Farewell to a favourite son
Ben Creagh may not have got his dream ending but he certainly had the dream career BY JOE McDONOUGH
SHANE WEBCKE HELD THE Provan-Summons Trophy high above his head in 2006, the last time he ever wore studs. Steve Menzies topped that, scoring a try in Manly’s 40-0 grand final romp of the Storm before sailing off into the NRL sunset in 2008 after 349 matches. Our game is littered with feelgood farewells, but for some, the stars just don’t align.
Standing in the bowels of Kogarah Oval, where he’s fronted up to countless press conferences as club captain of the St George Illawarra Dragons, Ben Creagh is one of those. When RLW catches up with the champion back-rower, he’s just walked through a guard of honour and waved goodbye to the Red V faithful. A special moment for the Wollongong product, absolutely – but it didn’t all go according to plan.
In the week leading up to the round 26 fixture, to everyone’s surprise, Paul McGregor included Creagh in his line-up.
It’d been a frustrating season, to say the least, for the former Kangaroo and NSW Blue, with his busted knee keeping him on the sidelines since round three, and eventually forcing his early retirement call. But having his name right there on the Tuesday team list, and the big ‘C’ in brackets printed next to it was as close as he’d come to a farewell befitting his contribution to the club.
But you know what they say about the best-laid plans . . . and Creagh had to make the difficult decision not to play against the Knights. “I was pretty close [to being right] but not close enough to compete at a first-grade level,” he says with more than a tinge of disappointment.
“If I did play – and a lot of guys wanted me to – it would’ve been a token game and when you play for this amount of time you don’t want to just run out on the field and struggle out there.
“I couldn’t keep up at training with the boys and that means I wouldn’t have been able to keep up in the game – so it was the right decision to make.”
Creagh’s body betrayed him just three games shy of Ben Hornby’s
“I know a lot of the Dragons fans personally because I see them every week”
273-game club record, but the 31-year-old isn’t bitter. After all, as he reveals, his NRL career could’ve been over before it even got going.
“I was just speaking with Nathan Brown before – he actually picked me for my first first-grade game here against the Warriors in 2003 and it wasn’t the best debut, it really wasn’t,” he reflects.
“Browny told me a few years after that he was getting letters after my first five games from the fans saying ‘Why are you still picking this kid?’ – but he had plenty of faith in me and said, ‘Look, give this guy some time, he’s got to learn from his mistakes’, and I was making plenty at the time.
“It was tough. I was an 18-yearold kid who’d gone from playing 20s to reserve grade, and then all of a sudden I got the call-up to first grade all in the same year. At the time I was a full-time landscape gardener in Wollongong, travelling up to training in the afternoons after work, so it was a shock to the system. And then putting yourself on the big stage where you’re getting judged on your performances every week when you’re not going very good – it’s tough to take as a kid.
“But that’s the only way you learn and become a better player, by the mistakes you make and experiences you go through. So I guess that period really toughened me up.”
Of course, he went on to prove Brown right – representing Australia twice, NSW 11 times and NSW Country six times. In 2010, he helped the Dragons to their first premiership win as a joint venture.
Does he think he’ll still be pinching himself in 20 years’ time?
“I really think I will. Only in these last two weeks since I announced my retirement, when you see videos that people put together of different highlights and different things you’ve done, a lot of really good memories
start coming back. Former players you’ve played with and ex-coaches start messaging you, wishing you their best, and you start to realise that you’ve experienced a lot of things and I had a great time doing it.
“Obviously highlights were playing for Australia and NSW – they were dreams of mine as a kid to play at that level. I made my first Kangaroo tour in 2005 when I was only 20 years old. It came very quickly. And then I played my first NSW game in 2009 and, wow, what a special moment that was for me.
“It was six years after I made my debut in first grade and I’d worked so hard to get to that point and to play my first game for NSW down in Melbourne was very special.
“It was a tough Origin career for me due to results and sometimes personal performances on the field which weren’t up to scratch at that level, but I really did put my best foot forward and I had a lot of good memories from Origin as well.”
Once lambasted by the Red V army, he now retires as a favourite son – and Creagh insists the respect is mutual.
“The Dragons fans are a very special group of people,” he tells RLW. “I know a lot of them personally because I see them every week at the games. They are there in big numbers whenever we travel, and have supported me through good games, bad games, all through my career, and that’s important as a player, when you give everything to a club and you train so hard and you want to play for the fans, it’s important they respect you and know that you’re giving your best. They’ve been great.”
EXIT THE DRAGON Ben Creagh’s retirement means Jason Nightingale is the only member of the Dragons’ 2010 premiershipwinning team still at the club.