Being a Queenslander, for me, not in a rugby league sense, but it life… it means endless summers, it means being barefoot, fishing… it means a lot of time at the beach… it means enjoying the great outdoors all year ‘round, even in winter.
That’s the best thing about Queensland… it’s just such a lovely place. It’s probably been the blessing in disguise in 2020… that we’ve had to stay in Queensland and see our own backyard and I’m looking forward to seeing more of it.
When it comes to rugby league… as a kid, growing up, watching State of Origin, that was probably the only football our whole family watched.
I had an older brother who played soccer and if my dad had it his way, I’d be playing tennis. If my mum had it her way, she’s from Western Australia, I’d be playing AFL. So, it was a very rare moment for all of us to sit down at one point in time and watch a game of footy. But it was always State of Origin.
The spark was lit inside me, probably as a 16-year-old, when I decided I really wanted to make rugby league my career.
Watching State of Origin, I decided that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to, even at a junior level, make a Queensland team, just so I could have – like everyone says ‘it’s all about the tracksuit’. You don’t ever wear a tracksuit in Townsville, but once I got my first Queensland tracksuit, I wore that thing every day. It got worn out fairly quick.
Footy for me, though, started because of my mates. All of my mates at school were playing rugby league. I remember being at Kirwan primary school in Townsville and I wanted to go to the Olympics when I was a kid. I wanted to do athletics… I was pretty good at shot put, discus, javelin… all of the throwing events. I was good at them. I guess that’s what you do as a kid. You do whatever your mates do. I followed suit.
Once I got the bug, there was no getting rid of it. I just enjoyed it so much… it was competitive, it was physical, it was fun because I played with my mates. I think that’s what I tried to do throughout my whole career… make sure it was fun.
The mateship and the bonds are priceless… my oldest friends are my footy mates from when I was a kid. Throughout my whole career, any time I went back to Townsville when we’d play up there, I’d always stay the weekend and we’d always do a footy catch up afterwards. Have a beer together and catch up. We all kind of moved on and did our own things with our lives, but that was always a time we could catch-up, reminisce and talk crap.
Getting my first call up for the Maroons, I got a phone call from Mal.
I was super surprised. We were playing some alright football at the time, in 2006, with the Broncos. It was a real break-out year for me across the board. Mal was going for a different approach and wanted to blood some new guys. I think sometimes change is good. It was the perfect time to have that changing of the guard but we still had some old boys in there to really help us out and I think that’s what really helped us along. Being a forward and having the likes of Shane Webcke, Petero Civoniceva, Steve Price in your forward pack, it helped as a rookie.
The rookies that got the call up that year were all guys I’d known for the majority of my life. Nate Myles… played with and against him for years. Neville Costigan, the same thing. We played in the Foley Shield against one another. Nate being from Cairns and Neville from Mackay.
That kind of helped as well. I can remember getting that phone call and I don’t know, you felt nervous straight away… at that point in time. You weren’t even close to being on the field at that point. You ring the family up after that and let all of them know and the excitement comes back again. That all happens before you even get into camp. And then that’s another excitement level again. That 2006 series was so, so memorable for myself.
I got the chance – the opportunity – to debut for Queensland. We broke the drought and I had my 21st birthday in camp as well so it was a pretty wild party. I tried to keep it as quiet as possible but you can’t keep anything quiet around Alfie.
Running out at Suncorp…. it’s funny… you never miss the bangs and the bruises when you finish playing footy, but the roar of that crowd, when you run out at Suncorp in front of a packed Queensland contingent, was always the best feeling.
The best way to describe it is if you had a rock concert or your favourite band’s concert, and they come on stage, and you hear that roar… and you can feel it yourself, just being in the crowd… those goosebumps. You multiply by 100 and that’s what it feels like to be a player.
It’s always quite different because you warm up inside… you don’t want necessarily ruin the surprise of going out to the stadium and getting the cheer before going back inside and coming back out and hearing the cheer again. That’s the best thing about it. It’s like the best surprise party you’ve ever had. It never got old. In saying that, on the flip side, I loved playing in New South Wales because I liked the boos as well. You kind of feed and fuel off the cheers and boos.
Nothing will ever replace that kind of feeling of running out in front of a packed Suncorp.
When it comes to the biggest highlight for me, when donning maroon, it was always great winning series’, but you know, it’s the small things.
I can remember working at training on a little play with Billy Slater and we worked at this play and worked at this play…. It came off in a game and I scored a try. That was the most amazing thing. You know, I almost went through untouched I think. That hard work and dedication to what you wanted to do kind of made me sit back and realise… if you work at things at training, they can work in a game.
Huge highlight was scoring a try for Queensland… I scored a couple, which was brilliant, but scoring in front of the Queensland fans… yeah, it’s always great. I scored a cheeky one actually when JT kicked down I think and did a kick-chase and whoever the fullback was at the time fumbled it and JT passed it to me. I reckon I would’ve ran five metres, but it didn’t matter because it was in Sydney, but in front of all the Queensland fans. I can remember looking up and seeing them all roaring and cheering and I thought to myself… ‘how good is this?’
When it comes to you, Queenslanders, it’s always funny when you want to come and yell in my face ‘Queenslander’… it just shows the passion and pride you have for the state and the team.
The fan days are the best experiences because you get to go to rural and remote areas that may not get a chance or opportunity to be at Suncorp for the game or be part of the fan days you have in and around the city. You walk down the main street of a small country town and everyone is there – kids are having the day off school. People are travelling and driving from many, many kilometres away just to see you, shake your hand and take a photo with you. Those things really show you how passionate we are in Queensland and that’s a bit of a driving tool behind a lot of our success.
A lot of us come from that same background… you know that battling background or from regional areas or regional places and hopefully by just doing something as simple as walking down their little town’s main street inspires the next generation of little boy or girl to wear that Queensland jersey.
There’s no time like the present to get behind the Queensland team. I think that’s the best thing about Queenslanders…. we go through so much adversity; through droughts and floods and Queensland goes through many different weather patterns and we show, and always have shown, so much resilience and hopefully the boys on the field can show a resilience this year and we can bring the shield back home - to where it belongs back here in Queensland.
The future of Queensland looks amazing. We’ve got some great young talent coming through. Being bias, but especially in the forward pack, we’ve got some great young kids coming through. Some great front rowers that are going to play a lot of games for Queensland I’m sure and we’ve got three or four different No. 9’s we can pick from. We’ve got some great young halves that are playing good footy as well so the future of Queensland looks really bright and hopefully the success can start this year.
Bring it on.