How camping with 'The Chief' lit a fire in Keegan Hipgrave

When Titans firebrand Keegan Hipgrave went on family camping holidays at Crescent Head as a boy with Newcastle legend Paul Harragon he came to admire the outstanding example "The Chief" sets off the field.

Then, as he got older and became more aware of Harragon’s style on the field, and in particular his fierce battles with Manly hardman Mark "Spud" Carroll, he said to himself: "I want to be that kind of forward one day."

The 22-year-old, who is set to take on Newcastle on the Gold Coast on Sunday, explained why Harragon remained an idol to this day.

"We used to go camping with the Harragons every year at Crescent Head from when I was three or four and Paul was the nicest guy who genuinely cared about people. Everyone looked up to him," Hipgrave told NRL.com.

"Then on the field he was just so tough, aggressive and mentally strong. Everything about him as a player was awesome.

"What I took from him most though was being a good person off the field.

Knights legend Paul Harragon in his playing days.
Knights legend Paul Harragon in his playing days.

"He always had time for me. When we were on holidays he would always be out on the sand playing footy with the kids."

Harragon told NRL.com he "couldn’t be any more proud" of the man and player Hipgrave had become.

"We are family friends for the longest time. My parents were great friends with Keegan's pop and nanna, and then with his mum and dad, so for me to watch him come through from a tiny boy playing with my son [Luke] to start to achieve what he is now is just  wonderful," Harragon told NRL.com.

"He is a great natured kid. He has always been very polite and he is dedicated. He wants to make it in the NRL and he is doing great stuff.

"As a player, Keegan just has this incredible engine. He goes and goes, and he is a great impact player as well."

If the former NSW and Test prop was playing football today, he'd like to line up alongside a forward like Hipgrave.

"The thing I love most about him is how much he is respected by all the other players. I know myself that when I played we had the motto that we wanted to be the player everyone else wants to play with," Harragon said.

"I see that he lifts everyone and everyone loves playing with him, and that is a great accolade for him. Within the culture of a team, and if I was coaching, that is what I would build the curriculum around. I would be holding Keegan up as an example with his selfless acts, heaps of energy and ability to turn a game."

It is not surprising Hipgrave, who was hit with suspensions in two of his first three NRL games, has a laundry list of Harragon video clips he likes to view.

"There was a kick-off [in 1995] where Paul and Spud Carroll ran at each other and virtually knocked each other out. It is a notorious video, just awesome, and I love that sort of footy," Hipgrave grinned.

Titans forward Keegan Hipgrave.
Titans forward Keegan Hipgrave. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

"There are so many clips of him that I’ve watched. I’d love to be a leader at this club one day like Paul was for Newcastle.

"I know I am only young but hopefully later in my career I can stick around here at the Titans, like Paul did at Newcastle, and be someone that the younger kids look up to."

Harragon had a chuckle when told that the 1995 collision with Carroll was Hipgrave's favourite.

"That is the one where I said to Johnsy, 'I am crook. I’ve got to go off'. I had a torn stomach muscle. I’d needled it but it wasn’t getting better," Harragon grinned.

"I said ‘you know the rules. You kick it off. The catcher catches it, and if he passes it to Spud and he runs straight I’m going to go and knock him out … and then I’m going off'. Unfortunately it went the other way. I knocked myself out and the first thing that hit him was my chin … and I was brown bread. That’s the way it goes."

In the aftermath of the collision Carroll had plenty to say.

"Some of the things he was saying to me … the boys reckon were unbelievable. Things like 'you are my prey' and all this weird stuff," Harragon chuckled.

"When Spud was out there he’d be screaming to himself 'POWER' … 'POOOOWER'. It was all good fun and brought the best out in everyone."

Hipgrave's prey on Sunday will be Newcastle's David Klemmer and company. There will be collisions but for Hipgrave, ensuring the Titans get on a roll after securing their first win over Penrith last Friday night will be a priority.

He is been used in short bursts by the Titans and against Penrith he was full of energy, where he made 99 running metres from nine runs in just 21 minutes.

"I am just happy to be playing grade at the moment. Missing the second half of pre-season [with a hamstring tear] I thought I would have spent a bit more time at Queensland Cup," he said.

He goes and goes, and he is a great impact player as well.

Paul Harragon

"The minutes will come. It is just a matter of getting my fitness back up."

Titans coach Garth Brennan is hoping for the same, while conceding when it comes to Harragon and Hipgrave they are a match made in rugby league heaven.

"You wouldn’t meet a nicer bloke off the field than Chief, and Keegan is the same. They are the blokes you want to have a beer with and hang out with, and on the field the blokes you want alongside you," Brennan said.

"When you talk to Matty and Andrew Johns they will tell you they felt safe when Chief was alongside them, and players love playing with Keegan Hipgrave don’t worry. That is a massive tick for me."