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‘You honestly cannot beat running out at Suncorp Stadium’

Dear Queenslanders,

I am proud to be a Queenslander. Obviously I’ve played all my footy in Queensland, but to take that next step, to represent Queensland in the rugby league world… it’s an emotional thing.

Even though it’s a personal milestone and achievement, for me it was more about representing my family and going out there and playing for them. My friends as well – those ones who have supported me throughout my footy career and the ones who believed in my ability and talent to be a footy player.

Definitely, to be a Queenslander, for me, is to represent my family and friends. That’s definitely a good part of it. Just to run out there, especially on the home soil, seeing the family and friends and to sing the national anthem in front of them… it gives me goosebumps thinking about it. It brought tears to my eyes every time it happened.

It's a very special feeling. One that you probably can’t describe in words, to pinpoint what it does actually mean. But, that feeling, is something you can’t let go of. That’s for sure.

Rugby league for me started at Bribie Island.

At the time I was playing soccer and rugby league. Soccer in the morning and I’d roll over and play footy in the afternoon across the paddock there. Most of my friends at that stage were playing rugby league so that’s what led me to playing rugby league. In under 11s I started playing league and from there, I just enjoyed playing footy.

That’s all I’ve ever done throughout my career… make sure I’m enjoying it and having fun. I was just lucky enough to do it as a job for a long period of my life.

I suppose the reason I did get to do that is because I do love it. I still do love it.

I have retired now, but the love, the enjoyment the game gave me, is what kept me going and led to me wanting to be a rugby league player.

State of Origin at home as a kid… we’d obviously get home and were pretty eager to sit down and watch the game. As kids, you struggle to stay awake sometimes, to watch the footy, but as I got older, I’d really tune in and had a bit more of an understanding of the game. Our household, we were pretty big fans of rugby league, the whole family. It was the one time of the year we all did look forward to. It was something that brought us as a family together, to sit down and watch the State of Origin. They will always be memories we look back on and enjoy. Our household wasn’t too crazy. We just loved watching rugby league and sitting back and watching the Queenslanders do their thing.

For me, as I grew up, I enjoyed watching all the teams doing their best and really having a crack, and watching the enjoyment it brought them. Sometimes, it’s not always enjoyment and the highs in rugby league, but watching the physicality of it as a kid, I just wanted to do what they were doing on the big stage.

At the time, I was still just a kid running around Bribie Island and doing my best, but watching Queenslanders play as a kid, I just wanted to be like them. In the back of my mind on weekends I just wanted to do things that the Queenslanders were doing on the paddock. Yeah, it was something I always looked forward to doing.

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I got my first call up for Queensland when me and the wife were on the way to Nitro Circus at the Entertainment Centre in Brissie. We were pretty excited about that.

Obviously my name had been tossed up a couple of years beforehand, and at the time as well… a few articles and a few ‘bolter’ headlines. You know, I was waiting to get that call one day… hopefully. Then pretty much as we rocked up at Nitro Circus, we were walking in, ready to line up and sit down and watch this amazing show and then on the way in I got the phone call from Anthony Griffin, the coach at the time at the Broncos. He told me I’d made the side. I couldn’t tell you too much about Nitro Circus that night. I wasn’t paying too much attention to what was going on out there.

I rang mum and dad straight away after that phone call. It was a bit loud to talk to them, but just ringing mum and dad to let them know that I’d made the side, was a memory I will always remember. It’s something I’m very proud of, still. You know, to tell your mum and dad, it gives you goosebumps to let them know something you’ve been working so hard for is coming true. They’ve probably been my biggest supporters with my footy throughout my career.

Going into camp, I was pretty nervous. I was nervous because I was coming in when they’d had so much success. For me to come in, and be a part of that team, knowing how successful it was… what they were doing at that time was something special, so to go in there, and pull on the jersey, and play alongside the legends that had played the game before me… yeah, that was very nerve-wracking.

There was the emerging squad camps that you do before you do get the call up, so that sort of made it a bit easier. You get the meet the staff and the coaching staff, so it makes it a bit easier from that side of things.

But you go in, you’re pretty nervous, you’re already thinking about the game from day one once you’re in camp… you don’t want to let the boys down.

But once you do get in there, settle in a bit and have a few conversations, there’s a lot of fun that we do have away from the footy park, which is a good thing. You’re in camp for 10 days together and there’s a massive game to play, but there’s a lot of fun and enjoyment away from training. But once training is on, it’s pretty serious and intense. There’s not much room for error out of on the training paddock, which is something driven by senior players in that team.

I was pretty nervous the first camp, but again, it’s just a bunch of boys, men, wanting to play rugby league and have fun and enjoy it. So once you do settle in, it’s a great time, it’s a great team to be part of. It’s something I’ll definitely miss, not being able to play footy any more.

I always enjoyed keeping the boys on their toes during camps. We had a lot of down time, a lot of spare time on our hands during camps. Obviously there’s training to do, but in and around training there’s plenty of coffees and plenty of laughs as well.

At training. Photo: NRL Images
At training. Photo: NRL Images

I always like to enjoy my time away from the paddock and not take things too serious. I liked to play a few little pranks on the boys, scaring them here and there was a big one of mine. Jumping out of the bushes. Keeping the boys on edge was pretty good. Cherry-Evans was a good one to scare. I don’t know what’s wrong with him or what happened as a kid, but he’s an easy one to scare. Pretty funny actually. He squeals, drops to the ground, carries on a bit. He’s an easy target so most of the boys go after him.

I debuted down in Melbourne, at Etihad Stadium, so the closed in stadium down there.

Running out, obviously being in Melbourne, you run out and it’s 50/50 with the crowd. So, at the time, there was blue and maroon wigs that pretty much separated the crowd right around, half and half.

I remember the feeling running out. Mum and dad, and the wife, and best mate were all there in the crowd. They’d come down to support me. Like I said before, singing that national anthem and spotting the family and friends in the crowd, just looking at them, yeah, it gives me tingles. The emotion starting hitting about then. I get pretty emotional, myself. For me, that’s a good sign… things are going to go pretty well if my emotions are running pretty highly.

I was coming off the bench, so I had to wait a little while to get my turn to come on in the second half. It was pretty unsettling on the bench. I couldn’t really sit still. Once I got out there, I think I played just under 20 minutes.

At the time it was my role to get out there and do my thing. You get out there and you have a look around at the players you’re playing alongside… you’ve got Thurston, Cronk, Hodgo, GI, Smith, Billy Slater, Darius… you just look around at all of these players and think… ‘how good’s life?’

And before you know it, I was sitting back down on the bench. That was it. I can’t really remember too much of the game, but I definitely remember the feeling. A feeling of disbelief I was out there playing for a team I dreamt of, playing for alongside players who had been so successful for a long time, and I was out there doing it with them. It was a very special moment. One I will never forget, that’s for sure.

For me though, you can’t beat running out at Suncorp Stadium.

Running out at Suncorp in 2019. Photo: NRL Images
Running out at Suncorp in 2019. Photo: NRL Images

You honestly cannot beat running out at Suncorp Stadium in front of a packed crowd in that Maroons jersey. You know, there’s definitely a home advantage when you are doing that.

For the first time, or every time I ran out there, the crowd erupts, you can hardly hear anything and it’s like that through the whole game. The crowd are on their feet, cheering and roaring.

When you run out at Suncorp, you lift to another level knowing where you are and who you’re playing in front of. It definitely makes you lift. You feel that little bit taller, little bit bigger. It gives you that home crowd advantage. Just seeing that sea of maroon all around the stadium, you know, cheering us on. And when the Blues run out, the big ‘boos’. That just goes to show what rugby league means to our state.

So when you’re out there you don’t want let them – we don’t want to let you - down.

There’s a lot of kids there that come and watch the game, obviously very late, on a school night. Parents doing the same thing, having to go to work the next day. For them – for you - to show up in those big numbers at Suncorp Stadium… for me, seeing that maroon sea, and singing that national anthem, it’s a very special moment every time you get to do it.

The biggest highlight for me, during my time in maroon, would be after my injury.

Having the injury in my neck, fracturing my neck, and then thinking the worst… that footy was over and I might not be able to play footy again in the instance it happened. I wondered if I would ever play again. But obviously things went pretty well for me. I recovered well and got back playing with the Broncos. Then getting to represent Queensland again after that was a massive highlight for myself.

Obviously you read a few articles, people saying I wouldn’t come back and be the player I was after suffering the fractured neck…. wouldn’t do this and wouldn’t do that. Then to get to represent Queensland again… it was a great highlight for myself.

Obviously being part of the team and winning a fair few series with them was good, but yeah, that was the highlight for me during my time. To come back and be out there, running around again in the Maroons jersey.

Back in maroon in 2019. Photo: NRL Images
Back in maroon in 2019. Photo: NRL Images

During my time in maroon, I really enjoyed the fact that people, when we walked around, would come up… kids, mostly kids… would come up and look up to me, to us, as players. We were role models on and off the field.

Throughout my whole time in that Maroons jersey… you go to training, to fan days, especially in regional Queensland that have been hit with some devastating things that have happened in their towns… and you’re surrounded my people.

We went to these to show our fans – to show you - we really do appreciate their support. You’d turn out in massive numbers. We could spent two days there signing and getting photos with everyone, but obviously we had limited time. But for me, that’s what it’s all about. Going out and showing our thanks to our members, fans, supporters. Especially the kids that look up to us, whether on the field or off the field. The things that we do, these kids want to do. They want to be like us, so it’s really important we show them the right things to do on and off the field.

For me, it was all about giving back to Queenslanders and letting them – letting you - know this is why we play the game… for you guys. To hopefully enjoy it and enjoy the wins with us.

For me it’s about giving back and making sure you do know the support you show us, whether watching at home or coming to the stadium, supporting us in the maroon jersey means a lot to us.

At the fan day in Charleville. Photo: NRL Images
At the fan day in Charleville. Photo: NRL Images

Obviously last year was pretty tight. That last one. But I think things are looking good. We’ve got some great younger players coming through.

Obviously everything has changed with the great players who have retired from playing for Queensland. There was always going to be a big hole for players to fill… for players to come through and understand how Origin is played. I think with the squad that we do have now, and the players coming through, Queensland is in great hands. There’s some very, very talented boys coming through. Especially in the forwards.

I think there’s some exciting times ahead for proud Queenslanders. Including me, I’m a proud Queenslander.

As soon as you pull that Maroons jersey on and you’re out on the paddock, not too much else matters. You’ve got to be out there and doing your best.

The boys in the future, that are going to be doing that, representing Queensland, they’re definitely going to know that feeling. It’s a feeling I know and a feeling I will miss, not running out.

When you do pull that jersey on, the last thing you want to do is let the state down.

Matt Gillett FOG #173

You know, as Queenslanders, us players always strive to do our best. To not let the state down, but most and foremost, not let that bloke next to us down. And do all the things you can do to help him be better out on the paddock, and to help you be better.

Times ahead are looking positive for Queensland. I am very excited for this year’s contest. It will be a bit different, obviously. But hopefully crowds are back in at that time, because it will be a bit weird without crowds at Origin, but yeah, I’m excited about the times ahead.

Queenslanders, thank you. Thanks for the support.

Keep doing what you do.

Kind regards,

Matt Gillett

FOG #173

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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