ROBOTS THAT DON’T EVEN LIKE FOOTY
I’m in Perth as part of my role with the NSW Rugby League. It’s a bit of a mentoring thing. I’m in camp with the Blues and if any player wants to have a chat, I’m available, but I don’t push myself on anyone. I’m here to show my support for the team.
I see close-up how hard these blokes prepare for a game. They’re super athletes. It’s pretty amazing.
Back in the day you could get by on talent, but that’s no longer enough. Now you have to be truly dedicated and willing to go through a bit of suffering to get where you want to go. The fans don’t really see that bit – they just see what happens on the field.
All of the training, all of the effort you make and the treatment you undergo just to get on the field, that’s what makes you retire. It’s not the game, it’s how hard it is to keep doing pre-seasons and all the other work on top of that.
I’d be a different player if I was coming through today. I’d have to be, otherwise I’d be getting suspended every week. But I guess I would be different because I wouldn’t have grown up in the era that I did.
It’s a different world and you’ve got to be careful what you say as well. I’ve had to go with the times. I love my job on Fox and I still try to tell it like it is, the best I can, but you can’t say some of the things you could 20 years ago. Everything’s so politically correct.
I’ll be telling a story and I’ll have to stop halfway through because it’s probably not appropriate. I’m always checking myself. Even on Controversy Corner, when we’re trying to stir things up, you’ve still got to be a bit wary!
Some of the blokes who play the game today, they’re like robots. I talk to a lot of blokes now and, mate, some of them don’t even like footy that much. They just play it because they happen to be good at it. I loved it.
Life was a lot simpler back then. So was footy. If I got into a stink with someone on the field, we’d go at it to sort it out. I got into my fair share of blues and, don’t worry, I got belted a few times to go along with belting a few myself. No-one got hurt.
I remember playing for the Tigers and having a blue with Les Davidson when he was at Souths. Just two blokes coming to grips in a tackle, losing their tempers and away you go. Mick Stone sin-binned the both of us. I wasn’t happy about that.
Les could handle himself. Could he what! We played together for NSW. Played together at Warrington as well. We’re mates. Getting into a blue on the field was just a heat-of-the-moment thing.
Craig Young was a tough man, for the Dragons. Kevin Tamati, playing for New Zealand in Tests. I played with him at Warrington too.
It was Tamati and Greg Dowling who spilled over the sideline in that famous brawl in a Test. That was the first Test I played. Tamati signed his name on my forehead with his fists in a Test one day. Bump! Bump! Bump! That’s the way it was. Kevin – hard man, but a lovely bloke.
I talk to a lot of blokes now and, mate, some of them don’t even like footy that much. They just play it because they happen to be good at it. I loved it.
Everyone talks about when I got suspended for four games and fined $5000 for patting Eddie Ward on the head after he sin-binned me.
We were playing against Manly at Brookvale and getting hammered in the penalties! I just had the shits because it seemed unfair to me.
I gave it to the touchie on the way off, too. It was a TV game and I called him a wombat and said something like, ‘Mummy knows you’re on telly’. Just shit like that, a bit of sledging. That’s a whole other subject, sledging. I don’t even know if they sledge anymore.
I knew I was in trouble for touching the referee, but Eddie tried to look after me at the hearing. He said he wasn’t intimidated by it, he just took it as me being a smartarse.
The headlines at the time were saying I should be kicked out of the game, but that’s all I was doing, being a smartarse, a larrikin.
I was more worried about how my missus was going to react than anything else. She said, ‘You’ve finally cracked, you’ve lost your marbles’. I wasn’t surprised I copped four games and a fine.
30 years on, it still stings
I had the shits when Warren Ryan took me and Paul Sironen off in the 1989 grand final against Canberra, don’t worry about that. I was filthy! I’m not saying we would’ve won for sure had we stayed on, but I reckon we would’ve been a better chance.
But the coach is the coach and I respect that. Not only do I have to live with what happened, but he probably does too. We’ve never really spoken about it.
The Wok was a genius as a coach. I don’t know that day whether he was trying to defend the lead or what. No-one was to know it was going to go into extra-time. But we’re mates. Like I said, I was filthy at being replaced, but I respect him.
It’s probably the only thing me and Sirro didn’t do in the game - win a comp. Played in grand finals, but never won. It’s a stinging thing, but instead of thinking about that, what I do is try to focus on the success in Origins and Tests.
Warren made everyone at the Tigers a better player. He was an amazing, clever coach and he explained things in a way a lot of other coaches I had, didn’t. He was a real student of the game.
There’s a difference between coaching, putting a team through its paces, and someone who can actually teach you. I imagine Gus Gould could teach you how to play or show you how to get where you want to be, when you listen to him.
Joey Johns would be the same if he ever went down that road to being a head coach. There’s a difference between people just talking and someone who can actually show you what to do and Wok was one of those blokes.
I wake up every day feeling blessed to still be involved in the game. I’ve had a bloody good run, I’ve been working in radio or TV commentary since 1992. Talking about the game I love and, this week, being on the other side of the country for a huge Origin game.
It doesn’t get any better than that.