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Rugby league was always in the blood for Queensland's Currie

Tony Currie is as Queensland as they come... and while he played alongside him in maroon, there was a time when he had to face off against Wally 'The King' Lewis in a sky blue jersey.

A Queensland representative between 1982 and 1989, Currie is one of the players eligible to be selected for the Deadly Maroons Indigenous State of Origin team of the first 40 years and remembers the early years of Origin.

“You have to remember in ‘87 and ‘88, we played a trial match for Queensland for Origin selection,” Currie said of how his match-up against Lewis happened.

“Not many people realise that. This is how Alfie Langer came about in the Origin side.

“The New South Wales-based Maroons came up wearing a blue jersey and we played on a Wednesday night.

“I played five-eighth up against Wally Lewis… that’s a pretty good initiation, isn’t it?

“We ended up going pretty well and won that game. It was the game Laurie Spina had an outstanding game, but they pumped for Alfie and (in the end), I think they made the right choice there.”

Queensland's 1987 team. Photo: QRL archives
Queensland's 1987 team. Photo: QRL archives

A 13-game representative for the Maroons, Currie made his debut in Game III of the 1982 series and it was a game the talented outside back remembers well.

“My very first Origin match was the deciding game in the very first three-match series,” Currie said.

“In ’80 and ’81, they only played one game, but decided on playing a series in 1982.

“I was playing for Wests and (we were) always hovering around the bottom.

“I think we were equal-last in 1982, so it was probably a pretty good achievement to get picked in an Origin team from one of the bottoms sides; but what I remember is… I played a game at Purtell Park for Wests … and I got a call.

“There were a few injuries on Sunday night [to Queensland players who had gone back to their clubs to play weekend matches] and one of the injuries occurred to a centre for Queensland called Graham Quinn.

“He played for Brothers and St George in Sydney and he got injured, so there was a bit of a shuffle and I ended up getting shuffled onto the bench with Fatty Vautin.

“But I didn’t get the call until Sunday night after my game in Brisbane.

“But because I celebrated getting picked – I’m 19 years old you know – so on Sunday night, I’m out on the turps going ‘woohoo! I’ve been picked’… but I had a 7 or 8am flight to catch the next morning.

“Back then, we had TAA and Ansett and I was on the TAA flight and I missed that but back then, there was like 25 minutes (to wait) and then an Ansett flight would go to Sydney, so I rushed to get on that one.

“I hadn’t really been to Sydney. I had been there when I was a kid, but I hadn’t been there much as an adult, so it was a pretty big awe-inspiring experience going through all the city from the airport.”

Once Currie got to the hotel in Sydney and got meeting Queensland legend Arthur Beetson out of the way, it was time to settle into camp.

“My roommate was John Dowling, who was the hooker for St George, and funny thing, back in those days, the rooms had a double bed and a single bed and I threw my gear on the single bed,” Currie said.

“But John Dowling – a beautiful man – said ‘oh no, you’re a newbie here Tony, I’ve done this before; you can have the double bed and get a good night sleep and I’ll just plunk on the single bed’.

“In footy terms, he should’ve had the double bed and I have the single as a bit of a seniority thing there.

“He was a fantastic roommate from my first experience. He was very soothing, calming, we talked a lot.

“It was a feel-good feeling. Remember, I’m there Monday morning and the Origin is Tuesday night, so it was a bit of a rush job.”

As for the game; it was even more eventful than Currie’s unexpected selection.

“In the game, I managed to get on for the last 15 minutes and wow, it was helter-skelter I tell ya,” Currie said.

“It seemed to go in a flash and that was the start of my Origin career.

“I gradually worked from the bench into a permanent starting position in the '80s.

“There was an all-in-brawl in the first half and Dowling was in the thick of things and got sent to the bin; and back then we were sitting up in the dressing rooms at the SCG.

“We weren’t physically out on the field, so we were kind of shielded from the parochial New South Wales stuff they used to throw at us, and it was a bit of a protection.

“We used to get the call to run through the crowd just like the cricketers used to do. Both myself and Fatty got the call.

“But getting back to that fight, it was an amazing thing, because Dowling got cut over the eye, so the doctor thought to stitch him in the 10 minute interval where he got sinbinned; and he did a really rough quick job and John went out and played and I’m thinking … ‘wow, how tough are these guys?’

“I’m only a kid. I’m only 19 years old and witnessing all this stuff. It was a pretty good welcoming to how tough Origin is.

“But later on when we had won the game … John’s eye started to bleed where he had the cut.

“And this is a true story… the doctor didn’t even stitch the cut! He stitched above it, so he had missed the cut.

“John told me to get the doctor, so I went and got the doctor who was Kevin Hobbs who said ‘oh, you’ve got to get it stitched again... come on, let’s go and get it done now.’

“So we went down to our room and the doctor said do you want any anaesthetic, but he said ‘nah, just stitch it up how it is’.

“Now, here I am in my mind thinking ‘oh my god, how tough is this bloke?’ He’s just lying there on the bed and the doctor is stitching his eye without any needle or anything to numb it.

“This is hours after the game when you don’t have any adrenaline and it’s a really tender part of the eye. And I’m just there watching it and thinking ‘oh my goodness. How good is this bloke?’

"So John Dowling had a really big impact on me back in those days.”

Bulldog Tony Currie. Photo: NRL Images
Bulldog Tony Currie. Photo: NRL Images

A premiership winner with both Canterbury Bulldogs and Brisbane Broncos, Currie’s his love of rugby league was a family trait, with his grandfather and uncle also both gifted players who earned acclaim.

“I’m a member of the Mumumjali tribe from Beaudesert and Tweed Heads; my grandfather roamed those areas,” Currie said. “He was a fantastic player too; he represented NSW Country first in 1938.

“Not many people know that. He was a black man playing rep footy back then. His name was Arthur Currie.

“He played in the Newcastle competition, but he also travelled a bit – played up in Woorabinda.

“That was my grandfather’s side. My grandmother’s side was from the Butchulla mob at Fraser Island.

“Football has been in the blood with my grandfather and my uncle, who was my idol when growing up.

“That’s my grandfather’s son… he played for Easts and won many grand finals for them.

“He won a Rothman’s Medal in 1978 and I said I am going to do the same thing as my uncle and I won one in 1982.

“I did get to play against him in one game – a trial game. I was playing for the Kangaroos (an indigenous rugby league side in Brisbane) and I wasn’t supposed to, but I snuck in under a false name because they were playing him and he shook me around like a rag doll.

"He was too strong for me. His name was Alan Currie.

“He was a good role model for me as well – he was a childhood sweetheart with his wife and I’m still married to my childhood sweetheart and I just wanted to be exactly like him and mimicked him all through.

'He was a hard worker. Every chance, every school holiday, I’d go down and work for him.

"He was a brewery truck driver, so I’d go and be his offsider, just to be in the truck with him. We used to lift kegs and load beers.

"It was pretty tough work back then because forklifts weren’t around.”

Tony Currie at the Brisbane Broncos game. Photo: NRL Images
Tony Currie at the Brisbane Broncos game. Photo: NRL Images

Nowadays, Currie – who is a mechanic by trade – is kept busy with his tyre business, and he is still keenly involved in rugby league.

A three-time try scorer for Queensland, Currie was also keen to see how the players of 2020 would perform in Origin this year and thought having experience of Wayne Bennett and Mal Meninga at the helm would help guide them

“They’ve got to come now and lift to a new level. It’s just very, very tough," Currie said of what this year's players had to do.

"There are going to be players there who are 19, like my first game, and look how I ended up.

"They could have long long careers in Origin. They’ve just got to go out and do the best they can do it for each other.

“That’s always been the Queensland mantra.

"They’re as fit as New South Wales and are as skilled as New South Wales.

"Are they talented? Well... would you rather have the most talented team or have the most mentally tough team?

That’s what Queensland has always been… mentally tough."

Click here to view the Deadly Maroons Origin Team of the First 40 Years nominees and to assemble your Deadly Maroons dream team.