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'I don’t think there’s too many things I didn’t get hit by... coins, oranges, bottles of water, cans'

Dear Queenslanders,

My first taste of Queensland versus New South Wales was in 1979 – it was pre-Origin and I think the game was pretty close. I actually went to the game, but being a young kid, sometimes you go there because your parents take you and you are just there because they are taking you.

The atmosphere was great. I had only been playing football for about two years from memory, but to go there and feel it was another level, something I had never experienced before.

I was a local northside boy, so I used to go to a lot of the Norths games and watch them play in the day and so that was exciting. But again, I used to play up on the hill, skipping down the hill on the grass on cardboard, so I’d probably watch a third of the game. As kids, that’s what we did... but it was a great introduction to representative football as a boy.

And then in 1980, I lived in the country, so we didn’t have TV and I had to listen on the radio most Origins and so just listening to Origin on the radio and the excitement in the caller and what it meant to a lot of people, you thought – ‘one day, geez, wouldn’t it be nice to be part of that’, so that’s probably the early introduction to Queensland versus New South Wales.

In 1980, Origin was formed. It was that next year from when I saw that Queensland versus New South Wales game and I never really thought about it at the time, about all the players who went to New South Wales and played for them until Origin came along.

But with Origin, if you were a player you thought, that’s what you want to do; you want to play for your state where you are born and grew up. And if you had to move away to play football, well, that’s fine, but to have that opportunity to play for your state, that was I think something a lot of boys dreamed of, to play for where they came from.

I know Ron McAuliffe and a few others came up with the concept, but look at what it is now, it’s grown to this game that is watched all over the world and admired by a lot of different sports – it’s a gladiator sport, it’s tough.

It’s a gladiator sport, it’s tough

Mick Hancock FOG #58

There’s a lot needed to play our game, so the way it has evolved, the way it has gone, it has been so close over 40 years now, the number of games, the score lines – and you can’t imagine where it has come from since 1980.

For my first up-close experience of State of Origin, I played in an under 15 schoolboys Queensland game, an Origin curtain raiser... we stayed at the old Gazebo Hotel back at the top of Wickham Terrace. We were only 15 and we stayed there at the same time as the Origin boys and Tony Spencer, who now is with the Broncos; he actually strapped us before our game, which was a big thrill in itself. But for those guys to come and spend the time and for the staff to strap us and for them all to tell us stories – a couple times we got caught in the lift with the Origin blokes and they would rough us up – but to be part of that and witness some of these older guys playing Origin was special.

We thought our game was big, but I never thought as a 15-year-old, how big a concept and how big a game Origin was, not only to yourself, but to everyone in the country.

My Origin experience is when you play for a club, you are just wearing a number, you are wearing your club logo, which you are proud of, but you just have a number. But when you go and represent Queensland, you get your number, but you also get to wear your family’s name, the people who sacrificed so much when you were a kid and took you everywhere and put up with the whining and the crying and going to the doctor and the hospitals, sitting there for three hours... I had a broken collarbone when I was a boy.

They made so many sacrifices to give every boy and girl out there the opportunity to play sport.

So to be able to go and give a bit back when you run out there on the field, it brought a bit of a tear to my eye; I knew what my mum and dad did to get me an opportunity to play, and for me to be able to go out there and run out there and have my family name loud and proud on the back was a wonderful feeling.

In action. Photo: QRL
In action. Photo: QRL

It’s the only game that we play that we get the opportunity to get a name at the back of the jersey – all the others are just a number that you wear – with the others, yeah, you are proud; whether it’s the coat of arms or the Broncos or the Cowboys or the Titans or Melbourne or whatever it might be, but to go on an put on that Queensland jersey - and when its sitting in the locker there when you walk in for the first time and see your name on the back of the jersey -  it’s a pretty proud moment.

When I first made the team, back then, we didn’t have mobiles, but it was a telephone call. I can’t remember exactly who rang... it might have been John Ribot who rang me to let me know I had been selected to play Origin. I was only 19 at the time, so that was pretty exciting in itself.

And then all the media, they came around and obviously we took a lot of photos, so there was all that hype before I even got into camp. And the first moments when I first walked up to the Travel Lodge, level six; and then Dick ‘Tosser’ Turner and Keith Welsh were the managers at the time and so the first time when I got off the lift at level six, those guys welcomed me and I felt so comfortable straight away that these two gentlemen, who were highly regarded in the game as managers of the team, made me feel so relaxed, made me feel so much a part of it and from there, it was just take it all in and get excited about what it all meant.

When you play for the Broncos, yep, not everyone likes the Broncos, just like not everyone likes Melbourne, not everyone likes Canberra, but when you play Origin... you know people forget about that and they put those other jerseys away and it unites a state to get behind this one team and hopefully to achieve a goal and that’s to win a State of Origin game.

I remember going out into Lang Park and I have probably never played to that many fans. The Broncos had a lot of fans, but we probably hadn’t filled it to the brim and to go out there and have a crowd that was packed, all the support – I got to play my first game at Lang Park which was exciting and very special to run onto this hallowed oval that everyone loved to go to as a boy, as an adult, as a grandparent, to go there and watch State of Origin and then to be part of it; with the lights and just to be there, that was pretty surreal as well.

I got two tries in my first game, one of them was just to put the ball over the line, which was great... thank you Tony Currie; and then the second one was a little bit different, if we were to go back now with all the video refs, it probably wasn’t a try, but anyway, we can’t go back now.

But as a Bronco, we played against a couple of our team mates, Chris Johns and Terry Matterson was there, and even Glenn Lazarus, so we had a few players that played against us in the Blues team which made me feel good as well, because we were playing against my mates. But having team mates in the Maroons, it made you feel relaxed a little bit, knowing that there were other guys around you that you knew and obviously the friendships that you make, not only in the Queensland team, but the NSW team last forever. I still have some fantastic friends – nearly everyone I played rugby league with – but when you play at that level it’s ‘yes, we put everything on the line out there, but everyone is friends’ and no one goes out there to hurt anybody or to do anything to maim anybody.

Our rule was, ‘let’s go out there, let’s play it hard, let’s play it fair’, but we don’t go overboard, because remember those players will be our team mates in a couple days’ time. That’s where it stayed and that’s where most of us portrayed ourselves most times when we played each other in Origin.

I had some great experiences; I got that tail-end of that late ‘80s era at the Broncos, and obviously to play with Wally and Geno, my favourite player of all time is Allan Langer, but also to play with some of these guys who have gone on to be Immortals, Mal Meninga, the list goes on, but also some of these guys who weren’t that recognised like Mick McLean and Steve Jackson, Alan McIndoe.

Those guys were fantastic players, but probably didn’t get much recognition, but when they came and put a Queensland jersey on... what they did and how they played was unbelievable.

You see them at club level and then you see them at Origin and they always lifted to put on that Q, that Maroons jersey every time they did; some of those guys need to get a lot of accolades for what they achieved at that level as well.

When I wore the Maroons jersey for the first time, I wouldn’t say I was bulletproof, I was only 19; so I was probably shitting myself to be honest, and making sure I wasn’t letting anyone down.

I knew Wally and I played with him with at Broncos level and I knew trust was earned, it wasn’t given, so my focus was to go out and there and make sure I did my job.

I know Wally always made the big point that with debutants, if they ever scored a try, he was always the first one there to say congratulations, and I remember him being there straight away to congratulate me and say ‘well done’; so that was a special moment to have someone like him to come over and congratulate you – you felt a little bit more part of the Queensland family, so it was just a magical moment to score a try and be part of that team.

These guys are very, very special and they created Origin, some of them had been there at the first game, so to have the opportunity to get knowledge, to get accolades from those very special football people, it was great.

And the coach. Artie was a bigger than life man.

I wouldn’t say he was the best coach I have ever had, but Artie was someone special that you would want to go out there and you would want to do anything you could for that bloke, because he was such a caring, wonderful, understanding person, so you wanted to go out there.

Origin is not where you go for coaching a lot, you have the best in the game in the teams, so it’s about guiding them, helping them and getting them to come together, and Artie was very special at doing that. He wouldn’t talk a lot, but when he talked you listened, and you tried to implement everything he wanted as a game plan, but he was a special guy and everyone would want to go out there and want to do anything they could to do it for him; because he was such a special human.

He epitomised what Origin was about – he played most games for NSW, but then to actually get that opportunity to play for Queensland, I think that was a very special moment for him and it was special to come and to be the captain in the first game. He is sorely missed.

What he did, not only for Indigenous people, but everyone that was in his company... he was a special bloke, he cared about a lot of things and he went out of his way and he was very selfless in what he did and how he went about it and that’s why everyone loved him and everywhere he went, everyone wanted to be his friend; whether you were in Queensland or whether you were in NSW and that’s a special trait to have. Not many people get that. That’s exactly what he was, and everyone loved to be around him.

The crowds were great, and I actually loved NSW crowds, especially being a winger, I used to hear all of it, I copped it. I don’t think there’s too many things I didn’t get hit by... coins, oranges, bottles of water, cans and it’s a bit like the game where all the guys were throwing all the cans on the field, holy dooley, what a waste. And they were wasting it trying to hit me – why would you bother, it doesn’t worry me. That just makes me more determined.

We used to have a little bit of a thing where we would always love to see the NSW crowd leave early, so if you could play that well and you could see the crowd leave early, you knew you had done your job.

Not that that happened very too many times playing Origin because those games went down to the wire – but the crowds, they were always fantastic, whether it was NSW or Queensland, you knew that either way to have someone behind you when you were down or a little bit flat, Queensland crowds would lift you and obviously NSW crowd, you wanted to silence them and you knew if they were silent, you must be doing something right.

There were many special moments, but I think the ’94 game with ‘the try’, I think that always brings back memories; it was a special moment.

Wally was coaching his first Origin series, first game, from nowhere we score a magical try which – I hate to think how many times people have watched that try and that’s me included. But just to go back and look at the memories, it was fantastic; any memory of winning is great, but that was just a special moment. It would have to be in the top five of best of Origin, what it means to play, that never give up attitude, you don’t want to let your mates down. Yes, it’s state versus state, mate versus mate, but for us, you don’t want to let anyone down and to go in and be involved in that; that was special.

I think all the games I played were all very special; I was injured in a couple and didn’t get to play and I felt like I had let everyone down because you couldn’t be there and you couldn’t do your job, but I know that’s football, that’s sport, you know, you get injured, but I think all of them are just as special whether it’s the first one or it’s the last one.

I played one game coming off the bench, I know a lot of guys like Dale Shearer played in a lot of different positions, and I know that’s difficult because at least if you play the one position, you know what you job is, you know what is expected of you – but to go and play in multiple positions is something different in itself. But all the games are all special; to play one and then to play however many more, including in the Super League series, they were all special, but the only one I would say I remember more would be the ’94 one and that’s the last second try.

When it was happening, I wasn’t thinking anything, I was just sitting back and watching and going ‘go, go, go!’

It was over the other side of the field, so all you can do is sit there and hope that someone does something special, because that’s what the team was and we had a lot of special players and a lot of gifted players.

Trying to follow that play... it’s gone from Willie to Kevie, to Alf to Steve and Steve was my centre partner and we played a lot together, at the Broncos, Queensland, Australia together, so we had a special understanding, so me to Darren Smith, Darren Smith to I think it was Mal, or Alf to Mal, so everyone played their part and everyone was very, very, very excited and you just look at the bench after the try was scored. It was a special moment.

Another special game, it might have be ’89 when Alf broke his leg, Mal fractured his cheekbone, Bobby Lindner had played with a broken leg, I hurt my shoulder and went off, but we still got to win that game. To be involved in one, that was great, that was a winning game, so I was extra happy about that and to win a series; we won a first series 3-0. It’s hard enough to win one game, but to go on and win the three of them – but they are all special.

Nowadays, I work in game development, that’s where we try to help the game as much as possible, we travel the countryside, educating, teaching teachers, students, players in trying to make the game better, whether that’s through healthy lifestyle or talks or achieving your dreams or personal branding, skills on the oval or whether it’s just talking to boys and girls about our experiences. We are not recruiters, we don’t care where the kids go, but if we have the opportunity to make a competition, the kids, a coach better, well, that makes the player better.

Whether that gives them an opportunity to go to the Broncos or the Cowboys or Canberra or the Roosters, that’s what we are trying to do, we are trying to give as many boys and girls the opportunity to realise a dream and that’s to play in the NRL and if we can help that by travelling – we go to New Zealand, we go to Fiji, PNG, every state in this country – we have even been to South Africa, we have been to England, so there’s not too many places that we don’t try to make the game better.

We have a lot of players who work with us, Mick de Vere, he played Origin for NSW, we have Casey Maguire who played for Queensland, we have David Stagg who played for Queensland, we have Matt Gillett who is helping us out, so we have a lot of experience at that level and we try to use those experiences to try and help and guide those girls and boys through their journey of trying to be the best player and the best person they can be each and every day.

We try to use our experiences on how we got there and what we had to sacrifice and do to be successful at that highest level and hopefully they can take that information in and use it to help themselves get that opportunity.

But rugby league is all about having fun, you come and watch anyone at any level, even at Origin level, if they are not having fun, that means they are not enjoying it, so you have got to have fun whether you are playing for Queensland or playing for your local club, whether you are playing under 7s; you have got to make sure there’s a fun element and that’s what we try and do.

We try to educate our coaches about the boys and girls – and if you create that environment that they want to be part of and if it’s a fun environment, I can guarantee they can’t wait to get out of mum and dad’s car to come down.

If it’s fun and learning at the same time, that’s just a perfect recipe for giving these boys and girls the opportunity to play our great game of rugby league and if it’s fun, even better.

I can’t wait to watch this year’s series. I actually sit and watch all the games and get pretty excited myself. I know what I went through and how excited I was, so I now get excited to watch these young guys who are getting their opportunity to come and shine and have their day in the sun.

That was my time, that was my job – but I don’t think about what I did because everything I did is collecting dust, I just sit back and admire these athletes and what they bring and they make me get excited about the game.

I work in the game now, and I get excited about the game, about the athleticism and how they can score the tries now and it’s a fantastic think and it’s exciting again.

When the Queenslanders were winning so many in a row; some might say ‘oh yeah, Queensland’s going to win’ – but it’s a once in a lifetime team that we had.

Now NSW is winning, which is great for the game... I am excited for Queensland to see what they are going to bring and how they are going to stem the flow, which every team tries to do each and every year.

Yours sincerely,

Mick Hancock

FOG #58