‘My Life in Rugby League’ for League Express with Castleford coach Terry Matterson in 2007.
Congratulations on recently being named one of Brisbane Broncos’ 20 best ever players.
Thank you. It was quite a surprise to me especially when I think of some of the players who missed out so it was quite humbling to be in there. I loved my time there and playing under Wayne Bennett and alongside players like Wally Lewis, Gene Miles, Greg Dowling, Greg Conescu, Colin Scott and Allan Langer was a wonderful experience.
Tell us about your early days in Rugby League.
I started when I was four or five. My father played for Parramatta and Western Suburbs. He retired early at 21 – a lot of players didn’t get paid anything back then – but he still got me involved. I was a Canterbury Bankstown junior and came from Chester Hill which is best known for producing Terry Lamb. I went from there to Easts where I played some first grade in 1986 and 1987 before heading to Brisbane Broncos for their first ever season in 1988.
Quite a few of your relatives played first grade Rugby League didn’t they?
Yes many years ago, in the 1920s, my grandfather and great-uncles played for Wests and my brother Paul played a couple of games for Easts when I was there. In fact, I joined the club because he was there. Arthur Beetson was the coach and he was one of my childhood idols so that was a great opportunity for me and I got to play alongside guys like Kevin Hastings and John Tobin.
You must have fond memories of the Broncos inaugural fixture when you smashed the reigning Premiers Manly at Lang Park?
Yes, I have. To beat Manly like that wasn’t something that we expected and I managed to score two tries and I kicked eight goals. We surprised ourselves that day because we’d been a bit scratchy in the trials. But we basically had the Queensland State of Origin side so we were always going to be a big threat.
Being a New South Welshman, did you ever feel like an outsider up there?
No, not really. I was made to feel welcome and they were a great bunch of guys. I only felt like an outsider for three weeks of the year. They were all playing Origin and I was going for the opposition!
You made your solitary Origin appearance in the third game of 1989, when Queensland won the series 3-0. Were you disappointed not to have more of an Origin career?
Yes. I only played once and Brad Clyde was a fixture in the side back then so opportunities were limited. It was great to play against all my Brisbane team-mates but it was a tough period for the Blues because Queensland had one of their best sides ever. We weren’t a happy camp back then and Wally had scored that magnificent try in Sydney to wrap up the series. We were 12-8 up at half-time in the game that I played in but they came over the top of us in the second half and were just too strong for us.
Do you feel that the Broncos under-achieved in those early years?
Yes we did. There was no doubt that these guys players could get up for any game but the week-in week-out grind of the Winfield Cup is a different matter and we just weren’t consistent enough over the course of a long season. We didn’t make the semi-finals in the first couple of years and we struggled in the last few rounds and during the Origin series. Some of the guys were coming to the end of their careers as well and it wasn’t just a coincidence that when Wally, Gene and Greg retired that we began to win Premierships. Wally’s one of the best two or three players who have ever played the game but he’d possibly become bigger than the club and some of the younger players didn’t come out and play their natural game. I think a lot of the younger guys felt more able to express themselves when some of the senior players loved on. I didn’t feel that way, personally, but Allan Langer, for instance, played better than ever afterwards.
What do you remember of the 1992 and 1993 Grand Final wins over St George?
Plenty, especially in the first year when we were so dominant. We only lost about four games and we had a convincing semi-final win. We struggled in the first half of the final but everyone did their job and it was a great day and a huge relief to win. It was magic and my greatest sporting day. The following year was totally different. We had loads of injuries throughout the year and before the semis guys like Glenn Lazarus, Steve Renouf, myself and a couple of others were struggling. We won it from fifth that year but once we got to the final, we weren’t going to lose it although it was a tougher one to win. No-one’s gone back to back since which shows what an achievement it was.
In between those wins, you went over to England to win the World Club Challenge at Central Park. Was that the first time you’d played in England?
Yes, it was although I’d knocked back an offer from St Helens at the end of 1988 and it was always something I’d wanted to do. Some of the Australian clubs hadn’t taken that competition seriously so we trained really hard and we had eight blokes playing in the World Cup final at Wembley at around the same time which made it a bit easier. The Wigan side was as good as they’d had and there was a full house there. We played really well and I happened to get the man of the match award in a 22-8 win. We were dominant and their try came late on.
How did your Broncos days come to an end?
I’d signed to play Super League in the mid-90s but at the Broncos there were some good young kids like Tonie Carroll coming through and London offered me three and a half years. The timing was perfect. I came over during the 1995-6 season which led into the first Super League season. That was tough, coming off a semi-final with Brisbane and straight into an English season but it was good.
London did well in the first Super League season, finishing fourth but you’re best remembered for that touchline goal at Central Park.
Yes, and St Helens fans still thank me for that! The game with Wigan was about 12 games out but it cost them the Championship because barely any other team could get near them and take points from them but I certainly wasn’t thinking of St Helens when I kicked the goal. Like you say, we did well back then and we were really proud of what we did there. We were unlucky against St Helens in the Premiership semi-final that year and then, in 1997, we came second.
You must have thought that the game was finally taking off in London because as well as the league position, the club pulled off the signings of Martin Offiah and Shaun Edwards.
Yeah, those guys were great and that coincided with our form in 1996 and 1997. Things were buzzing in ’97 and we did well in the World Club Challenge that year. We were winning in Brisbane after an hour and then we had that famous win over Canberra when we came from behind to win 38-18. We had a great team spirit back then and a lot of credit should go to our coach Tony Currie. Crowds were great too and we did as much as we could to put the game on the map down there but it was a bit disappointing that the club didn’t kick on a few years after all that. They couldn’t capitalise on it.
What did you do after leaving London?
I went back to Brisbane and worked as a wine rep as well as doing some coaching at the Broncos. That was in 1999 and 2000. After that, I had two years coaching with Melbourne Storm and looked after their feeder club Brisbane Norths and coached guys like Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, Dallas Johnson, Cooper Cronk and Jake Webster who have gone on to have great careers. There’s some exceptional talent coming out of Queensland now when you consider that Slater and Matthew Bowen can’t make the Origin team. For three years I was then assistant coach at Canberra Raiders under Matthew Elliott before I went to Castleford.
How did the Tigers job come about?
I’d turned down the Widnes job two years earlier and I thought it was about time I took such a job. Castleford ‘phoned me and it seemed a great club, in a good state financially although the only problem seemed to be with the playing roster.
You put a good squad together though and were doing very well for much of the season? Did you make the mistake of easing up too soon?
No, I don’t think so. We signed some good players like you say but we still had to pull things together really quickly and we just ran out of bodies in the end. We beat Leeds at home mid-season and things were going well but six or seven players were taking needles. After that, we couldn’t get them on the field and the size of our squad really hurt us.
In terms of your career lows, where does the Wakefield relegation decider fit in?
Well, I’d probably go back to a couple of other games a bit earlier. Huddersfield, for instance, the home game with Wakefield and the second to last game with Salford would be up there but we were out on our feet going into that last game and did well to come as close as we did.