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‘I was pretty much on my knees begging him to give me another chance’

Dear Queenslanders,

Wherever you go, you know, whether Australia or around the world, people ask ‘where are you from?’ and you say ‘Queensland’ straight away. You don’t necessarily say the town… not as a starter. And they all know immediately.

It’s one of those things. It’s not big noting or anything, but it’s a place that is well known, it’s a place known because of tourism. And also, for teams like the Maroons and the Bulls.

Queensland, and the history of Queensland, is known not just in our backyard, but wider than that.

So, it has always been quite easy to be pretty proud of where you’re from when you go somewhere and let people know where you’re from and their reaction would always be pretty positive.

Donning maroon. Photo: NRL Images
Donning maroon. Photo: NRL Images

Rugby league for me started when we moved to Toowoomba.

A mate at school asked if I could play and I went home to mum and asked her and she wasn’t super keen, but my stepfather was a league man so he thought it would be good for me.

I whipped along to training. Unfortunately, my mate was a year older than me, so I didn’t get to play in his team club wise. We played at Newtown. But I got to meet a whole bunch of new blokes and we ended up having a pretty good crew.

Our coach, my first coach, was Gary Czislowski. His son was Scott. He played for Wynnum and all that, when Wally was playing, and he was at the Broncos for a while. Anyway, he said, in my first year, which was 1983 I think was my first year of footy at under 9s, ‘go home tonight and watch Origin and whoever wears your number, I want you to play like him on the weekend’. And the guy that night for me was Bobby Linder. So, yeah, from then all I wanted to do was try and be Bob Linder.

He just epitomised who I wanted to be. He wasn’t the biggest name in the team, but every time he played, he played his heart out and within the rules, the best he could. More often than not he’d get man of the match or go close. He was a guy that looked, from the outside anyway, looked like a guy that everyone else enjoyed playing alongside.

That was the start of my footy. Pretty early Origin was a big part of it.

Origin at home as a kid was always really exciting, particularly if they played at Lang Park.

The commentary, everything, all seemed to be amped up a bit more. And the crowd would be going absolutely crazy, so you’d always get really excited, on a school night, listening, sitting at home watching the game.

It had a huge impact on how you’d go to school the next day, the attitude that you had, that’s for sure. It was really impactful and one of the things, I suppose, that when I actually got to do it, that blew my mind. What an impact it does have on so many people, you know, how you play and what you do when you’re wearing that jersey.

So, yeah, it was incredible as a kid looking at those guys that played and the thing I suppose I loved was they were never ever given a chance to win by all the so-called experts, but they always would either win or go close to winning against the super star New South Wales teams.

The players that we had were obviously pretty handy, but at the time, all the hype was around the New South Wales players.

We found out pretty quick that the Wally Lewis’ and those sort of guys weren’t too bad themselves.

I remember my first call up. I was at the Bulldogs and I got a phone call from someone from the club to let me know I had to basically get into town in Sydney, to Coogee, basically that night.

Brad Thorn pulled out through injury.  I think he got injured. When they selected the team they were aware of his injury and then I think he either had his medical or Wayne said he was not going to be right to play, then they called me in.

It was nerve-wracking. I was so nervous because it was all these guys that I’d looked up to as a kid, that I was playing with, and then you look across at who you’re going to be playing against and it’s the same scenario.

Alfie and Kev were relentless. They were absolutely relentless. And Wayne was certainly making me very aware of the things that he wanted me to do.

Our defensive style at the Bulldogs was different to everyone else. The Broncos slid and everyone else were ‘up and slide’, whereas the Bulldogs were ‘up and in’.

So at training, when we were in camp, every single time I’d even look like going ‘up and in’, Wayne would absolutely give it to me. It is something I will never forgot. He said to me, and it’s typical Wayne, but he said ‘it’ll be the first of many of my firsts and lasts’ and all week he said ‘don’t shoot out at the kickers’ because I used to like chasing the kickers in general play, charging them down. He said ‘don’t do that, right?’. So all week at training, if I even looked like doing it, he’d yell at me.

And then I got on the field, I was only on there for five minutes, I’d come off the bench, got on there for five minutes, and I think it was Andrew Johns who got the ball, and I shot out at him thinking ‘here we go, this is my opportunity’ you know…. and he dummied and then passed, I think it was Joey, and he passed to Laurie and I think Laurie passed to Tim Brasher and he scored.

I didn’t get back to the try line. I was taken straight off. And I’ve just gone ‘oh no’…. ‘State of Origin was amazing. It was only five minutes long’.

That whole half time I was pretty much on my knees begging him to give me another chance. He did put me back on and I was able to score a try and we were able to win, pretty much on the siren, we won on the hooter.

Try celebration. Photo: NRL Images
Try celebration. Photo: NRL Images

I think it was Tonie Carroll who scored and Locky kicked the goal. We won, just won.

Yeah, it was pretty crazy. Game II, the same sort of thing happened. I didn’t get chosen originally and then Jason Smith got suspended and that was up at Lang Park, or Suncorp, then Game III I got selected on my own. I was actually in the team from the start. At Suncorp, Lang Park, we didn’t play real well, but then we were able to come back and win in Sydney.

It was one of those sliding door moments, I suppose. You’re told not to do something, but you forget the ‘not’ bit and you just go into auto pilot and do what you’ve always done. And I did what Wayne didn’t want me to do and yeah, he certainly made me feel as though I was in the naughty corner.

So when I got an opportunity, all I knew was, if you hung around Allan Langer on the field, stuff was going to happen. Alfie put one of his kicks through and I think Adam McDougall missed it and I dived on it. You know, it was a flukey sort of thought process but, that sort of stuff happened around Alf all the time, so I thought ‘if I hang around him while I’m on the field, anything can happen’. And boom, it did.

I do remember running out for the first time I was really nervous. I’ve got to be honest, I actually did not feel as though I deserved to be there.

I knew who had played Origin and I knew who plays, and when I was in the same room as them, I actually didn’t feel like I deserved to be there. And I probably played like that. You know, which is bad.

But when you dream of doing what you’re doing for so long, you’ve dreamt of it for so long, then when you get the opportunity, it’s sort of a bit surreal. I don’t know… I just didn’t think that I was good enough to do it. I always wanted to do it, but I didn’t think I was good enough. And I didn’t do the things I always did in my preparation and stuff like that.

I ended up getting dropped after a couple of years and it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me because, you know, I learnt the hard way.

The reason why you get there is because of who you are and what you do. And I sort of went away from that. I got in the team with the Lockyer’s and those sorts of guys and whilst me and Locky sound alike, I’ll never be Darren Lockyer. You know? So the reason I got picked in those teams is because I was doing what I did and how I did it.

I sort of went away from that. I didn’t get comfortable, but I just went away from what I was doing well. It wasn’t until you get those things that mean so much taken away from you that you realise how much they do mean to you.

Wayne had a really good chat with me just about how I was going, and he was really honest, I wasn’t going too good. Then when you sit there and have a really good look at yourself, understand everything you went through to get to where you are, and you almost give it up because you’re trying to be someone else, yeah, I completely turned that around pretty quickly.

Luckily enough I got another opportunity and I really, really enjoyed Origin after that because I did the things the way I did them. Preparation, build ups to the games, everything that I did for any other game, I did. And I felt a lot more part of it.

Playing. Photo: NRL Images
Playing. Photo: NRL Images

I don’t know if it’s because I was a bit older or because I had it taken away, but it felt like I belonged there.

Whereas before that, I didn’t actually truly believe that I did belong there.

When it came to camps, I didn’t drink so the first night or two were pretty boring for me because for the boys, it was all about getting together. But the things that you do, and the players that you’re with, being able to build that mateship on a whole new level… you’re only in for a certain period of time and it’s really intense.

All the media focus is on that game so there’s 34 to 36 guys that all the focus is on for eight to 10 days.

The build-up is huge and obviously the game is massive. And then you’re just exhausted mentally and physically and emotionally after it. Which is incredible.

I’ve always said if I could, the one thing I wish I could do, from an invention or creation perspective, is be able to create a simulator that could give everyday people the feeling I had at Suncorp when I’d run out.

And I ran out, as I got older, I ran out second a lot, and I wasn’t the vice-captain. I can’t even remember who the vice-captain was. If Locky was captain, I’d run out second. If Smithy was captain, I’d run out second. I just wanted to get that feeling.

The two-minute bell goes and I’d always go and sit out with my family in the pre-game to try and be relaxed. I’d come back in with only enough time to put my boots and that on, because I’d always get strapped as soon as I’d arrive. Then I’d pretty much just put my gear on, which was awesome, and then we’d warm up and then the two-minute bell would go and you’d know it was it was on.

The doors would open and you just feel the absolute energy and love and excitement and emotion come through the doors. It was unbelievable. It got you so excited. I’d always run out wanting to feel that. Because Locky isn’t a big man and neither is Camo, so you’d always get it smacked straight in your face as you’re running out. I’d run out and try and look at every single face in the stand, ay. It was just so awesome.

It felt like it was 15-20 minutes before the actual kick-off happened because you’re there, soaking it all up. It was incredible.

So I’d love for people to be able to have that same feeling you have just in that moment.

Even to extend that, I suppose, being a front rower, Locky and Smithy always liked to win the toss and they’d choose to kick-off. But I’d rather they lose the toss because that means I’d be one of the ones that would have to carry the ball first. And there’s nothing worse in Origin than watching blokes get belted. Whereas when you’re getting belted, you know it’s not going to be any worse than that. If you’re one of the first for that to happen to, you’re in the game and off you go. You know? But it’s really hard to get into the game if you haven’t been able to touch the ball for one or two sets. The game goes so fast and before you know it, it’s half-time and you haven’t touched the footy.

I always hoped that Smithy and Locky would lose the toss because the opposition would want to kick off so I’d always get my wish. Either me or Petero would do the run off kick-off. And whichever one didn’t do the run off kick-off would do the next run. You knew it was never going to be worse than the first or second run because everyone was absolutely amped. So that was my little excitement.

I do miss it. With footy, there’s three different things, I suppose, individually and as a team mate… your rep footy stuff is more as an individual achievement, and then obviously playing in grand finals and playing for your club, you go through with a team over a long period. But Origin is definitely, at Suncorp, was definitely the games that I miss the most today.

Out of any of the games you miss, you feel so jealous when you see the boys play at Suncorp in a State of Origin. It’s home. All your family is in the stand. Yeah, it’s awesome.

Everyone always asked what the greatest moment in maroon was and I say ‘they’re like your kids… you love every one of the moments the same and they’re all so different’.

Out of 28 games, my first minute I went and did something I shouldn’t have and it was almost the last minute of my Origin career. To the last minute of my Origin career, I had my first fight on the footy field in first grade and I got knocked out and carried off. That was my last moment in Origin.

So you go, there’s so much difference in between all of that, of success, and pain, and excitement, and exhilaration, and then all of that stuff, and you go ‘I was so blessed’.

You ask any kid and they’d say they’d just like to play one minute in Origin, but then to play 28 times, was incredible and there were so many cool moments in every different game. All so different, but so great.

And I suppose as you sort of went on in your career, and you’ll see the boys now for both teams, both NSW and Queensland, now it’s more of a badge of honour on how you back up from an Origin.

So you’ve got to perform in Origin, which everyone wants to and everyone generally does, right? Because it’s the biggest test, I think, that you can have in footy.

And then the biggest test after that is then being able to back up and perform for your club at a better standard, if you can, than what you did on the Wednesday night. Because you’re sore and you’ve got all the excuses in the world about why you shouldn’t play good, but you’re putting your hand up so you’re telling your team mates and your fans and your sponsors, and your family, that you’re going to be Steve Price like they know you are. And if you’re not, well you’re letting people down. So there’s plenty of kids that would love an opportunity and they would go out and do just a good a job if given the chance, so you don’t want to let anyone down just because you feel sorry for yourself. I think all the boys have adopted that. It has become a bit of a silent badge you wear, being able to perform after an Origin. So me and Pet, we always jumped straight onto the massage table after Origin to get ready for our club game.

Speaking of fans, I think the level of love and excitement and what it means to the people – that team and that jersey, and the people who play in it, it’s incredible. It’s really hard to describe.

I remember one of my first games, I think my second game. It was at Lang Park and I was on the bus. I was listening and looking at every person that was walking to the game.

It didn’t matter what was going on in their life at the time…. they were going to Lang Park and for that 80 minutes, that was the most important thing to them… you know?

I really found it hard to comprehend that’s how important this opportunity is. For all the stakeholders. Whether that’s players or sponsors or fans or opposition. It doesn’t matter.

But it has become that much of a thing that it actually does impact on people’s feelings immediately after, during, pre. There’s not a whole lot of things that do that outside in general life.

I feel hugely privileged to have had the opportunity, along with 200-odd other players in the Origin era. And I know there was boys before it and it’s hugely honourable to have represented Queensland before that too, I’m not taking away from that, but having grown up when I grew up, during the 80s, Origin was obviously the ultimate because that’s when it started. And to be able to play in the 90s and 2000s, and to see the boys continue to do it.

Like all the stuff that went against us last year and we were still 30 seconds away from winning the series against a team that not too much went against. We had injuries and we had things go against us and we still almost won the series. When we were probably at $5 to one, you know?

You do get emotional, I reckon, when you think about it because it’s so powerful.

I’m not saying it’s any different for New South Welshmen because I’m not a New South Welshman. I am sure people feel the same way as I do about their state.

I don’t question that we’ve got more than what they have, but I just know how much I love it and I love that colour.

I love that colour maroon.

Steve Price FOG #108

I just think it’s such a powerful amazing colour, that means so much. Yeah, I just love seeing it out on the field because I know the boys who will wear that jersey are the same.

It’s really cool that it’s been going on for a long time.

I am 46, right? So you know, I was six years old when the first game was played so I didn’t really know pre Origin if I’m honest. I only know Origin. I’ve gone along with the big snowball effect.

Like everyone will tell you, they knew what they were doing on that first night. It’s truly an amazing concept that’s just got bigger and bigger every year. It’s its own.

Other sports have tried to copy it and haven’t been successful. There was just some people who took a punt, who wanted to change something because what was there didn’t seem to be working as good, and what they have come up with is something that even when we won eight series in a row, some of those games were really close and the series were on the knife edge, and we were lucky enough to get the win. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t a flogging.

We can say the same about last year, which is why Origin is so amazing.

I think just before we went on our eight series run, I think the series wins were almost identical and even the for and against was only 10 or 15 points difference between the two teams over a 25 or 30 year period.

So it hasn’t just happened over night. Right from day one, it has been so tight and close and competitive.

There’s huge respect there.

I know people will say ‘I hate NSW’. But I think it’s more the respect you have, how competitive they are and how competitive we are. That’s what we love.

I lived in New Zealand for 13 years and I thought it was only Queensland and NSW that loved Origin, but I learnt really quickly it’s not just New South Wales and Queensland. NZ love it. And you go to other states – Victoria, and then last year in WA. People watch it in the states and in England.

It’s really, really cool. There’s plenty of athletes in our game that want to play and can’t because of where they’re from and I think that’s a great sign of how great the game has become and how great it is. And what an achievement it is to be part of it.

You don’t want to just be part of it, that’s what Wayne used to say. He’d say ‘every time you pull the jersey on it’s going to go down in the history books so you want to be able to look back on that history, turn that page, and be proud of what happened on that night. Not disappointed and upset you didn’t play your best or prepare your best’.

It’s so true. All of those games that I got to play in, there was a reason why we won or we lost. And you’ve got to accept the result either way and be proud of what you did. Sometimes there’s someone better than you on the night but you want to make sure they had to play absolutely brilliant to get it over you on that night. And that’s what a lot of the people involved were always talking about. The importance of that – not having any regrets or excuses coming off.

Petero is one my best mates and a lot of the other boys, obviously Tatey, my brother-in-law, to get to play Origin with him was incredible. He was eight years old when I went to Sydney to play for the Bulldogs.

With Petero Civoniceva and Cam Smith. Photo: NRL Images
With Petero Civoniceva and Cam Smith. Photo: NRL Images

So to think that we would play State of Origin together, and we didn’t just play one game but 15 or so together, was quite amazing. We had success too, so from a family perspective, for both in-laws and my own, it has been incredible for us as a family. It’s cool.

When I look to the future of Queensland, I get really excited. I think the game has changed. We went through a period where there was a lot of Englishmen obviously going to Canberra, the Roosters, and a few other places, and there’s a lot of the Islander boys coming in now, it was looking a bit tight there for a while.

My personal thing is life has changed. When I was growing up everyone pretty much had the weekend off. If you didn’t you worked until lunchtime. So all the volunteers could go to the footy and do canteen, do coaching, mum was able to run you around.

Whereas now it’s 24/7 life. There’s people doing FIFO. I really do think that’s why sport in general is struggling, because people don’t have as much time as what they used to, to do what we have always done. Which is play sport on weekends. And that’s not necessarily ideal anymore for a lot of communities.

I think being able to find ways to keep people involved in sport is going to be the biggest challenge for us going forward. We need our whole state to be involved in rugby league. We can’t just rely on the city, or just certain parts of the state. Footy is still pretty strong in the state, but there are some worrying signs way out west. Numbers decreasing and other sports getting more of a hold.

There are some challenges ahead for us but gee, there’s some super athletes that are playing our game – both men and women.

It’s really exciting for Queensland, going forward. With the talent that is coming through. I just hope they continue to get the opportunities that people like me and others got.

Seeing my son Riley in a Maroons jersey in future years would be pretty cool. Him and Jamie and my other daughter Casey, they were always confused. They were unfortunately born in Sydney, grew up in New Zealand, but always regarded themselves as Queenslanders. So when that rule came in… ‘son of a Queenslander’ or ‘son of an Origin player’, Riley was stoked. He was looking like he’d have to move back to nanny when he was 15 to be eligible. He’d love to get there. He was obviously there, quite young, to experience a bit of it through me and Brent. So he’s seen the inside of it. He knows what it’s like. He plays. I’m sure he’d love to be part of a game like that.

He’s disappointed this year because he was in the Under 20 Emerging and now they’re not going to get to play. It’s bummer and a shame for the kids going out of age.

Riley has another year but a couple of the other boys will miss out on representing Queensland 20s.

I’m disappointed to see Morgs is injured too, but I’d rather him be injured now and right for November.

Three weeks of camp back-to-back will be unbelievable. Bring on Origin.

Kind regards,

Steve Price

FOG #108