To be a Queenslander, there’s obviously great pride, having pulled on that Queensland jersey. When I think about my time in the Maroons jersey, there’s pride and also a sense of duty. Obviously, you represent your family and your former clubs, for me here on the Sunshine Coast, and you just want to do everyone in the state proud when you get out on the field. That is what I thought about most when I was first starting to play State of Origin.
I was actually born in New South Wales. Awkward, I know. It gets brought up every now and then. We moved to the Sunshine Coast when I was about 10 years old. I began playing for the Kawana Dolphins. My junior memories are playing for the Kawana Dolphins and running around on the fields on the Sunshine Coast. Great memories, playing with my mates. I was lucky enough to have a couple of guys from here who I actually got to play in the Queensland team with, in Casey McGuire and Ben Ross. I was very fortunate to have played State of Origin with some really good mates from my home town.
When I was younger, I was just like everyone, watching guys like Wally Lewis, Alfie Langer, Dale Shearer. Just those legends of the game. I think we all aspired to be like those players. Trevor Gillmeister. The toughness The Axe played with, playing injured. I looked up to all of those legends of that era. We were all aspiring to one day pull on the Queensland jersey and luckily enough, it happened for a few of us.
State of Origin at home when I was younger, was pretty intense. I remember at school, everyone would be talking about it and you’d rush home from school as quickly as you could and get set up for the night. We had a lot of New South Wales supporters and kids at the school so there was always a fair bit of banter leading into State of Origin games. Luckily enough, we tended to do pretty well. It was always a night you’d race home, get set up for the afternoon and couldn’t wait for it to start. It always seemed like those couple of hours – from when school finished to when the game actually came on – just went forever. I have great memories, in the lounge room, cheering on the Queensland team.
There was definitely a period there where my parents, who grew up in New South Wales, were going for NSW. So there was a bit of banter there between us. But after I made a few Queensland schoolboys teams, I think the switch was quick. The parents converted to maroon. Obviously I was representing Queensland, so they switched to become Queenslanders pretty quickly. They were supporting the Queensland teams at the junior level and they knew where I aspired to play, and who I aspired to play for, so if I did make it to that level, they switched allegiances pretty quickly. I know they still get a bit of stick from some of the people they went to school with down south. But they’re definitely and certainly Queenslanders these days.
For my first call up for Queensland, I was down playing for the Roosters in Sydney… I remember it was actually my dad who called me. It was 2002. I was at the shops actually and dad rang me and said he’d heard I’d made the State of Origin team. I had a few missed calls that I hadn’t picked up or listened to the voicemails. But yeah, when I saw dad calling… I was being spoken about as possibly being in the team, but I’d only just cemented my spot in the Roosters team over that year, that 2002 season. I’d only had a few games the year before, in 2001. So I wasn’t super confident of being picked in the Queensland State of Origin team in 2002, but thankfully I was and I debuted in Game II in 2002. That was the only game that I played in that series. We won that night and then the Queenslanders, in Game III, they actually drew.
So New South Wales won Game I, we won that Game II up here at Lang Park when I made my debut, and we drew the third game. At that time, it was whoever had won the series the year before, if it was a draw, they retained the shield. So, yeah, we retained the shield in 2002 and it was fantastic to be part of that series and get my first taste in 2002 of what Origin football was like. It was certainly very quick and very intense. The week just seemed to fly by. Playing with guys like Allan Langer and Lote Tuqiri, Shane Webcke and those types of guys, was an amazing experience.
Obviously, debuting at Lang Park, for me, was very nerve-wracking. The game that it actually was, was mine and Justin Hodges’ debut. We were both playing for the Roosters at the time. It’s probably a game that a lot of people remember Hodgo threw a couple of wayward passes and the Blues unfortunately ended up scoring a couple of tries from it. Hodgo was playing on the wing. Wayne Bennett was the coach. He’d said to me all week ‘just be ready to play any position on the field’. I was ready to play most positions, but the position I probably wasn’t that keen on playing was on the wing. But after Hodgo threw, I think his second wayward pass, sure enough it came down that I was going on the wing for Hodgo. It was pretty daunting, going out on the wing when I hadn’t been playing a heap of wing at club level. But thankfully I didn’t get too many towering bombs or anything like that, and I managed to get through. I didn’t get that much time, I think it must have been 10, 15 minutes at the back end of the game. But it was still a great experience. It certainly left me wanting to play again and thankfully I was picked again in 2003.
I most certainly enjoyed the camps. I think the week, or week and a half, leading in a game, was certainly one of the best experiences you go through as a player. You definitely look forward to getting into camp with the players.
Because I virtually went straight from high school up here on the Sunshine Coast straight down to the Roosters, a lot of the Queensland players I was playing with, I hadn’t really played a lot of football with them. There was obviously a lot of Broncos and some Cowboys in the team. But I hadn’t really played a great deal with the guys. Some of the guys, like Chris Walker and Shaun Berrigan, I’d played a bit of juniors with. But some of the older guys, I hadn’t really… Gorden Tallis, Locky, I hadn’t really played a lot of footy with them.
So, coming into camps was great to meet those guys and have a few XXXX with those guys. I think the first half of the week is enjoyable and you’re training hard and everyone’s having fun, but you definitely know once you get through that weekend, when it gets to Sunday before the game, the game is not too far away, and there’s definitely a switch in the mood in camp. It went from everyone having a bit of a laugh to switching on, with only a few days until you got out there. We certainly had great times and I certainly miss those times. We definitely enjoyed them.
2 - Lockyer starts the streak
The biggest highlight for me, during my time in maroon, would have to be Game III, 2006 when Locky dived under the post after he picked up that loose ball. I was actually a marker when that pass was thrown. We’d kicked up the field, I was a first marker and Josh Hodgson threw that wayward pass and luckily Locky swooped on it and got us under the posts to score. That game, 2006, Game III, we were a couple of tries behind and it wasn’t looking good for us. We had some really tough calls from the ref and we were chasing our tails a bit in the second half. But Brent Tate obviously scored that long range try and got us back in the game and Locky sealed it with that try, which was amazing. We’d had a couple of lean years the few years before that, in 2003, 2004 and 2005. We’d lost the three series before that 2006 series. So there was a fair bit of talk in the media that we could potentially be the first team to lose four series in a row. But, Locky pounced on that ball, we scored, and it was just an amazing experience to lift the trophy after that 2006 series. And then the boys went on a very long winning streak after that.
I think we all like to think we started the streak, all the 2006 team. It was a very good series for us.
For me, Queensland fans – you – made every moment in maroon all that better. How would I describe you? Very passionate, you wear your heart on your sleeve. You just love the Maroons and love the state. It was an honour to represent you every time I pulled on the jersey. There’s not any more passionate supporters of rugby league than Queenslanders. Running out onto Suncorp Stadium, there was no better feeling, than running out in front of the crowd going crazy. I still remember it so vividly. It was just an awesome experience. I was very lucky to have experienced that.
The older you get, the more you realise what an honour it was to represent Queensland. I certainly look back now. I played 10 games for the Maroons and they all seemed to merge into one game. But, it was certainly a great experience and such an honour when you look at the other players that have represented Queensland. Even more so, sometimes, when you look at players who didn’t get to play as many games for Queensland. Or the calibre of players that have missed out on pulling on a Queensland jersey is pretty amazing as well. Not all players get to play State of Origin and I just consider myself very lucky that I got to play a part in the Queensland State of Origin story. I am very lucky.
Looking forward, it’s great to see Kevie Walters get a contract extension. I’m very excited to see some of the young Queenslanders come through. With guys like Kalyn Ponga, Cherry-Evans, Harry Grant, who spent a lot of time here on the Sunshine Coast, coming through, and two other great Sunshine Coast hookers in Jake Friend and Reed Mahoney, I think the future is looking very bright for Queensland. We just need to turn things around at the end of this year and I’m sure the boys will.
We’re in safe hands there.
I am really looking forward to the State of Origin series in November. It’s going to be a little bit different to what we’re used to, but yeah, I think by the end of season, I think we’re all going to be well and truly ready for State of Origin. It would be very weird to play State of Origin without the passionate Queensland supporters – without you – cheering loudly, getting behind the team. So hopefully all is good by that time.