“All hell broke loose. I got sent off and show­ered in beer on my way up the tun­nel”

Grand fi­nal hero. State of Ori­gin vil­lain. It was one hell of a ride for this Penny Pan­ther

Rugby League Week - - News -

You were al­most lost to footy af­ter play­ing with Pen­rith un­der-20s, weren’t you?

I used to be a cen­tre, be­lieve it or not – a pretty slow one, mind you – and yeah, I played the first year of 20s and Roycey [Simmons] spoke to me and said he wanted me to play back row the next year. So I put on a fair bit of weight and when I came back my legs weren’t han­dling it, I was get­ting stress frac­tures and shin splints. So I ended up play­ing out the sea­son with Emu Plains in A-grade and yeah, I’d pretty much given up on [the NRL dream] at that point.

So how did you end up mak­ing your de­but in 2002?

I went to an open trial with Manly at Brookie Oval – and no good. And I was so close to giv­ing up, but my brother got into me and said, “What have you got to lose? Give Pen­rith a ring, see if you can get a trial”, and by that time Roycey had moved on and John Lang had come in. So I rang [re­cruit­ment man­ager] Jim Jones and he asked Langy and they said I could try out for the pre-sea­son. So there were about four of us that he took on to trial through the sum­mer. I never would’ve thought I’d be mak­ing my de­but against Mel­bourne in Mel­bourne [in round 23] that year. We got smashed but it was still a great mem­ory. My fam­ily was there, and it was just a great week.

What do you re­call most about the dream sea­son of 2003?

I was still work­ing as a store­man in a fac­tory till half­way through that year. I played the first half of the year and then Ri­cho [Pen­rith CEO Shane Richard­son] said, “Do you want go full-time?” And mate, I was just stoked with that – and then to go on the way we did, and win it, and then go on a Kan­ga­roo tour at the end of the year . . . it’s still hard to be­lieve it un­folded the way it did.

When did you start to think some­thing spe­cial was brew­ing?

The third game that year was a turn­ing point for us. We’d lost our first two games, in­clud­ing get­ting pumped by Mel­bourne, and we were down at half-time against the Roost­ers, and they were the guns, and big Joel [Clin­ton] wears his heart on his sleeve and he got a bit emo­tional and we came back and won. We went on to win eight of the next nine and set up the sea­son. Lead­ing into the grand fi­nal, it was all new to us and there was no fear. I guess that’s what helped us – ev­ery­one was so re­laxed be­cause no-one gave us a chance. I re­mem­ber watch­ing the cov­er­age later and they showed vi­sion from our sheds be­fore the match and we were all laugh­ing and smil­ing, but in the Roost­ers’ sheds it was the op­po­site.

You only ever played for Pen­rith in the NRL. Why was that?

I al­ways had spe­cial mem­o­ries out there. I grew up play­ing grand fi­nals at Pen­rith Park . . . I re­mem­ber in un­der-sevens play­ing at Pen­rith Park at half-time of first grade – Pen­rith was play­ing Par­ra­matta – and I think it was still when they were build­ing the eastern grand­stand. I’ll never for­get the at­mos­phere of the mas­sive crowd for the lo­cal derby. So to be out there play­ing for the team that I grew up watch­ing on the hill – for a boy from Pen­rith it’s a dream come true. So I never wanted to come off-con­tract and test the wa­ter, I al­ways signed be­fore my time was up. I never wanted to go any­where else, I loved it there.

You played with and against Brad Fit­tler, a fel­low Cam­bridge Park ju­nior.

I played against him a num­ber of times, in­clud­ing that [2003] grand fi­nal and I was lucky enough to play with him [for NSW]. It was un­real, very sur­real, he’s a leg­end of the game and a leg­end of Pen­rith and we were from the same ju­nior club. I re­mem­ber watch­ing the grand fi­nals in ’90 and ’91, so it was hard to be­lieve I was ac­tu­ally on the same field as him. Af­ter games he was al­ways good, just talk­ing about “Camo” boys and stuff like that. He’s a cham­pion hu­man and a he was a cham­pion player.

How did you find out about your se­lec­tion for Aus­tralia?

It came as a shock. We were all on the bus go­ing to Mad Mon­day and I think five of us got picked. They called our names over the ra­dio and I thought I was hear­ing things. The bus just went crazy, we couldn’t be­lieve it. It was just the ic­ing on the cake to an in­cred­i­ble year. We went into camp a week later, so we’d been cel­e­brat­ing the grand fi­nal all week. We got into camp on the Sun­day and had to back up for a bond­ing ses­sion that night. Then we rolled in to Al­lianz Sta­dium on Mon­day morn­ing and Billy John­stone gave us a flog­ging. I’ve never felt so bad at train­ing – a few of us were spew­ing, it cer­tainly cleaned our sys­tems out.

In 2009 you be­came the first Blue to be sent off in State of Ori­gin. What hap­pened in that in­fa­mous brawl?

I was on the other side and all I’d seen was the back of Pricey [Steve Price] throw­ing punches, so I just ran in to grab him and pull him away but as I got there Whitey [Brett White] got him on the chin and I ended up falling on him, which prob­a­bly didn’t look that good. I was just in there to get him away, you know, and then all hell broke loose. I got sent off and show­ered in beer on my way up the tun­nel. We went out for beers af­ter­wards at the Nor­manby in Bris­bane and I had my hat down, didn’t want to draw at­ten­tion to my­self [laughs]. Fun­nily enough, just the other day one of my mates sent me a pic­ture mes­sage, and my send-off was a trivia ques­tion in the cross­word sec­tion of the news­pa­per . . . I guess I’ve made it now [laughs].

Your move to War­ring­ton in Eng­land paid off when you won the Chal­lenge Cup in your first year. Is do­ing that all it’s cracked up to be?

The Chal­lenge Cup was an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s some­thing we don’t re­ally have here and it’s held in very high es­teem over there. Some of the loyal fans over there love the Cup more than they love the Su­per League grand fi­nal. Wem­b­ley is such an iconic place. I re­mem­ber get­ting up early and watch­ing Aus­tralia play at Wem­b­ley, so to play there in front of a full house and win the Chal­lenge Cup is some­thing I’ll al­ways cher­ish.

Your cap­tain there was an old ri­val Adrian Mor­ley. How’d that go?

He’s a great bloke and part of the rea­son I chose War­ring­ton . . . We ac­tu­ally came out on a [pre-sea­son] camp to Coogee and he was my room-mate, so ev­ery chance I had I’d have my shirt off, strut­ting around, show­ing off my Pan­thers premier­ship tat­too. He said he was go­ing to cut it off in my sleep.

The last two years you’ve been with the Thirroul Butch­ers in the Illawarra comp. How’d that come about?

A mate from Pen­rith, Damian Blanch, was play­ing down here and he said they could help me out with a job. [Pre­mier­ship­win­ning team-mate] Luke Swain was here as well as cap­tain-coach and we had a great time. It was just pure foot­ball, no-one was get­ting paid that much, it was all about the ca­ma­raderie . . . I still live down here, I have a job down at Port Kem­bla on the wharves and do a bit of per­sonal train­ing on the side, and I’m look­ing to do a bit of coach­ing with the club next year as well.

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