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Legend Q&A: Daryl Halligan

Believing he cost North Sydney a grand final berth in 1991 with a poor goal-kicking display, Daryl Halligan practised relentlessly to become one of the greats.

The stats show his kicking prowess: 855 premiership goals - the seventh-most in history - at a success rate of 79.31%.

The New Zealander, who played rugby union growing up, spoke with NRL.com about his illustrious career.

The former Bulldogs and Kiwis winger recounted his start in league, losing and winning grand finals, and the secrets to his precision from the plastic Supertee he made famous.

Legend Q&A: Daryl Halligan

You grew up playing rugby union. What made you want to come across to rugby league?

The Winfield Cup was starting to be shown live on TV in New Zealand in the late '80s and sort of galvanised the interest. Simply the Best, Tina Turner and all those things. Combine that with a rugby union career for myself that, in my opinion, had probably hit the wall. I missed out on the All Blacks, which I was hoping to make at the back-end of 1990, and an opportunity [in rugby league] arose courtesy of Steve Martin and the North Sydney Bears.

How much did you know about league before the Winfield Cup gained traction in New Zealand?

I had only ever watched one full game of rugby league live. I watched it at Eden Park and it was the World Cup final between New Zealand and Australia. Alfie Langer went nuts ... I had played in a seven-a-side league tournament in the Waikato, but that was about my exposure to rugby league.

In saying that, Matthew Ridge had changed over from Auckland to Manly halfway through the year of 1990, and a guy called John Gallagher, who was an All Black fullback, had also gone to Leeds in the UK, so there were players transitioning over - and outside backs like myself.

Your first year at the Bears was a successful one with the team making the preliminary final. How do you reflect on it?

My first year was my worst year!

Why do you say that?

In the grand final qualifier, we played Penrith. I kicked one from five goals. [The Bears lost 16-14]. Would've put North Sydney in their first grand final since [1943] - and all the Bears supporters out there still remind me of it.

It was a season that I'll remember because I made my debut in the first round against Canberra and played against some of the guys I just never thought - Mal Meninga, Ricky Stuart, Laurie Daley, Brad Clyde ... by the end of the season I'd played every game. But unfortunately finals took its toll and I cracked a bit.

Does that goal-kicking performance against Penrith still hurt?

Yeah, it does. Personally it does and also for the Bears as well. Jokingly, some of the guys say, 'If we made the grand final that year, DJ, we might still be in the competition!' I go, 'I've got to go, this is my exit, see ya!'. But that's in jest. Things happen for a reason and that just wasn't a good moment.

Daryl Halligan signed off in 2000 with 2034 career points.
Daryl Halligan signed off in 2000 with 2034 career points.

How do you reflect on your other two seasons with the Bears?

It was great. Great group of guys - Peter Jackson, Mario Fenech, Pat Jarvis, Mark Soden, Tony Rea, Johnny McArthur. Even Chris Caruana's got a bit of media lately - a message out to 'Smoke'. It was pretty similar to what I was used to in rugby union - the camaraderie was strong. And the Bears had a fair team as well in the early '90s under the guidance of Steve Martin ... I really enjoyed my time.

You made the grand final in your first season with the Bulldogs in 1994. Good memories?

Of course. I got a taste of a grand final; I'd only played finals once before and that was '91. The Dogs were on a roll, they'd bowed out in the semis in '93 after being minor premiers and went out in two straight games. In '94 they had some real steel in their resolve, and while it was my first year with the Dogs, it was a big learning curve too defensively for me. North Sydney, we were up-and-out slide defenders, and at Canterbury you were up-and-in and had to stop the football.

I've got to say, I enjoyed Canterbury more defensively than what I enjoyed the Bears. But that was the biggest transition going from the Bears to the Dogs.

They say you've got to lose a grand final to win one and it proved true in your case. Did '94 spur you on to win the ARL title over Manly in '95?

That was common in that period, late '80s, early '90s. That was sort of a scenario that everyone painted and it's probably hard to tell a historian he's wrong with that. Luckily for us, it was the case. But we didn't really travel that well at the start of '95, the year we won it. Manly was the team to beat - they only got beaten twice in the regular season ... We were a real hardened team with some real football - Jimmy Dymock, the Smith boys, Terry Lamb, Darren Britt - we had skill and could play and defend as well.

Yeah, there were some learnings from '94. I think the occasion more than anything in '95 wasn't so grand for us because we were relaxed by [playing in] '94 and there was 95% of the same team. That was a special day. Last Winfield Cup - you beauty!

Halligan had more strings to his bow than goalkicking.
Halligan had more strings to his bow than goalkicking.

You have a legacy in the game as one of the greatest goal-kickers of all-time. What made you so good?

Practise. Time on the field. The office is some grass and some posts. I didn't practise as much as what I did after my failure in '91. Earlier on I practised, but I wasn't as disciplined as I practised in '92 through to 2000. I found a really good routine of kicking [at training] that gave me a good volume of numbers; also a good volume of numbers that were successful, that went through the posts, so I could actually top my confidence up and be really confident every time I stepped up to the footy.

And on the back of that, having some success on the field gives you even more confidence and makes you feel like you're a little bit bulletproof. I mean, I still had my moments, but in general if there was a goal to be kicked I felt like one, I've prepared more than anyone else for it, and two, I want the feeling of kicking it no matter where it would be.

Had you always been a kicker growing up or was it something you fell into?

I hardly got a shot at goal early in rugby union through school until my brother left school. My brother was two years older, we played in a fair few teams together, and he thought my job was to boot the balls back to him! That's probably what older brothers are all like, and he was a fairly accomplished kicker as well. Once he left school I got the chance to become the goal-kicker.

If there are any regrets, I just wish I'd been a little bit more disciplined when I left school. School was easy. School was a time where I was at boarding school and had plenty of time to kick goals and basically did that with mates after school every day. Post-school, other things come along - girlfriends, work, university - and you make up excuses and fundamentally you just don't kick as much.

So if I had my time again, I'd somehow try and find the time to keep a really healthy appetite for goal-kicking post-school before you hit first-grade or the big-time.

Kiwi duo John Timu and Daryl Halligan celebrate Canterbury's 1995 grand final win over Manly.
Kiwi duo John Timu and Daryl Halligan celebrate Canterbury's 1995 grand final win over Manly. ©photosport.co.nz

You're credited as the first league player to use a plastic goal-kicking tee. How did that come about?

They were a blessing, those Supertees. I've got to say that - they're mine now! My second cousin designed a mould and a tee and he wanted me to use it, and there were a couple of others out there as well. I said no initially and then I decided that maybe it would be a little bit more convenient.

You've got to remember that we were digging up the ground and carrying buckets of sand. In particular on North Sydney Oval it was sawdust, you went down with a water bottle because [ground manager] Peter Devlin didn't like sand on the cricket pitch, which was fair enough. It was just more convenient to use - you weren't tidying up after yourself, you weren't running and getting a bucket of sand. It was always going to happen, it was just a matter of when.

Once I got over the hump of using the plastic tee - I guess it would've sped training up too - then it just seemed natural. That came in around '94, '95 and then now there's no way you can dig up the pitch. You can still place it on the ground I dare say. 

Probably your most famous kick was the sideline conversion for Canterbury to send the classic 1998 preliminary final against Parramatta to extra-time. Can you still feel yourself in the moment?

I do. I still see that kick. Mainly because I've seen it more than any other kick. It sometimes comes up in conversation, sometimes comes up in video in front of you when you're at a function or something ... It holds a special place. I guess if you want a signature piece to the equation, then you want a kick like that.

Hazem El Masri's got a signature kick when the Dogs beat Newcastle in the last minute, into the breeze he whacks one from the right sideline. I can still see it. That's one of Hazem's moments but that would be his biggest because it was a similar scenario.

Daryl Halligan with co-commentator Andrew Voss in 2013.
Daryl Halligan with co-commentator Andrew Voss in 2013. ©photosport.co.nz

For myself here [in 1998], it was special. Then we had to go to extra-time and there were still a few more pieces that came that day [Canterbury won 32-20]. I see it clearly. I just wish I could have done a high-five or a backflip or something, some sort of celebration. I tried a high-five with Garry Carden, the trainer, on the way back, and he was probably more unathletic than I am and we actually missed!

On Hazem - how lucky were the Dogs to have another champion goal-kicker take over when you retired?

"Bullfrog" [Peter Moore] and Chris Anderson were looking for a goal-kicker, hence my move from North Sydney to the Bulldogs. And then for the next 20 years there's Hazem El Masri and myself at Canterbury, I guess we'd probably be in the top two each season.

There were some great kickers - Matthew Ridge, Jason Taylor - along the way that were equally adept at the skill as well.

Bulldogs v Eels - Preliminary Final, 1998

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But for Canterbury to basically have someone in the top echelon for 20 years, it put a little bit of pressure on the person who came next. And he did a really good job too - Steve Turner. He came from Melbourne and kicked equally as well as what Hazem and myself did, but just didn't have quite the longevity at Canterbury. He was sort of at the back-end of his career then.

You had a distinguished Test career. What are your highlights from representing New Zealand?

I wanted a highlight in my Test career of beating Australia - and I never achieved it. We had a 14-all draw at Mt Smart [in 1993]. Laurie Daley kicked [two] field goals to get to 14 points for Australia and we only drew that game, which was the closest I got.

Daryl Halligan tangles with Brad Fittler in a Test at Mt Smart Stadium in 1993.
Daryl Halligan tangles with Brad Fittler in a Test at Mt Smart Stadium in 1993. ©photosport.co.nz

I loved my time with the Kiwis, still do. Pinnacle of the game in terms of coming together with your countrymen.

I fortunately had some tours - some good fun - in the UK, Papua New Guinea, France, many places.

My time in the Kiwi jumper - I'd go back there tomorrow pal.