‘I never felt I deserved or should be there, I just felt lucky that I was’
First and foremost, I’m from the country so that gives you an appreciation of what it is to be a Queenslander and what it is to be an Australian.
But when you think about Queenslanders and the geography of our state and how wide spread we are, and the difficult climatic conditions we get from time to time, our rural people, our city people, we’re just a bit different to the rest of Australia.
I mean that in a positive way and I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense to anyone else. But certainly, we have a way of doing things here, a way of behaving, a way of living our lives.
To be a Queenslander is to have that reputation of being a bit laconic, laid back, willing to put up with a bit of rubbish if you’ve got to and to just keep moving forward.
All of these things translate into rugby league. Most definitely.
That’s why it’s so special to be part of the Queensland Maroons. All of those things come together. And not only that, they all come together in a team sense and with our supporters.
There’s such a feeling of unity and support.
That’s why I think we’ve pulled things out of the fire so many times. We play a bit above our weight in terms of the amount of players we’ve got to pick from and all the rest of it.
But I think because of all of our backgrounds, particularly – and nothing against our capital city of Brisbane, but if you think about all of our regional areas and where so many of our players come from, they’re tough places full of tough people, who are just straight up and down. And I think that plays out in the way Queensland play their footy.
For my first call up, to be honest, Wayne Bennett told me. That was fitting for me because he was such a big influence on my career all the way through.
It’s a funny story because I’d played in the Super League. We were picked in the respective Queensland side for that and that was, you know, supposedly my first Queensland side.
But it wasn’t until my name was called out for a Queensland State of Origin side that it was dead-set spine tingling. And I will never forget it.
Because when you’re a kid growing up, particularly in the bush, you idolise State of Origin players. But you just don’t think it’s something you’re ever going to do.
Then when you hear your name and know you’re going to do it, there’s a mixture of fear and apprehension and absolute elation.
I remember being very nervous going into camp and the first bloke I saw was Choppy Close.
I didn’t really know him but I knew who he was.
We jumped in the lift and I wasn’t saying much – I was pretty shy. He said ‘g’day, how you going?’ and shook my hand.
I became very good mates with Choppy. Anyway, he’s in the lift and he goes, ‘are you hungry?’ and I said ‘too right, I am’.
This was at the old Travel Lodge, which was above the transit centre, and we went and sat in the buffet and just gorged out for an hour.
What an introduction. My mate Choppy Close took me to feed my face.
Running out for the first time for me was indescribable, really.
Again, because it’s your first time, there’s fear, there’s apprehension – all of those things, but it’s like you grow a foot taller. It really is.
And then of course the whistle goes and you get into it, and then it’s footy. The crowd goes out for a bit as you settle in.
But I’ll tell you where Queensland crowds – you – come into your own.
You have a sense of when we need something. If we were doing it tough and needed something to spur us on a bit, all of a sudden, the crowd – you – would start making noise.
And you just had an uncanny knack of chiming in when we needed support – it never ceased to amaze me.
Sometimes that was when we were on the attack and looked like getting there, so you’d get excited.
But often, it was times when we were doing it tough and needed something, so we kept turning up in defence to stop them scoring. That’s when you’d really chime in.
Any athlete will tell you, in any sport, it’s that support from that crowd that will give you more when you think you’ve got no more to give.
I’m so glad my mum took me down to play rugby league when I was six years old. She took me to rugby league because I had such a bad temper.
She thought if I went and played a team sport, it might iron me out a bit. It didn’t. What it did was give me some of my fondest memories.
I played on the Darling Downs and all of my mates, who I went to school with and grew up beside, we all played for the same team. We played forever.
We all started at the same age. We all played for the Allora–Clifton Bulldogs until I went to play for Brisbane.
I played with them all the way through and they’re my best mates in the world. And you know what? That’s what makes our sport special. That’s what drives passion for the game. Passion for Origin.
Watching Origin as a kid was funny because my mum is from New South Wales – I don’t tell anyone that usually, and my brother was born in NSW.
So me and dad used to take great delight in telling them they were like second class citizens.
But that’s what makes the Origin thing so strong. We were family and going at it.
It’s an enormous rivalry but it’s still a very respectful one. That’s what I love about it.
You go to NSW and yeah they boo and carry on and all the rest of it, but you never got the feeling it was anything other than them being passionate NSW supporters.
But if you talk to some of the older players who started Origin, it was very different.
They grew up in an era where Queensland players would play for NSW, come up here and beat them up, and then put crap on them about it.
Blokes like Choppy – they feel it really personally.
It would be hard for us, who came in the later era, to feel that because it’s always been ‘we’re from Queensland, we play for Queensland’.
It’s an interesting thing. But it’s all of those things combined that has set what is the legend of Origin over the years. That’s why it’s so revered.
Funnily enough, well not funny because I’m a front rower, but I looked up to Martin Bella most as a kid.
I just thought he was what front rowers should be. He had a knack for scoring tries, but he also was a typical front rower and never took a backward step, always marching forward.
It’s a simple position to play, forward. You get the ball, you run forward and when they run, you knock them over.
But he did it particularly well and I always thought ‘if I’m ever lucky enough to be part of it, I’d want to play like him’.
When I did get that chance to be part of the Maroons, to be in camp, I was so grateful and there wasn’t a single player who I played with in a Queensland side who I didn’t admire.
Everyone will tell you this – there’s plenty of stories from camps, but not many we could tell.
But moments in camp help build the team to what it is. Build the comradery.
It’s a difficult thing with team sports sometimes because you bring together a whole heap of people with different attitudes and different personalities.
But in the Queensland team, everyone put themselves to one side, if that makes sense. It was just about doing what needed to be done.
I was lucky enough to play alongside some absolute Immortals of our game – Darren Lockyer, Alfie Langer, Kevvie Walters, Steve Renouf, Mick Hancock. The list goes on.
That’s why I count myself fortunate.
I fell into an era where the absolute legends of our time were playing. And I was just fortunate enough to get a start in amongst all of that.
I sort of came in when all of those fellas were halfway through their career. They taught us how to play at that level, if that makes sense.
Not that Allan Langer could tell me anything about being a front rower, but just watching him and seeing the absolute effort that went into the way he and they played, you knew that’s what you had to do.
They were the greatest role models without them really having to tell you anything.
Like I said, I feel an enormous sense of gratitude that I was ever part of Origin.
I mean, I love rugby league and I’ve loved it all of my life. And I’ll never stop loving it.
But I never thought I would be a footballer. Wayne Bennett came to Toowoomba to watch Steve Price play a game and he signed me.
And that’s how I got a start. So I never thought any of this would be for me and then I had the great good fortune of falling into a Brisbane Broncos era where they were just on fire and all those players were playing.
I managed to graft a way into that team. And it’s because of how go they were… you know, when the tide rises everybody goes with it.
Well I was then elevated far above anywhere I ever thought I was capable of. But I was shown how I could do it.
Then I found my way into a State of Origin side and I’ll never stop being grateful for the fact that it happened.
And that I am even mentioned in the same breath as some of those players is completely humbling for me.
And I mean that with absolute sincerity.
I have never stopped thinking any differently. I never felt I deserved or should be there, I just felt lucky that I was.
A huge thanks needs to go to all Queensland supporters.
Thanks for your support, thanks for how genuine you are and thanks for making what was a childhood dream for me all the more special because of your passion and support.
We’re the lucky ones, players. We’re the lucky ones.
We’re out in the middle there. We get to be right in the middle of it and live out our dreams.
And all of these people that come to watch, all of you, the great majority are never going to know what it feels like to be on that field, yet you come and make it such a special experience for us.
And you’ll find every single player you talk to will say the same thing.
We all have a sense of absolute gratefulness that we have our supporters. Because the experience would be nothing without them – without you.
It would be great to be in a State of Origin side, but if you turn up to an empty stadium to play, without that wonderful support, well what would it mean? It’d mean bugger all.
So, we thank you because without you we’re very much for less.
Looking forward, everybody who knows anything about the game knew we would come to this cycle where we were rebuilding.
But by geez, we’re rebuilding with some good players.
You know, what happened to NSW when we had that ultra-dominant side, that’s not going to happen to us simply because the current crop of younger players coming through – including ones who haven’t even been involved in Origin yet, they are going to be quite amazing. They just need time to settle into it.
We had such a dominant side, which was born out of the fact that in the most important positions we had young players come into the team all at the same time, who went on to be or are going to be Immortals of our game.
We were lucky that happened in halfback, in front rowers, in fullback. In all the important positions, blokes like Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, JT. They all evolved together.
That’s why we had such a period of dominance. But of course, when they all inevitably had to hang up the boots, it left a bit of a vacuum. Not only in experienced players and match-winning players, but them being in around camp and the side.
It takes a while to re-establish that leadership but it will come.
They’ve got the players there and Kevvie Walters, no one has a greater passion for the concept of Queensland than him.
I have been fortunate enough to be in camp each year when he has been coaching. He invites us in and we go to dinner and get to be around the players.
They’re very quickly going to get to that dominance again. There’s no two ways about it in my mind.
Now, I feel like I’ve talked the leg off a chair… keep backing us Queenslanders. We’ve got this. Kevvie has got this. The players coming through have got this.
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