As I kid, I loved rugby league so much that I started playing a year too early, so I had to do under 7s twice.
It was a bit of madness; but, it was quite an easy thing too, because my brother was already going to training and it just made it a bit easier for Mum to have me there and to get into the game a bit earlier.
My junior club was Southern Suburbs up in Cairns… I grew up in Gordonvale, 24 kilometres south of Cairns… I grew up there and Southern Suburbs was my team, and I was there until I was 16.
Rugby league was a religion really in North Queensland, so we always just got into it.
I had a brother who was two years older than me and I was the youngest of the four of us, so we got stuck in pretty early with rugby league and this was a day when – I sound like I’m really old – but this was a time that when it rained, it didn’t just run off the field, you played in ankle-deep mud and that’s my memories of rugby league, starting early and enjoying it.
That’s where it started for me and from there, I suppose, how do you measure the work that’s involved to make it into a career?
In a way, that’s where it starts from… when you are in your first years of the game, that all counts somewhere along the lines. Your enjoyment, your affiliation with rugby league to friendships and teams, mates – mostly, it’s the friendship.
Your mates that come through rugby league… being back in Queensland Maroons camp now is a clear indication of that, you feel like you are back around family again.
I think it’s a journey, all the effort and the build-up along the way. It would be 30 years I’ve been involved in the game… there’s been some memorable times, some low times as well, but they make the good times better.
As for my first State of Origin memories as a kid, I have quite a few. We used to have the supporters posters on the wall of the team and there were some that featured the players as big monster-looking builds with these tiny, little waists and they had these huge upper bodies; but my memory of watching those guys was they never gave up, they never took a backward step unless it meant that they were coming forward twice as fast.
It’s just that attitude we’ve always had, is to instil in anyone we can, that underlying aggression, that never give up attitude that we want to keep pushing. That was my memory of Origin and rugby league in that arena, Queensland versus New South Wales, was to never give up.
Thinking back to my first Origin camp, to be honest, I do remember a lot about that week and that first day, but not so many feelings… I was sort of a fly on the wall, I was just more… sort of in love with everyone around me, I was just trying to absorb it, I was just watching.
For the first game, we were down in Sydney, we came in that year in 2006 to a series that was going to be history-making for the wrong reasons for Queensland… it would’ve been four losses in a row and that had never happened to anyone before.
You know at the time, the guys who were first blooded in that Game I were probably a little bit oblivious to the pressure that was happening, but there were a lot of senior guys who were very aware of it, they made it very known to themselves and put themselves under a lot of pressure.
Obviously, there would have been pressure coming from above for them, but the players were the reason we were able to turn the corner, because they took that on and they understood what the jersey meant for so many people.
If they weren’t filling that jersey with everything that they had, they were happy to give themselves the eject – but they didn’t end up doing that, because they pulled it together and I was very lucky to be involved. We had a lot of debutants in 2006 and it was an incredible year. We actually lost in my first game, but that 2006 series was pretty historical… it was incredible.
Playing as a forward in Origin, it took me a long time to realise that your preparation is key. Prior to that, I was sort of flying by the seat of my pants, just sort of doing whatever… I wouldn’t say I was less focused, but just sort of more relaxed going into it, not understanding how important preparation was.
Going into games, we were just super excited to be there. We had some amazing footballers around us and some very calm heads like Petero, Tonie Carroll, Cameron Smith, Pricey – Steven Price was fantastic, Sammy Thaiday was well and truly ahead of his time with regards to professionalism, being sensible. He was very aggressive man, but he was always good for the team.
I got to room with Shaun Berrigan early on, and it was a real eye-opener for me, because he was that person who was relaxed during the week and game day was different, very different… that for me was a real opener… the fact that he could be so relaxed and then turn so serious so quickly.
We all love the Queensland crowds, but interestingly for me, while playing in front of a Queensland crowd was a lot better, sometimes you can get a bit more out of being a villain. I know a lot of New South Wales players who would enjoy playing up here more than their own stadium because of that and I guess I’m a little bit the same too.
I love Queensland, I love the constant support… we’ve had some famous wins here, but sometimes if you need that little bit of pick-me-up to get the buzz going again, there’s nothing better than upsetting the crowds.
But when you are playing Origin, you don’t mind where you are, obviously you love the home support, people say the home support gives you an extra leg, but sometimes being the villain is a good thing as well.
But when I was playing and representing Queensland, I was representing everyone. I could easily say my family, could easily say myself, but it’s everyone.
The Queensland Maroons Fan Days are a big part of that, and so many of our prior camps when I was playing, we had the absolute delight of going to visit places that were going through a tough time; so you understand what that Queensland jersey does for so many people… it’s very difficult to say you are playing for just one area or section or person, it’s the whole state.
When you go to these places who have been in unfortunate situations or even where it’s a place with a great situation, where it’s a fan day celebrating and seeing the current Queensland greats and current favourite players, there’s no better buzz than that. A lot of these towns and places don’t get the accessibility to it all of it so much, so hopefully the players who take part in these fan days get a kick out of it and understand who they are doing it for.
When you see the amount of support there is out there, it sort of puts you back into your shoes when you were a kid and when you were younger, everything seems so far away, while it doesn’t happen quick, you look back and it’s like a blink of the eye. You go from being the kid lining up to pass the footy with someone to being that person they want to pass with; it hits a few nerves.
For current players, hopefully it awakens an awareness of why they’re there and why they want to be there and why they first wanted to play for Queensland.
That’s a bit similar to my role in camp. I am strictly no coaching, so I’m not teaching anyone anything. I’m more here for friendly chats. This camp, for me is a little bit different, I never felt like I would be back in camp for anything other than a reunion … I think I’m just there to remind players to cherish what’s there and to not look past the opportunities they’ve got now.
I am one proud Queenslander. Anyone who pulls that jersey on should be.