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'I had to throw the pie at him'

Dear Queenslanders,

Growing up as a kid in the northern suburbs of Brisbane, all I wanted to do was kick the football and play league with my neighbours and mates.

As there wasn’t much football on TV back then, I wasn’t really interested in actually watching the games. Same goes for the Australian Tests that were usually played in the UK, and therefore, on our screens in the early morning.

However, State of Origin was a different beast.

These games were like Christmas – you wake up early, excited about the day, dress up in maroon colours and go to school to talk about it with your mates and teachers, then of course the build-up to the game and the game itself. 

Rarely did they fail to deliver – and win, lose or draw, the effort our great Queensland teams put in always made you proud to be a Queenslander. It gave you a sense of pride and belonging. 

There is, and always will be, an emotional attachment to the jersey and team and I really knew it from watching rugby league... the passion, commitment and spirit that came from pulling on that Maroons jersey.

Growing up, my first Origin memory would have to be my old man taking me to a game when I was 10, it was 1990 at the old Lang Park and like any good father does, he took me to ‘the outer’ – quite the experience.

I remember there was a guy dressed as Benny Elias, in full Blues kit, head tape and wig with a flag. Everyone was throwing beers and anything they had at him and my old man said, ‘come on then, have a crack’. 

I had a fresh pie in my hand, a treat I usually would not get, and I had to throw the pie at him. I don’t think I got him, I might have clipped his shoulder and I was upset... not because I didn’t get to enjoy the pie, because I didn’t hit him flush in the face.

I also remember hearing the contact and the sound of the players on the field, that is something that is still stuck in my mind today.

Rugby league in general was important to me growing up. I was blessed to grow up in a street with about a dozen kids and I was always ball in hand, kicking it around, passing it against the wall. I would have driven my neighbours nuts I reckon with a footy against the wall, cricket ball against the wall, tennis balls, basketballs – but I would much rather do that than be at home. 

Every afternoon I would be out there with a footy kicking it around and then everyone else would start coming out and we’d have a game on the footpath between the two telegraph poles and stay out there until it was too dark, or the mosquitoes got too bad.

If we had too many players, we’d head down to the field. I lived on a hill and down at the bottom of the hill was a whole heap of footy fields and cricket fields, so we’d go down there and kick the footy around and have a game, especially when it was wet. Playing in the rain was my heaven – to this very day I still feel that complete sense of joy that sliding on wet grass brings.

Before I got my first opportunity to wear a Maroons jersey, there was a bit of press around me being picked in the team for Game I of the 2003 series and I didn’t get picked; Andrew Gee got the spot. I was filthy that I missed out, I was actually really upset. Game II came around and PJ Marsh, who was hooker in Game I, broke his neck and I got a call up to say I was going to play; however, I didn’t know what position.

Once we  got into camp, Wayne Bennett said “we want you to play hooker”. I was a little nervous, but he reassured me by saying “we don’t want you to do anything differently to what you have been doing at club level, give good service to the forwards, fast ball to the halves when they want it, have a run if you see something, but most importantly, play with energy and aggression in defence” – so that’s what I did.

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

In that camp, I remember sitting down at dinner the first night – Petero was my room mate, and we had Shane Webcke, Gordy, Locky, Matt Sing... guys I had watched and looked up to for years, and I felt like I didn’t belong, it was surreal. 

As for the game, we actually got pumped, handing NSW the series win, but I did score a try, so it was a memorable one, for all the wrong reasons. 

Luckily, I showed enough through the camp and in the game that Wayne gave me another chance and he stuck me on the bench for Game III. Even though it was a dead rubber, we got to play at Lang Park, we won the game and I scored a more memorable try, so I like to pretend that was my first game, and not the other one.

Before I got selected, I had been playing good footy, but never really thought I was chance of being picked for Queensland at that time. Queensland’s back row was stacked with quality players who had been there before, the likes of Gorden Tallis, Brad Thorn, Petero Civoniceva, Tonie Carroll, Dane Carlaw and Carl Webb. 

It is extremely humbling to receive the call to say you have been selected. When you look back on it, and think about when you are a kid ... I don’t know how to put it into words, but I just loved training, playing and competing. And as a junior I was in a team that was full of superstars of that age group, we always won and good things seem to come with that.

In saying that, I didn’t play too much rep footy. Met-East Under 12s was my only junior rep team (I was the possible fullback in the possible / probables game that the Queensland team is picked from).

Then, playing in Colts, I was selected in the Queensland Under 19s due to a host of back rowers my age already playing NRL, so it wasn’t like I expected to be playing for Queensland in State of Origin. I just loved the fact that I was having a good rugby league career and thought any other personal or team accolades were just a nice bonus. 

Looking back on it now, being given the opportunity to pull on the Maroons jersey is one of the greatest achievements in my career and life – extremely humbling, and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity and filled with pride that I was chosen to represent my state. All I ever hoped for was that my state was proud of the effort I put into my performances.

Michael Crocker never took a backward step

Although I would be extremely grateful to have played just one game or series, it still hurts that I missed the 2006 series, the year the dynasty began, through suspension and then 2007 through injury. 

They were really tough to not be a part of. Those two years I was playing better and smarter football down in Melbourne and was more of a leader, those were the years I would have loved to have played, such is the emotional attachment to the jersey.

Nate Myles will always be one of my favourite Origin players. I remember when he got called into that 2006 series, I wasn’t sure if he was ready; boy did he prove me wrong. 

Nate played every minute of every game with a passion and pride that I had never seen before. His ability to push through pain and fatigue to do his job was as good as I have ever seen. He optimises what we all felt as players – that there is a responsibility, an obligation almost, that when wearing the Queensland jersey, you perform like this as you are representing every Queenslander.

I remember running out for the first time at Suncorp Stadium. The fireworks go off and that roar of the crowd, it still gives you goose bumps thinking about it. For me, crowd noise was usually just noise, but the Queensland noise is much more vocal, it is all in your favour – something you rarely get at a stadium and it absolutely pumps the adrenaline and emotion through your body to inspire and push you through the tough times.

While I may have been known as an aggressor in Origin, it was never something I really thought of, I was never really a fighter. There was one fight in Grade 6 and not much in between.

My goal and my job were to always be really energetic, enthusiastic, compete on every play and put my body on the line whenever I needed to.  My aggression at times crossed the line and poor technique – for example, the occasional swinging arm – often came as a result of being too enthusiastic. It was also my job to be there at all times for my team mates – hence me always being around when the was a little scuffle.

One of the things that stick in my mind from Origin are from my first training session. We had a few beers the night before to ‘bond’, then we had conditioning with Billy Johnson, always really tough and by the time we start with the skills component, you feel like you have already played a full game.

I remember passing the ball from dummy half, I didn’t think it was a bad pass, but I threw the ball to Shaun Berrigan and I hit him on the hip, so he had to twist a little bit. Wayne pulled up the whole session and said "for ****’s sake, I didn’t sign you for that shit, put it in front of him". 

This set the example of what the standards and expectations were for these sessions and it didn’t matter what condition you were in – everyone was held accountable and to the expectations and standards which are set. That’s why these guys are at the pinnacle, because they do that on a daily basis, it shows in the way they play on the weekends and is also why they are consistently good.

The other memory that sticks with me was while it was in 2005. I had only played two games that season after surgery in the pre-season, then coming back and being suspended. Michael Hagan showed some loyalty and thankfully picked me in the side. I played 76 minutes and it was one of the best games I have ever played. I scored a try running off Locky – wow, that even feels surreal to say – it is and will always be one of the more special moments of my career. 

That game went into overtime and Matty Bowen took the intercept, there’s a good photo of me on the sideline with Carl Webb and Choppy Close who is hugging us and flipping the bird to the NSW bench.

Origin is so special to the players who have been involved because everyone knows it means so much to so many people.  We you get the opportunity to go out to Queensland country areas, wearing the jersey and seeing the joy that it brings to rural communities that don’t get to see much footy, places that might be doing it tough with drought or whatever, the joy that the jersey can bring  and the smile on the peoples face – it really is rewarding.

Passionate Queenslander. Photo: NRL Images
Passionate Queenslander. Photo: NRL Images

Now, I am still involved in the game, I have a kids’ coaching academy. I love being out there, passing on knowledge and providing an environment that is competitive, but fun, supportive and encouraging. We aim to provide an environment and a program that will develop their skills and confidence on and off the field. 

We cater to mod-league, so 10 to 12-year-olds and international rules, which is 13 to17-year-olds, and it’s all about creating a good family environment, a positive, supportive, encouraging and fun environment for boys and girls.

We work on building the foundation skills and accelerating the advanced skills, like vision, reaction times, decision making and reading the game. I love it because I don’t have to prepare them for a game on the weekend, I just get to add value to them and to their rugby league experience and hopefully give them more confidence as players and people.

I will always be a proud, passionate Queensland supporter and I remember watching a game back in 2012, Billy Slater was injured, and GI was playing fullback. Watching at home, I remember we defended a few sets on our line, then another drop-out. The cameras moved onto GI who was waving his hands in the air to the crowd. The noise of the crowd through the speakers gave me instant goose bumps and we held them out that next set – you cannot put into words that feeling of appreciation of having not just the stadium, but your whole state behind you.

So to all Queenslanders, thank you for making a lifetime of memories for my family and I, thank you in advance for passionately supporting our state as we go into battle again this year and finally, always remember that whoever pulls on that Queensland jersey is representing all of us – we are one big family.


Yours sincerely,

Mick Crocker

FOG #136

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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