‘My Life in Rugby League’ for League Express with Hull’s Peter Cusack in 2008.
How are you enjoying England?
It’s been great. Admittedly it was a tough move to make having such a young family – I came over with my wife and two young daughters. My wife was also pregnant at the time and we’ve since had a third daughter. Things haven’t been perfect on the field but making Wembley is fantastic. I signed a two-year deal and I think, all being well, that I’d stay beyond that if the club still wanted me.
How did you first get into Rugby League?
I started playing at 11 when I went to boarding school. Not many boarding schools in Australia play League but we had a good reputation for it and scouts came to watch us play. I didn’t make the team at first but I did after the first year. When I was 17 Artie Beetson saw me play and I ended up at the Roosters.
How long did you have to wait to get an NRL game?
I played Jersey Flegg in 1994 as a 17-year-old. In fact we won the competition that year. We had a good team with players like Nathan Blacklock, Scott Logan and Shane Rigon in the side. But I had to wait until 1998 to play first grade. I played in the last round of the season against Balmain – it was Paul Sironen’s last game in Australia. I played one semi-final but Dave Barnhill came back from injury and took my place after that.
What was it like to play for Phil Gould?
He was a very good coach – one of the best football minds you’ll come across. I got on with him when I dealt with him but I only played two games in 1999 so I didn’t have too much to do with him.
You became more of a regular player in 2000 when Graham Murray became coach.
That’s right. He was a very good coach and took us to the club’s first grand final in 25 years. That was a great experience, playing in front of 100,000 people shortly before the Olympics started in Sydney. Muz was a very good coach but after the following year when we lost in the semi-finals to Newcastle, Nick Politis showed him the door such was the pressure on everybody to win a grand final.
How good for the Roosters was Adrian Morley?
He was unreal for us! It took him a while to find his feet because of injury and suspensions but in the second half of 2002 he was amazing. He was a player that you just loved playing with because he would always come up with a play that would lift everybody. People always used to emphasise his big hits – and they were superb – but his hit-ups were just as important, making metres and playing the ball really quickly. He’s still playing well now for Warrington but he doesn’t fly out of the line like he used to.
Your confidence must have soared in 2002 when the Bulldogs were stripped of the Minor Premiership and kicked out of the semi-finals for cheating the salary cap.
Well, yes, but who knows what would have happened if they’d stayed in. We came into our best form just at the right time while you could say they’d peaked too soon. With Moz, Brad Fittler, Luke Ricketson, Craig Fitzgibbon and Brett Mullins, we had a great team. We had to win our last five games to get a home semi-final so we went into the semis on a roll then we won four more to win the Premiership. It was a sensational time for everyone at the club. Ricky Stuart was such an intense coach. We had a mobile pack and the speed of our line in defence became our trademark.
Why didn’t the club win it again?
We got to the next two finals but lost to Penrith and Canterbury. In 2003 I had a knee reconstruction and missed the second half of the season including the final. We put Penrith under a lot of pressure but just couldn’t score. In 2004 we scored the first try but the Bulldogs were too good for us on the day and came back at us. That was my last game for the club and I was lucky to play at all. I played most of the year but got injured just before the semi-finals. I made my comeback in the final but only because Luke Ricketson got suspended for punching Nathan Fien.
How did your move to Souths come about?
The Roosters gave me permission to speak to them. Souths made me an offer and the Roosters couldn’t match it so off I went.
Did you have many dealings with Russell Crowe?
Not so many at first but then he took over during 2006 and as a senior player and captain I sometimes went round to his house to talk about things. He also put on events for the players – he took us out on a boat once and we had a barbeque in the harbour. Another time he invited a load of ex-players to eat with us and give the players a talk. People questioned him taking over but he loved his footy and he was so passionate about the Rabbitohs. He was big on the history of the club and all the great Souths players.
What was the highlight of your three seasons there?
Making the semi-finals last year and being made captain, which was such a privilege.
You were joint captains with Roy Asotasi. How did that work?
It had been done before at other clubs and Jason Taylor thought it’d work. We were both props so one of us was sometimes off the field. We had no problems with it because it worked well. I’d been captain on my own the year before but I had no problems with having to share it with Roy.
You represented Country Origin twice but were you disappointed not to play State of Origin?
I played for them in 2004 and 2007 and it was a great experience. I’m a boy from the Bush and was proud to play for them. I played under Ricky Stuart and Craig Bellamy – two great coaches. As for State of Origin, it didn’t really cross my mind. At the Roosters my priority was just keeping my place in the 17, such was the quality at the club.
Why did you leave the club?
I had one more year on my contract and asked if they’d be likely to extend it after 2008. They said they weren’t sure at that stage and I could look overseas if I wanted to, even though Jason stressed he wanted to keep me which was great to hear. In December Peter Sharp was at one of out training sessions then rang me up and asked me if I’d like to join Hull because he needed a front rower. I spoke to people who had played in England and they recommended it so we went for it.
How would you assess this year at Hull?
I’ve loved my time here but it’s been a tough year for the club on the field. We’ve had injuries and we’ve lost games by narrow margins at times. If we’d won those games things could have been very different. But like I said before, making the Cup Final is fantastic for us all.
Do you accept your underdogs tag?
Yes. The league table shows that that’s the case. We’re in a poor position and Saints are playing some great football so they deserve to be the favourites. We know we have to prepare the best we can. If we win it will be up there with that grand final I won!