together, as Queenslanders, as a Queensland team.

The piss ups are the best, quite honestly. Alf rules. It’s the funnest. You grow up, you play the game, and you keep playing because you want to play and then drink beer with your mates. That’s honestly why I played footy. And that’s exactly what I felt like when I played Origin. That you could have a beer with your mate in that team, and it didn’t matter who it was. It could be the front rower and I could be a winger. Or hooker and winger. It didn’t matter who you were. Everyone just got along so well in those bonding sessions. Yeah. If I could do another camp again, I would go straight there, right now. Honestly.

I was very lucky with all my debuts. They’ve all been in Queensland.

For Broncos, it was at Suncorp. My Aussies was at Skilled Park, when it was called that. My Indigenous All Stars was Skilled Park. And my Queensland one was just after the 2011 floods, so we were in the sheds. The sheds were in the car park. I remember like it was yesterday. That was different, but yeah, I remember running out. It was pretty special. I think the crowd was about 51,000 or 52,000 , so yeah, running out to that I was so nervous.

But when you get out on the field, you can ask any player, you get out, you just need to touch the ball for the first time.

I was pretty lucky that we kicked off and they kicked to us after their set of six and they kicked straight to me, obviously being the debutant, they’re going to kick to me. I thought ‘if I’m going to run at someone, I’ve just got to run at the biggest person on the field’ and I ran at Gallen. It hurt a lot. But I thought ‘if it’s going to hurt like that now, it’s only going to be easier from here’.

So, yeah, I do remember it like it was yesterday. It was probably one of the best moments of my life. The feeling of running out, especially at Suncorp, never, never gets old.

Look, I’m actually pretty lucky because when I played for the Broncos we would have crowds for semi-finals that were as big as Origin crowds so I got that regularly. And I think that’s probably why I rose to the occasion when I did play Origin. I was so used to that stage and so used to that field. It never gets old. I wish I could’ve done it a lot more. I’ll tell you that much.

That’s probably one of the big things I miss about playing rugby league. Running out at Suncorp, whether that’s for Queensland or the Broncos. That’s definitely something I miss. It’s the best.

In terms of highlights during my time in maroon, I’ve got two.

One was my debut try, obviously, in my debut game. I still remember like it was yesterday. The ball went to the ground, Cooper Cronk picked it up, grubbered to my corner and it popped up perfect in my hand and I scored between Brett Morris and Josh Duggan.

And the second one was definitely scoring in Locky’s final Origin. Because he kicked the ball, Anthony Minichello misjudged it and hit it with his knee, then I was lucky enough to kick it forward and score. And Locky was the first person there, to arrive when I scored that try. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him yell that loud because he doesn’t really have a good voice, but yeah, he was definitely very excited because that try that I scored there put us up, I think, 22-0 before half-time. We were in total control of that game. His last game.

Try celebration. Photo: NRL Images
Try celebration. Photo: NRL Images

Lowlights? Definitely going to NSW. I mean it’s not really a lowlight. But going down there and losing to them in Game II. It makes the story even better for Locky I suppose, that we lost Game II. We got to go home and win. I didn’t have the best game, so that’s probably it.

But I do regret not getting into a proper fight in Origin. I do remember having a bit of a scuffle with Brett Morris in my first game, but yeah, I really do wish I threw some punches. If I knew I wasn’t going to play any more Origins I would’ve.

Queenslanders, thanks for being so passionate. That’s definitely the word that comes to mind when I think about you. Loyal, definitely. Please don’t stop being you, being Queenslanders. The reason why we play this game, the reason we put that Maroons jersey on, is for the people of Queensland.

You know, as much as NSW give us shit, and say ‘we are this’ and ‘we are that’ and ‘we are two-headed’. If we want to be two-headed, we’ll be Queenslanders that are two-headed.

We will always be one better than them, I can tell you that much.

Queenslanders, words just can’t describe the passion you have for the game and for the team, you know.

I appreciated and appreciate everything you do. Whether that’s coming to a game, watching it on TV or turning up to autograph sessions that are hours and hours for us, but sometimes we forget you have often been standing there for hours longer. I appreciate that. I love Queenslanders.

Leaving rugby league, for me, was hard. You play the game to get to the top and be the best. It wasn’t an easy decision, leaving the game, but I left on my terms in the end. I did everything possible to get back in the game because I didn’t want to let the game beat me. It was definitely hard to know I would never put that Maroons jersey on again.

There’s a message I’ve got for the players, playing in the Maroons jersey now…. appreciate every moment in it because it could be the last time you wear it. Any time.

When I think about the players coming through and the calibre of players that we have, I think we’re in great hands moving forward. I think Origin is in great hands to be honest. Because, I know this sounds a bit arrogant, but it got a bit boring, when we did eight in a row. I don’t think we’re going to see that again. I honestly don’t. I don’t think we’re going to see that ever again, so you’ve got to appreciate that, but I think Origin is in a really good place and Queensland are in a really good place. Because we know we’re going to get good games every year. Because the calibre of players that NSW has and the calibre of players Queensland has is outstanding.

I think having the privilege of being at the Broncos for so long, and watching, and seeing the class of kids coming through there, that are Queenslanders, holy crap, we are in very, very good hands. I’ve been lucky enough to put my touch to them a little bit, and help them. I think Queensland, as an Origin team, is in very, very good hands.

For me, I don’t know what my future holds and I’m pretty content with that, to be honest.

I think my life has always been ‘go, go, go’. But this has not only been a setback for myself, but so many people in the world… but I’m ok just to coast at the moment and really enjoy my life. I’ve got a good wife, I’m really enjoying what I’m doing personally and how I’m developing as a man. I’d love to one day coach – that’s a dream job for me. Not the reason for the accolades, but I see what coaching does for footy players. I think it’s a great vehicle to help kids and men through life in general. Rugby league gives us a great vehicle to go anywhere. So that’s what I want to do.

And probably to become a content creator, producer somewhere big. I mean, I like to dream big a lot. I’d like to be at Arsenal one day. That’s a job that’s a dream job. It seems big but somwtimes if you reach for the stars, if you want to be an astronaut and you fall short, you become a pilot and that’s still pretty good. So, that’s me. I’m going to dream big and work hard. But just cruise right now. I’m cruising and enjoying it.

That’s me.

Thanks Queenslanders,

Jharal Yow Yeh

FOG #172

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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