How Gilly almost axed himself
In the lead-up to the 2014 Holden State of Origin Series, NRL.com reveals the personal stories of the superstars who helped shape the contest into one of the fiercest rivalries in world sport.
The influence of the great Arthur Beetson will be an overarching theme when Queensland and New South Wales meet on May 28 for the 100th time in the Origin arena but ask Trevor Gillmeister about 'Artie' and it's a different memory that springs to mind.
Sure, 'The Axe' remembers watching with his father and brother from their Brisbane home when Beetson led Queensland out for the first and final time back in 1980 but six years later, in his first year playing in Sydney, Gillmeister insists that Beetson in fact cost him his first Origin jersey.
Gillmeister made his debut for the Maroons alongside Allan Langer in the 1987 Series but the mere possibility of playing for Queensland 12 months earlier and some well-chosen words from his coach sent him into an excitable rage that backfired terribly.
"Wayne Bennett came down to watch me play in 1986, my first year at the Roosters, and Arthur wound me up and said, 'Wayne Bennett is here to watch you play, you're a chance of being picked for Queensland'," Gillmeister recalls.
"He didn't take much to wind me up, Arthur, and I went out there and tried to kill everyone and I got sent off and got six weeks, I missed the whole Series. I blame Arthur for that; I could have played the year before!
"People say you might be a chance of being picked but you don't really think about it but when he did actually come down to watch me play I thought, S***, I must be close. The next year I was more determined, trained really hard in the pre-season and tried to put some good games together because I knew he was looking at me."
Gillmeister's debut for the Maroons was also that of Allan Langer and while Gilly's diminutive stature for a forward raised some eyebrows south of the border, the selection of the blond-haired kid from Ipswich was a lightning rod for those who were adamant he was too small for Origin.
"Myself and Alf got picked – I still remember it – and all the talk from the Sydney media was that I was too small for the forwards," he says. "They'd hammer me and Fatty and the whole forward pack wasn't that flash apparently and then 'Alf' should have been the ball boy he was so small.
"I remember Fatty standing up in a team meeting because Wayne was a bit worried where he was going to put him in the defensive line because in that day halves could stand behind the defensive line sometimes. Fatty said, 'Nah stuff it, he's a Queenslander, he'll do the job. Put him in the front line.' I think Alf got a lot of confidence out of that and it was the stepping stone for him."
Queensland went on to win that Series 2-1 but it was eight years later when Gillmeister was responsible for one of the great moments of Origin folklore.
Captain of a team decimated by the onset of the Super League war in 1995, Gillmeister dragged himself from his hospital bed while suffering a blood disorder in his left knee for one more chance to lead his state.
The Maroons had already wrapped up the Series by winning the first two games under coach Paul Vautin but Gilly refused to let his young teammates down, even if it meant spending the following two days back in a hospital bed.
"I knew we were going to win the third game. That was the pinnacle for me," he says almost 20 years later. "We had so many young blokes there and I didn't want to turn my back on them. That's what I thought I was doing if I didn't play so I didn't want to do that.
"Roy Saunders, who is still the doctor now, said the only way I'd be allowed to play is if I went straight back to hospital after the game. I thought I'd be able to talk him out of that but I couldn't.
"I remember seeing how proud me old man and my mother was as well, that for me was the sign that you'd made it. To play for Queensland you've made it but to get the chance to be the captain was something special.
"For me that was the pinnacle of everything. If I had of died after that Series it wouldn't have mattered to me."