Tony Currie was a classy outside back for the Maroons and Kangaroos who tasted premiership glory with the Bulldogs in 1988 and Broncos in 1992.
In the latest instalment in a series of Legend Q&As from the Rugby League Week archives, Currie reveals how his former coach Phil Gould got “the truth” out of players, why he once lied to Wayne Bennett and how he negotiated contracts with former Bulldogs supremo Peter Moore over a meal of dim sims.
Your grandfather Arthur ‘Stoker’ Currie was a very special man. How big an influence were Stoker and your uncle Allan Currie on your life?
My grandfather Stoker was a fisherman and he died up in Hervey Bay when I was quite young. The stories that were handed down led me to dig into his history and I found out that he played NSW Country Firsts in 1937. He is revered up and down the Tweed Coast where they had a minute’s silence for him when he passed away. He made his mark in rugby league and produced my uncle Allan who I regard as my mentor. I tried to emulate everything Allan did. He won the Rothman’s Gold Medal, as I did. He won a Brisbane premiership with Easts Tigers. I won one with Wests Panthers. He married his childhood sweetheart - and so did I. My life mirrored his.
A lot of Brisbane based players toyed with going to Sydney, but didn’t. Why did you leave Wests in Brisbane to go to Canterbury in 1986?
I could have been in Sydney earlier with two other clubs. I played the 1984 Panasonic Cup final for Combined Brisbane where we beat the Roosters. It was a rainy night and after the game, officials from the Magpies approached me and they took me back to the old Wests Leagues Club and made me a better offer to what I was getting back in Brisbane. What struck me when we went into the foyer of the club was the pots, pans and buckets catching the water from the leaky roof. The concrete was showing through the worn carpet and I was thinking, 'Hey, I am already at a club like this'. So I declined. I expected the Sydney scene to be all glitz, glamour and bright lights! I also had the offer to go to the Roosters in 1986 when Arthur Beetson was coaching. But I got slapped with a heck of a transfer fee from then QRL boss Ron McAuliffe because I’d signed a loyalty agreement. I got no money from the QRL, but in those days you couldn’t fight it otherwise you’d never play for Queensland again.
But in the end things worked out for you to make the move to the Bulldogs?
I had the opportunity to play overseas at Leeds where one of the coaches was Malcolm Clift - a former first-grade coach at Canterbury. Malcolm saw what I could do and there was an injury to Mick Potter in 1986 and Canterbury were desperate to fill the position by the June 30 deadline. I got man of the match in the first semi-final against South Sydney. Then I did my rib cartilage in the major semi against Parramatta when Ray Price cleaned me up in a tackle. I almost got right for the grand final. Not a lot of people know that I sat on the sideline wearing jersey No.26. I was never going to run on, but I wanted to have the experience of sitting on the sideline – fully dressed and ready to go.
What was it like being coached by Warren Ryan?
Under Warren’s coaching I learned so much and a lot of my philosophies in rugby league come from those days. He is a very intelligent man, very systematic and very methodical. He taught me to think about what the other team would do if you put a given situation to them. It was a forerunner to looking at DVDs for weeks and weeks and analysing the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses.
And you ultimately won a premiership under Phil Gould at Canterbury in 1988. Good memories no doubt?
Phil was like a breath of fresh air. We’d trained very hard under Warren, almost to the stage where you feared going to training because all you’d get was pain. Sometimes the game was a release from the training week. But Phil brought in a new training regimen and I can remember being fresh, fast and feeling great. We never ran more than 1000 metres. Phil brought in quick guys like Glen Nissen and Robin Thorne and Canterbury got their speed back.
You won a premiership with the Bulldogs and then left for the Broncos. Why?
I floated the idea of coming home to Wayne Bennett in an Origin camp and he made me the offer that was considerably less than the Bulldogs offer, in fact half. John Ribot flew down to Sydney for me to sign the contract. I was in the 1988 Test side and Peter Moore was both the manager of the Australian team and my CEO at Canterbury. I ducked out of camp to meet Ribot and signed the document and when I came back Peter Moore and the boys were standing around the bar. Peter gave me a hug and said:'‘How is my little Doggie going?' Unbeknownst to him that little Doggie had just that minute become a Bronco.
Why did you take a pay cut to return home?
Peter Moore had met me at a Chinese restaurant in Bankstown to negotiate for 1989. There was a guy I’d had a few beers with called Wayne Beavis and he wanted to get into the managing caper. He was handling David Gillespie and just starting off in the game so I said: 'Why don’t you come and handle me?' We were in the restaurant and Peter said: 'Tony…$50,000'. I looked at Wayne while Peter took a bite of his dim sim. Wayne said: 'Quite frankly, Peter, I think the lad is worth more'. Peter took another bite of his dim and said '$95,000', I’d doubled my money with one bite of the dim sim. Wayne Beavis knew it was a good offer because the Broncos had only offered me $50,000, but I still went home to Brisbane for less.
You are no doubt one of the few players in club history to be coached by Phil Gould one year and Wayne Bennett the next. They would have been different characters…
I remember saying to Wayne when we’d be at the bar around midnight: 'Why won’t you stay back and celebrate a win with the boys?' Wayne said to me: 'TC, I want to remember you for what you are, not what you’ll become', and then he’d leave. Phil Gould on the other hand used to be there until the end. I’d approach him and say, 'Gus, why are you still here?' He’d reply: 'TC, because I get the truth'.
Gene Miles told me that you brought defensive nous to the Broncos when you arrived in 1989. Is that what your three years at Canterbury taught you?
You had to aim up at Canterbury, but they could back up their defensive clout because they were right into the weights. That’s how Canterbury lost their mantle as The Entertainers and became The Dogs of War. I can remember getting so strong at Canterbury and coming back to Brisbane and out-lifting all the forwards. Wayne Bennett said to me, 'What do we need to do here, TC?' and I said. 'You are not strong enough to maintain any defensive clout'. He brought Kelvin Giles in after that as the head trainer and he transformed the Broncos.
And you went on to play in the Broncos' 1992 grand final win over the Dragons...
I did, but I sometimes think that Wayne Bennett looked after me. I had a three-year deal to come home and at the end of 1991 John Ribot called me into the office and said, 'TC, we know you are busted but Wayne wants to give you one more year because you’ve been good for the joint'. I got the best contract of my career in my final year at the Broncos... $80,000 was great money at 17.5 percent interest rates! The Broncos also paid $1600 a win. Wayne introduced a revolutionary system. You’d win on Sunday then go to recovery and get your pay cheque on Monday. It was a really good time.
What was it like being in the Queensland Maroons squad when Arthur was coach?
When I first came into the Origin team we used to hang around the airports playing cards. I wasn’t a card player but Arthur said, 'Come on, young fella. You’ve got to play'. I cleaned up in my first game and as I went to collect my money from the table the big hand of Arthur came down and he said, 'We are not finished yet'. I couldn’t leave the table. Needless to say I didn’t get my money. It all went back to consolidated revenue… Arthur Beetson!
What about playing under Wayne Bennett for Queensland. Have you got a story for us?
Wayne won’t like this one, but I slept in and missed a morning walk completely one time. I’d had a few sherbets and I was feeling a bit dusty. As a senior player I got a room to myself and there was no-one to wake me up. I went down to breakfast and Wayne came over and said, 'TC, I didn’t see you on the walk this morning. Were you there?' I made up a story that I’d done it… and he accepted it. I panicked, because I didn’t want to disappoint him and say that I did miss it. I was embarrassed and ashamed that I’d lied as well. Wayne ran a strict ship and I loved the regimented processes that he put in place.
What was Wayne’s influence on you?
Up until 1990 I’d set myself a lot of goals – probably because I’d met Wayne Bennett. I’d write down that I had to make 'X amount' of tackles and 'X amount' of runs. Wayne made me turn up and have more consistency in my game. I played seven Tests straight leading into 1989 and nine Origins in a row and I was all set to make a push for the 1990 Kangaroo side. But I got slack and didn’t set my goals. I let myself down. All of a sudden I snapped my Achilles at Lang Park marking North Sydney’s Kerry Boustead and it was the end of all those dreams.
And you feel you never fully recovered after that injury?
I was never the same after that. I recall coming back in the off-season and our trainer Kelvin Giles sent me on a road run. I should have come back as good as I was previously, but the medical knowledge back then didn’t allow me to. My top end speed was good but I didn’t have the acceleration to get through gaps.
So how did you wind up back at Wests Panthers in 1993?
Wests Panthers resurrected my career in 1993. I had no off-season under my belt and I was carrying a bit of weight but I won a Brisbane premiership. I’d lost in a C grade grand final at Wests in 1983 – so my career had gone full circle.
This article first appeared in Rugby League Week in 2010.