TO DELL AND BACK

WEN­DELL Sailor’s foot­ball jour­ney is one of a kind. The pow­er­house winger was a draw­card at the Bron­cos be­fore switch­ing to rugby union where he played 37 Tests for the Wal­la­bies. He was sus­pended for two years due to a pos­i­tive test to co­caine but re­turn

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - - SPORT -

You played both rugby codes in­ter­na­tion­ally – which was your favourite? I en­joyed NRL and go­ing to the likes of Pen­rith and Can­berra but when I joined rugby I also re­ally en­joyed go­ing to places like Waikato and even South Africa. Just dif­fer­ent. In my first Su­per Rugby game in South Africa I was pumped be­ing the big new sign­ing and I got the pro­gram and I was down as “Wen­dell Tay­lor”. I was a three-time rugby league premier­ship player but it did not mean any­thing. What did the boys make of it? I re­mem­ber sit­ting around with guys like Damian Med­nis and say­ing “I am the big sign­ing yet they can­not even get my name right’’. Not good for the ego. What’s wrong with Aus­tralian rugby? Good ques­tion. I can’t put my fin­ger on it ex­actly. But we have ac­cepted a cul­ture of com­ing close. In the last Test against New Zealand ev­ery­body has said how well we did com­ing close and I think the play­ers set­tle for that. In the last World Cup we made the fi­nal against the All Blacks and I think we were happy with that. So was it dif­fer­ent in your era? We al­ways felt we could win be­cause we had guys like Ge­orge Smith, Steve Larkham and Ge­orge Gre­gan. We have lost that lead­er­ship a bit. Yes. I love Wayne. He has been a big part of my life. Also (Bennett’s for­mer wife) Tr­ish and (Bennett’s son) Justin. I catch up with them as well when I go back to Bris­bane. Some peo­ple have been off Wayne lately. Not me. Be­fore she died his mother sent me a let­ter when I re­tired say­ing Wayne had a spe­cial place for me. I think that’s why I never stuffed things up on his watch. So what did Wayne teach you? There is a place called City Row­ers we used to fre­quent. We were there one day af­ter a grand fi­nal win with our shirts off in the mid­dle of the day and I said to Wayne he must get an ego out of see­ing all these coun­try kids he had taken on to be top foot­ballers and he said “the suc­cess of my job de­pends on what we become when we give away foot­ball”. It prob­a­bly did not hit home with me un­til my (two-year drug) sus­pen­sion (for a pos­i­tive test to co­caine). What did he say? Well he said it would be the tough­est two years of my life. He was wor­ried it was about a bit like what hap­pened to Peter Jack­son (who com­mit­ted sui­cide). He felt that with­out fame and for­tune and with­out the chance to prove my­self, I was not go­ing to be like Shane Warne and Ben Cousins who, when­ever they got into trou­ble, could just get out there and play their sport and that was their safe haven. So he feared you could com­mit sui­cide? Yes – 100 per cent – be­cause I had al­ways wanted to be the cen­tre of at­ten­tion. If you had your ca­reer again, would you do any­thing dif­fer­ently? Yes, I would. I would still go to rugby but I would give rugby the re­spect it de­served. In 2005 when I got into trou­ble in South Africa (with a dis­agree­ment with a ho­tel pa­tron) and then the drug ban, I wanted the fame and for­tune with­out do­ing the hard stuff. I should have re­spected peo­ple I was with more. It’s the rip­ple ef­fect that hurts. It’s peo­ple like your mum, wife and kids. Un­til it was all gone, I did not re­alise what an im­por­tant po­si­tion I was in. How tough were those two years? The first year was tough be­cause I was start­ing to play my best rugby. I don’t feel like rugby let me down. I felt like I let rugby down. Your son Tris­tan is a NSW un­der­20s player … could he be bet­ter than his old man? Yes, po­ten­tially he is dif­fer­ent. Lote Tuqiri coached him and said to him “your dad couldn’t pass or kick’’ and guys like Joey Johns and Freddy Fit­tler say he’s got me cov­ered al­ready. You want your kids to be bet­ter but I reckon the sons get it tougher be­cause they have ex­tra pres­sure. Look at Mitchell Pearce. But I was at the Dragons sheds the other day with my wife and I heard some­one say there’s Tris­tan Sailor’s dad. That was great. You played a lot with Al­lan Langer. What mark did he leave on you? I get dis­ap­pointed in our game be­cause we talk a lot about Johnathan Thurston, Darren Lock­yer, Cam Smith and Mal Meninga but we for­get about Al­fie be­cause he is such a lar­rikin. There should be a statue of Al­fie at Lang Park. In my time at the Bron­cos he was the most im­por­tant player. His pres­ence on and off the field was very pow­er­ful. If I dropped a cross kick from him he would never say any­thing. He would just look at me as if to say “mate, I will put them there … you just need to catch them”. Even run­ning the wa­ter now he still has an aura. How did he han­dle you when he was cap­tain? When I had a re­ally good game he would never go over the top with me and say “you killed it’’ be­cause he did not want my ego to get out of con­trol. He would just say “mate, you went all right tonight’’. And how would he wind you up? He wound me up all the time. I started golf late and was pretty or­di­nary so he would make a point of mak­ing a big in­tro­duc­tion of me on the tee “here he is … Thurs­day Island champion’’. I would put the ball in the trees and he would say “see, he’s just a nat­u­ral’’. Do you feel rugby has become too stodgy for its own good? I worry about the prod­uct. There was such an em­pha­sis on Su­per Rugby and the Wal­la­bies with­out wor­ry­ing about grass­roots rugby. There is too much im­por­tance on school rugby. They are big su­per­stars but some­times be­tween schools and Su­per Rugby, there is a bit of a gap there. Who was the best match­win­ner you played with in all codes? Steve Larkham was the man in rugby but Ge­orge Smith as a flanker game-in, game-out was the best and most im­por­tant player. Peo­ple talk about Richie McCaw but Ge­orge was great. Guys like him were born win­ners.

CHIP OFF THE BLOCK: Wen­dell Sailor with son Tris­tan; the rugby pro­gram with Wen­dell Tay­lor listed; and (be­low, from left) Sailor with coach Wayne Bennett, with Bron­cos Al­lan Langer and Kevin Wal­ters and in Wal­la­bies colours.

You had an in­ter­est­ing re­la­tion­ship with Wayne Bennett. Are you still close?

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