Mick Potter, who is now coaching Bradford Bulls, did this interview with League Express in 2008 while coaching Catalans Dragons.
How did you initially get into Rugby League and then end up at Canterbury Bankstown?
I was a soccer player until I was 16 but all my friends were playing Rugby League. I played both sports for a year and then went with League. I went to St Gregory’s College, played one year in the country and then went to Canterbury in 1983. On my first grade debut against the Roosters, I got kneed in the ribs diving over the tryline and did my rib cartilage. I didn’t even score the try either!
You made a name for yourself in 1984 by winning a Premiership medal and the Dally M as a teenage fullback. What do you remember of that year?
Yes, I had some success that year. I played in a State of Origin, off the bench, and it was fantastic to play with and against all the best players in the game, a lot of whom I’d looked up to as I was coming through as a teenager. At Canterbury, we went on to win the Grand Final 6-4 against Parramatta in a dour game. Mark Budgen scored our only try and I was named the Dally M winner to cap off a great year.
Mid-’80’s Grand Finals were very low scoring. Was your coach Warren Ryan responsible for that?
Yes, he did a phenomenal job with such limited resources. As a tactician, he was second to none. He could pull a game apart and break it down better than anyone, snuffing out the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition. He probably was responsible for the competition going through a defence-based era and he was actually responsible for a rule change where if the fullback diffuses a bomb in-goal he now gets a tap restart on the 20. Before that, it would be a goal line drop out and Warren would get us to wear the fullbacks down like that so we were always getting the ball back. In the 1985 Grand Final, we did it continuously to Glenn Burgess, the St George fullback and we won 7-6. The physicality of the game back then was something I remember and with the five metre rule in operation, you had to play with a lot of depth to shift the ball.
You had then won two Grand Finals by the age of 20 which was some achievement.
Yes but, looking back, I maybe didn’t appreciate it like I should have done and took it too casually. I didn’t realise how special that was until a few years later.
Was it a big disappointment not to add to your Origin appearances throughout your career?
It was but it’s a hard game and I suffered some injuries which knocked me around a bit. I had a knee reconstruction in 1986, broke an ankle in 1987 and then the other ankle in ’88. I was Garry Jack’s understudy in the 1986 Origin side because he had an ankle problem. But he was OK so I was told to go back to Canterbury. I’d trained with the Origin side all week, then played for my club side and came off with a knee injury that needed the reconstruction. I was out for six months but then had the broken ankles after that.
You moved on to St George in 1989 and won another Dally M there and played in two more Grand Finals…
I broke my ankle early in 1988 and there were some other issues at Canterbury. I didn’t make the squad for the Grand Final with Balmain which was disappointing and, by then, had already agreed to move on. I struggled at St George in 1989 and found it tough but things improved, I adapted my game and things started to work out. The game changed a lot in the early 90s and really progressed. I won a second Dally M which I probably appreciated more than the first because I’d played half the year at five-eighth and learned a lot playing under Brian Smith. I could have been a better player earlier on if I’d known some of the stuff that Brian taught me. We played Brisbane in two Grand Finals; 1992 and 1993. In the first one, people just thought we were making up the numbers against a side full of representative players. We did our best but lost and in 1993, we lost Jason Stevens in the second tackle of the game. He recoiled out of the tackle and the top of his thumb was turned over with the bone poking out of the top. He was our go-forward player and we missed him. We couldn’t cope with what the Broncos came up with.
Was there a sour relationship with the Broncos given Wayne Bennett’s trick with the tip-sheet and Allan Langer singing afterwards that ‘St George can’t play’?
It wasn’t a factor for me but I don’t really know how the club felt. It wasn’t discussed around the club and was probably just newspaper talk. They can say what they like because they won.
You played in the second final with a young Gorden Tallis. Were there signs of what he would go on to achieve?
He was a very motivated young guy and a devastating runner. He improved his frame and endurance and went on to have a fantastic career. He’s a great bloke and has left a wonderful legacy too.
You retired temporarily after the 1993 Grand Final. What tempted you back?
I went into the game thinking it was my last and I didn’t play at all during 1994. I was 30 and I was still working outside the game but I came back in 1995 at Perth Western Reds and had two full time years there. I enjoyed Perth. It was a fantastic place to live and building a professional Rugby League team in an Aussie Rules city wasn’t easy. It was a great challenge for everyone but I found it a great experience.
Similarities to your current job in Perpignan?
Yes, definitely. It’s all about bringing a whole group of people together in an unfamiliar area to a lot of them. You need to spend that bit more time with their families and the individuals and get them together outside the footy. It’s a big challenge to do that with 30 people and there are plenty of teething problems. The French players here aren’t all from Perpignan so it’s a new town for them too.
You then coached at Bradford after you finished playing.
I coached the Academy side when Matty Elliott was the first team coach. It was a good experience and I really enjoyed working under Matthew and alongside Brian Noble and Darrell Shelford. Bradford were a great club to be at but I then went back to Australia as my boys were going into high school and I worked at Penrith, coaching guys like Luke Lewis and Frank Pritchard in the lower grades.
How did the Catalans job come about?
I got a ‘phone call from David Waite who was helping get the place up and running. It was after Steve Deakin went and the job was available. I did some interviews over the ‘phone and after some quick negotiating I got the job. I had been coaching at St George and was about to become assistant coach but they were happy for me to go.
I assume it’s a decision you’re glad you took?
Yes but it’s been challenging in many aspects though. The financial constraints are tough but it’s a credit to the place that they’re doing as well as they are, not just on the field, but off it as well.
What do you think of the standard of French Rugby League?
I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of the playing standards because I hadn’t seen footage before I came over but the skill levels and the subtleties in some of the play are very good in the French league but they’re slightly deficient with the endurance. Also, at times, they need to play a little more conservatively when the stakes are high. They sometimes need a bump and grind approach but that doesn’t suit a lot of French people. Getting them tuned to that is a process as is building up the endurance.
Is Perpignan a real Rugby League town?
Yes it is and we’re trying to help by winning a few games. But I try not to get distracted with the off-field growth of the club.
Do you get recognised in the town?
Not really but they know I’m a foreigner though because my French is so bad!