‘Gene Miles was unstoppable on that ’86 tour, it was like he had three arms’
As deadly with the boot as he was with ball in hand, ‘Snoz’did it all in league
What made you make the jump from league to union, where you’d cracked the Wallabies side?
I was playing for Queensland in 1980 under Bob Templeton and Roy [Masters] came up and made me an offer but I turned him down because I wanted to go on the British Isles tour of ’81, but after that tour when Roy came up again, the opportunity to play for St George was just too good to refuse. My dad was a real rugby purist and he thought back then that I’d be taking a backward step, so he wasn’t too happy about it. But at that time rugby union was very much an amateur game; there were no payments at all. So to hold down a job and to tour and play at the highest level, it was just bloody hard.
How did you cross paths with Wally Lewis before your league stint?
There’s no doubt Wally Lewis was the player of my generation. He was the hardest player I’ve ever played against. He had great vision but also he had incredible competitive instincts . . . I remember in my first game against him, I was captain of ACT Schoolboys playing at TG Millner Field in Sydney and he was captain of Queensland, and we were playing opposite each other in the semi-final. He wasn’t interested in any other player on the field but me. He was a year older than me, and was in my ear all game saying what he’d do to me and stuff about my mother [laughs]. He didn’t miss an opportunity to hammer me, either. If I got a pass away then next minute – whack! – I was on the ground. In fact, when we went to toss the coin I went to shake his hand and he refused and I thought, “Geez”, but he was just so competitive and he brought that to State of Origin in later years.
What do you remember about your debut Origin series in 1985?
I think the glue that held everything together was Steve Mortimer. He was just so passionate and a really funny guy. We arrive in Brisbane and we’re all up for it, it’s as if we’re flying into Russia during the Cold War or something. So we get out and into the bus and “Turvey” tells the bus driver to stop and pull over – and then goes, “I’ve just got to say a few words. Now we’re here in Queensland you’ve got to understand the mentality up here. Everybody hates us . . . look at all those people out there, those families, they all hate us. Even this bloke, the bus driver, he hates us, too,” [laughs]. It was a wet, dour game at Lang Park and we hadn’t won a series yet. I was playing outside Brett Kenny and got two tries courtesy of him – it was one of those games where we took our chances. We went on to win that first series, which was a real career highlight. We just had a good balance of players and we all got on really well.
Turvey was lucky to even play in that series, though, wasn’t he?
So back then we played the City v Country game at Newcastle on the Saturday and I put a kick through for “Chicka” Ferguson just before half-time and he scored under the posts – but just as I put the kick in, Turvey’s cleaned me up with a stiff arm as he came across, because he used to sweep behind the line, and he’s just put my nose across one side of my face. You could usually get away with that sort of stuff in those days but that was a TV game, right, so the switchboard lit up at the ABC and there were so many complaints John Quayle had to take action. But it was quite the dilemma because he was our State of Origin captain – so in the end I went in and pleaded his case and he got off.
You almost created history with St George in ’85 . . .
We put so much into the year and we would’ve made history, winning all three grades – no other St George side had ever done that. So we got the first two grades up and we were minor premiers, we’d comfortably beaten the Bulldogs in the major preliminary final two weeks before that. I think we were the best side that year but we just got out-thought in the grand final [against Canterbury]. Of course there was Warren Ryan and Roy Masters, who didn’t like each other, and it became a real tactical battle. My main recollection of that game was that they kicked for field position. They used to kick into the in-goal to Glenn Burgess and back then if you took a bomb in-goal it was a line dropout, so you’re under siege then for another set of six. So they just played field position with us all game and
as a result of that they changed the rule about taking kicks on the full in-goal, and of course it became a tap restart.
You kicked goals at both club level and for rep teams. Did that come naturally?
When I was at St George, Steve Gearin was goal-kicking and you couldn’t leave him out of your team because he was such a good goalkicker. I saw that and thought, “That’s a string to my bow that I’ve got to develop.” So I spent a lot of time after I made the transition practising my goal-kicking. I didn’t do a lot of kicking while I played rugby union but I used to play soccer as well. So I went back and practised and practised to try and get an edge to get into the Test team. And given the calibre of outside backs at that time – I’m talking Brett Kenny, Gene Miles and Mal Meninga – there weren’t too many spots and you had to have a point of difference. So I look back on my career and it was the best thing I ever did, spending all those hours practising my goal-kicking, because that got me across the line in ’86 and on that tour.
You were an integral figure in “The Unbeatables” Kangaroo tour in 1986. What was the highlight?
In that first Test our backline was just so polished. Gene Miles was unstoppable, it was like he had three arms. So I made it a policy to follow him around all day and ended up scoring three tries. Then in the second Test at Elland Road [in Leeds], they came out really hard at us and we were under enormous pressure on our own tryline. Peter Sterling threw a cut-out pass to me out on the wing and it was going into touch and I picked it up off the ground and ran down the sideline then kicked infield – kicked for the tryline, basically – and the ball just pulled up two metres from their line and I was able to outsprint the defence and score the try. Wally Lewis regards that as the best try he’s seen but it was more because of the pressure we were under at the time. And when I look back on my contribution in Test matches I think anyone could’ve scored three tries in that first Test but that try in the second Test was a really good moment.
The one thing you’re remembered for in Origin above all else is that kick from the sideline in Game Two, 1991 . . .
What a lot of people forget was that in Game One the week before, we scored right on full-time and I had a kick to draw the game from the sideline and I missed it. I was just filthy on myself. So I went out the next week and I just practised non-stop, so if that moment did come again I didn’t want to be in that situation where I was letting the team down. So on the night I didn’t want to take any time to think about it . . . and fortunately it was just one of those kicks that came right out of the sweet spot.