I am extremely proud of being a Queenslander. Growing up in southwest Queensland, born in Mt Isa, grew up in Dalby… I grew up in a really strong rugby league rich area. I have a tremendous amount of pride to be a Queenslander.
Obviously State of Origin was the pinnacle. As far back as I can remember, I remember sitting in front of the TV watching it and wanting to do it.
State of Origin, in my house as a kid, was a religion. I was fortunate to grow up with two older brothers who were extremely passionate during State of Origin time.
Rugby league for me, though, started in Tara, about an hour and a half west of Dalby, where I live at the moment, in southwest Queensland. I played there at a very junior level. But most of my juniors were played in Dalby, which has a very proud rugby league history.
I remember my first game, quite vividly. I was five or six… many, many years ago. I do remember being terrified, scared. I knew I had to tackle. I was okay in the backyard normally, but when it was organised it was a bit more professional and I’d never seen these kids before. But I couldn’t wait to do it. I fell in love with it there and then.
I used to ball boy all the games at home in Dalby. In Dalby the population is about 10,000, so not a huge town, but it did field four rugby league teams in the 1960s, 70s, 80s – the Dalby Devils. So all of my heroes were locals – my older brothers and their team mates. They were the legends I grew up watching in Dalby.
And then, obviously, I looked up to the legends I watched in the rugby league arena on TV. And when the Brisbane Broncos first entered the comp, it was around the time I started to follow rugby league, so it was fortunate for me they were the new kids on the block and they were a Brisbane team, Queensland team. All the legends I looked up to were mainly in that team.
For my first Origin I didn’t actually receive a call. I heard the news but it didn’t really register with me until I got a phone call.
I was renting a video at my local Blockbuster, I used to love watching movies, and the guy behind the counter, we had a fairly good relationship. I said ‘how you going mate?’… he knew I was playing for Brisbane at the time. He congratulated me and I was like ‘oh gee, thanks mate’. I didn’t realise what it was for. It was when I got home I got the phone call from I think it may have been Geno. He said ‘congratulations, you’ve been selected’.
So, yeah, it was a rollercoaster from there on in. There’s been a lot of highlights, but to get that call up and be part of that Queensland team was just amazing.
My first year was pretty unprecedented with the amount of debutants that we had. Think it was 11. We won that first game at Lang Park. It was still Lang Park then before it got its refurb. I scored a try in my first game then Game III Alf came back and we took the series out, being the underdogs, so it was quite amazing for me.
I absolutely remember running out for the first time and feeling bulletproof. And the noise! I’d experienced being at games, but being in the middle of it, and all the noise just coming in on you, especially at Lang Park, was something else. And driving to the game in the bus, heading down Caxton St, just the enthusiasm and passion of the crowd there, made me realise a little more how much it meant to everyone, you know?
I can only imagine what it was like for family and friends out in the southwest region. I knew what it was like growing up, obviously…. there are a lot of proud Queenslanders right across Queensland.
For me, I loved playing alongside Shane Webcke and Gorden Tallis. I was pretty fortunate to come up on the tail end of their careers and still have been mentored and also gain experience with and through them.
I was pretty fortunate, with some really strong Broncos teams. Wendell was part of those teams, Lote Tuqiri, Kevie Walters, and Alf. The only game I did get to play with Alf was Game III of my first year of Origin in 2001.
It was a really good era to grow up in. I was pretty fortunate to have seen the end of a few of those legends and then go into my era and then get to play with a few of today’s legends.
I think the biggest highlight for me was that first Origin. Because it was my first one, there was the fairytale aspect to it.
Coming in, completely unexpecting a call up, into a Wayne Bennett-coached team, Choppy Close was still managing at the time, so there’s no lack of passion there. And then to win the game with so many debutants, with blokes I’d played footy with for a while. And then feel the hurt of defeat the second game down there, feel what that was like, and then for Alf to come back, which was a stroke of genius from Wayne to bring him back, to then win the series. Yeah, it was absolutely brilliant. I can’t see anything beating that for me. Yes, there were a lot of individual moments but as a whole, but that was my favourite.
I was always fairly lucky with the roomies I got during camps over the years. Camps were always well put together. The main nucleus were all fairly well known to each other so it wasn’t as though we had to get to know one another that well. There’s not any one camp that stands out for me… they were all great. They all had their moments. Some camps we’d go into, when we’d already won the series, so dead rubber camps, we could enjoy ourselves a bit more with not a lot of pressure on, obviously. But, they were all a very enjoyable time with the boys and then we’d get back and play club footy.
I must say Queensland fans for me are no different to the guys I played alongside. Queenslanders are one in, all in. We’re all the same. Fans, players. We all grew up and cut our teeth the same way. It’s just some of us have been fortunate enough to put the jersey on.
It is wonderful to know that we’re all passionate, from Brisbane, to St George, to Goondiwindi, to Dalby, to all the way up to the tip. We’re all very much the same with our passion. We all bleed maroon. That in a way is comforting. Just knowing that we love the game and we’re never down and out. Even during those years when New South Wales were saying Origin was dead, and dropping these big statements and big calls.
I know as a junior playing school football, we were always a year behind NSW… they always had that year on us, a bit of an edge. I guess we used that moving into senior rugby league…. you were an underdog as a kid, so you hung in there and competed as one team – a Queensland team at schoolboy level playing against quality NSW teams. So, you get enough punishment from them at that age, and it does toughen you up and breed you like that. It gets to the point that you’re able to give it to them on the bigger stage.
Being part of Origin, I still pinch myself. There’s just so many past legends, current legends and players who will become legends… to be part of it, and to get invited to events where these men will be, it’s one of those things that you can never do enough of. Life does take over; however it is a small world and it’s always great to catch up with everyone.
To be part of Origin and the Maroons, and to have contributed to what it is, is pretty amazing. I am so fortunate.
Looking forward, you can never write us off… let’s put it that way.
Obviously the form of our Queensland team at the moment isn’t that great but at the same time, Queenslanders have always played their best footy when their backs are against the wall. There have been years where we have been completely written off but we seem to find something. I don’t think we’ll ever be at risk. I do think, though, we’re in a rebuilding period where one era has gone and the next is developing.
They’ve got to do what they’ve got to do and become legends of the game in their own right. They’re doing it. All the best too them. I’m not a huge fan of commenting on these kids because I’m so far separated from the game.
I can be proud of it, but as the years go by, a lot changes with the game. Obviously there’s been a lot of rule changes. Players change, the attitude of the game changes.
All I can say is I support the Queenslanders wholeheartedly and I always will. As a Queenslander, I wish them all the best.
For me, I’ve obviously been a bit crook, but I’ll be back in Brisbane very shortly and spending a lot of time with my kids and family.
I’m going to get back involved with community activities. I’m in the process of reconnecting with all of that. I’m a proud Indigenous man, so for me, now is the time to be an active member of my community, spend time with my friends and family, and just enjoy rugby league.
I have really enjoyed rugby league for the last two or three years. I sort of had a break for a while, but it’s back in my bones and I’m really enjoying it.
I have three boys and one little girl. My oldest is at St Brendan’s in Yeppoon, so he’s playing there. My second oldest boy plays at school and my youngest is way too young, he’s only two. And my little girl, she is just not interested in rugby league. Not yet. I’m still trying to switch her over, but she’s not keen. She can do whatever.
Being a Queenslander, and playing for Queensland, was my dream.
I would obviously be hugely proud of my boys if they got to do the same. But that was my dream. My biggest dream was to have a family and then play for Australia. I was lucky enough to do both. But it’s really up to them what they want to do. I think I would be prouder to see them achieve their dreams, and if it just so happened to be playing for the state of Queensland, well that’d be massive. I’d love it.
The rugby league fraternity, for me, is invaluable.
What we’re part of when in the middle of it, and what it is now, is still such a wonderful thing. When the chips are down, the boys get behind each other. I think that’s one of the most important things.
Sure, we achieve all these wonderful things, wonderful achievements, in rugby league, but I think one of the biggest things I took out of it was the comradery and the friendships. You live in each other’s pockets a lot, and just the amount of time spent together, and the quality of blokes that you meet, is something that I think is just as valuable as the game and the achievements in the game.
To everyone that has been part of my rugby league story, and part of my life, thank you.