Category Archives: NRL Editorials

Editorials on the big issues in NRL Rugby League

Ricky’s NRL Interviews Pt 28: Glenn Morrison

Glenn Morrison playing for the North Queensland Cowboys

We continue the interviews with Glenn Morrison, a former NRL and SL player as well as rugby league coach.

Morrison played for the Balmain Tigers, the North Sydney Bears, the North Queensland Cowboys and the Parramatta Eels.

He also had stints in England with the Bradford Bulls and Wakefield before coaching in the United Kingdom.

He opens up about his debut, the 2005 Eels side, his coaching career and more.

Here are the questions we put forth to Morrison and his answers:

1. What are your earliest memories of rugby league?

I loved rugby league since I was a baby. My dad played for Balmain and they were the team I supported.

2. Your debut came with the Balmain Tigers; what do you remember of your debut and were you expecting the call-up?

I was 18 or 19 years old and actually working as a police officer also.

I had a 12 hr night shift the night before the game and had a fatal multi car accident I had to deal with all night so wasn’t the best preparation.

I remember driving to the SFS without any sleep and having to mark Brad Fittler. The Australian captain.

It was a day I’ll never forget.

Glenn Morrison playing for Wakefield

3. You moved to North Sydney after that and played in the club’s last ever game in 1999; was that a surreal experience?

I loved the Tigers and didn’t want to leave.

However, North Sydney came to me and said they were relocating to the Central Coast where I was from and wanted me a part of the transition.

It was a bit of a mixed time at Norths.

We had the team to win the grand final my first year in 1998 but fell one game short.

Then half way through my second year of a five year contract, the club were merging and we didn’t get paid and had to find new contracts.

4. The Cowboys were next; what about the club appealed to you and what was your time like in Townsville?

Tim Sheens rang me up after North Sydney merged and was keen to get me to join North Queensland.

They were wooden spooners the year before I signed but Tim was bringing in new players.

He was trying to change the culture at the club and this was something I was keen to be a part of.

I loved my time at the Cowboys. We had a great crew on and off the field and the club as a whole took major steps forward.

We lost to the Roosters in the GF qualifying game.

That was my final game at the club after I had agreed to play for Parramatta the next season but it was a great 5 years.

Glenn Morrison playing for the Parramatta Eels

5. Your final NRL side was the Parramatta Eels and 2005 was a cracker of a year but the way the season ended must have been disappointing?

Parramatta had the most complete coaching and management set up that I had played under.

Everything was different in a good way.

I feel I played some of my best rugby there.

Again, we had the team to win the comp but fell one game short, knocked out by the Cowboys.

We had beaten them easy only a couple of weeks earlier and won our semi against Manly pretty easily also.

I don’t know what happened that day but we just couldn’t get into the game and that was it. We lost and season over.

6. Tell us a bit about your time in England as a player at both Bradford and Wakefield.

Bradford were a great side when I moved over.

A family club on and off the pitch and I loved my time there.

I was lucky enough to make the Super League Dream team and get the bulls player of the year my first season.

After 3 years,  Wakefield Trinity offered me a contract to play and coach the u/18’s which I took up.

I was awarded the player of the year in both of my 2 seasons I played with them.

I was also selected for the international exiles who defeated England in an international match.

I signed for another season to play and be assistant coach, however, I hurt my shoulder bad in preseason and had to retire. 

Glenn Morrison during his time as Dewsbury Rams coach

7. You also coached in England, taking over the mantle of the Dewsbury side for a while; was coaching something you’d always wanted to be involved in?

After I retired, I was assistant coach and head coach of the Wakefield U20’s side.

I was assistant coach for the Exiles that year where we defeated England again.

We had a great season at Wakefield and I was offered the head coach/director of rugby at championship side the Dewsbury rams.

They had been relegated two out of the three years before I took over and only had one player signed on when I took the reigns.

It was sort of like the movie Moneyball.

The player budget was pretty minimal and most players had already signed for other clubs so we had to work really hard to put together a competitive squad.

We made it like a family and we got the results. We were two minutes away from making the GF in my first season and made the finals every year.

I also took over as Manager of the Jamaican RL side where we defeated some top international teams and qualified for next years World Cup for their first time.

8. How do you keep busy now? Any current involvement in rugby league?

I switched codes last year taking on a role coaching rugby union at Bradford Grammar school.

I’m the head of Athletics and rugby coach.

I’m also skills and backs coach at Bradford Salam rugby union club.

It is a different challenge but I’m really enjoying the change after 20 odd years in professional rugby league.

 

Ricky’s NRL News Pt 27: Rodney Henniker

Illawarra Steelers player Rodney Henniker (by Getty Images)

The interviews keep on rolling as have a chat with former North Sydney Bears and Illawarra Steelers foundation player Rodney Henniker.

Henniker speaks of his time at the Bears, his success, the falling out with Ron Willey, his post-footy career and more.

Here are Rodney’s answers:

1. What are your earliest memories of rugby league?

I was a mad St. George supporter in the 60’s and my idol was Billy Smith.

I use to love the way he combined with Chang to set up tries.

I remember crying in my grandparents backyard when the Dragons got eliminated in the preliminary final in 1967 to end their 11 year reign.

2. Your debut came with the North Sydney Bears; what was it like to don the famous Bears jersey and were you expecting your debut?

I signed with Norths in 1979 on my 21st birthday one week before the NSWRL competition started from the Western Suburbs Red Devils in Wollongong.

Tommy Bishop who had coached me in the successful Illawarra Divisional side and club team in 1978 had taken over the Bears.

After the trials, he thought he needed a ball player and goal kicker, so I got the late call up.

The day I signed I played a trial game in Wollongong without having met any of the players or had not had a training run.

The following week I was picked in 1st grade, which I was not expecting, against Cronulla, which included Steve Rogers & the Sorenson Brothers.

Having only had 3 training runs and no hard pre-season training behind me, it was difficult, but still a great experience.

It was a day I won’t forget even though we lost convincingly.

Rodney Henniker in his Bears jersey (by Getty Images)

3. You did have some success there, twice finishing as the club’s leading point-scorer; was goal-kicking an aspect of your game that you had always embraced.

I had been a goal kicker in all my teams from 8 year old and spent a lot of time practising from my junior days into grade.

I remember winning a goal kicking competition as a 16 year old in Wollongong in which Mick Cronin was one of the kickers involved.

I really enjoyed the responsibility that went with goal kicking and loved doing it.

I got a real buzz especially when it was the difference in winning a game.

4. You reportedly had a falling out with Ron Willey that led to your departure from the Bears; what happened to cause that falling out?

Ron was a good man and had a lot of success as a coach winning premierships.

He coached five different Sydney clubs, won the 1986 Origin series 3-0 and he cared about his players.

But he liked forwards who were 6ft 6in, ran even time for 100 m and tackled like a dynamo and I wasn’t one of those type of players.

He did appreciate my ball playing ability and goal kicking attributes.

Over the 1980-81 seasons under Ron, I played a lot of first-grade but towards the end I thought it was better to move on for more opportunities.

When the Illawarra Steelers came into the competition, my home town team, I was made an offer to return.

I accepted even though I was offered an extension at Norths.

I loved my time at the Bears and still have a lot of friends there and attend reunions when I can.

Former rugby league player Rodney Henniker (by Getty Images)

5. The Illawarra Steelers were next and you were one of the foundation players; how was your time at the Steelers?

It was great to represent my home town.

Especially to be part of the very first team to take the field on February 28, 1982 against Penrith.

This was alongside a lot of other local juniors from Wollongong like John Dorahy, Brian Hetherington and John Sparkes.

We had some good wins in our initial season under Allan Fitzgibbon, a really good coach.

We won our first game against Souths in round 3, 20-10 and also had a record 45-0 win over Canberra.

Though my season got cut short with a groin injury.

In 1983, I was fortunate to play 24/26 games and really enjoyed that season.

In 1984, under new coach Brian Smith, I would say I learnt a hell of a lot from a very intelligent coach in his first year.

Unfortunately, I injured ligaments in my knee in a Wednesday night game in the National Panasonic Cup.

I was out for a lot of the back end of season but returned to play in reserve grade semi-final series which we were eliminated in the final.

Getting married the week before that final might not have been a good idea, forgoing our honeymoon to play in that game.

After 35 years of marriage, my wife still hasn’t forgiven me!

Recently on February 28, 2020, we had a reunion luncheon for that first Steelers side.

After 38 years, we are all still alive and the event was also attended by the captain of Penrith on that day Darryl Brohman.

6. Post-playing career, you got involved with some coaching in the Picton region and then for the Steelers at a junior level; was coaching always an area you had sought out?

Yes, I loved coaching.

I had stints at Picton( 1985, 89), Ingham NQ (1986), Western Suburbs Illawarra (1987-88, 95, 99) and Berkeley (1990).

I was fortunate to be part of Graham Murray’s coaching staff at the Steelers in 1991-92 as U/21’s coach.

This was a great experience as the club had some great success in those 2 years. 

I would have loved to have gone further but other things in life come along, but I had some great times in coaching.

Rodney Henniker playing for the Illawarra Steelers (by Getty Images)

7. Outside of rugby league, how are you keeping busy at the moment?

I’ve been a high school Maths teacher most of my working life.

I currently work casually in Adult Education helping people on Centrelink get back into the workforce.

I’m married with six adult children and eight grandchildren which keeps me busy.

I love following them around everywhere watching them in their different sports.

I also have a dabble with “The Sport of Kings” and follow it regularly.

I have been involved with the local Illawarra league as a selector of divisional sides for many years.

I have also been a Country Rugby League Selector for the past seven years involved with selection of CRL sides in Country Championships for seniors.

I am also now a selector for the U/23’s and the women’s sides which are now under the banner of NSWRL. 

8. If you could give advice to any budding rugby league players, what would it be?

Avoid player managers at an early age.

You have to be committed and make sacrifices to make the grade.

You need to listen to the right people who will help give you the best chance to succeed not necessarily what you always want to hear.

You won’t succeed if you stop enjoy playing the game and once it becomes only about money.

Rodney Henniker playing for the Illawarra Steelers (by Getty Images)

 

 

Ricky’s NRL Interviews Pt 26: Shayne McMenemy

Shayne McMenemy in his Wests Magpies days

Another interview as we had a chat with Shayne McMenemy. His debut against that great Balmain side, life post-footy and more are all covered.

Not all players are immortals, win premierships or the like, but they all impact the game in their own way.

They all show pride and desire when donning their respective team jerseys. McMenemy was that guy.

We had a good chat with him and here are his answers:

1. What is your earliest memory of rugby league?

I was about 10 and I won a big trophy playing in a knockout. We come second. I think it was about 1985.

2. You made your debut with Wests in 1997; what was that experience like and was the call-up one you were expecting? 

I had known all week, I was suppose to play a few weeks earlier but got injured.

I remember be very excited. I supported Balmain as a kid and was born there.

To make my debut against Paul Sironen and Tim Brasher was great.

Ellery Hanley was a tremendous player for the Tigers on that day. We got the win which made it even better. 

Shayne McMenemy celebrating a try for Hull FC (via Getty Images)

3. The rest of your career was played out in England; how did you adjust to the different conditions and the game itself? Was the English game different in your view? 

I got injured in 1999 playing for the Magpies; I had injured my elbow quite badly.

I was offered to stay on with the Wests part of the merger for 2000, but got an opportunity to go to the UK with Dane Dorahy.

It was a fantastic experience. I was only going to go for a year and then come back.

One thing led to another and I spent 8 years over in the UK playing for Oldham, Halifax & Hull FC.

I had a great time at Oldham coached By Mike Ford. He taught me so much about the game.

He was very professional and his planning was first class.

I then went to Halifax under Gary Mercer & Steve Linnane, which were a couple of good years. 

The game itself back then was a tougher brand of footy. The English boys were a lot bigger and stronger.

A lot of training was done indoors in the gyms and we could only do ball work at certain times of the day due to frozen fields.

The English fans are the best. They loved the overseas players who come over and have a real crack.

The adjustment did take a while. nobody told me in December it gets dark at 3:30 pm and the sun didn’t come up until 10:30 am.

That first month or two was very tough.

The summer month have 18 hours of sunlight, so once it started to warm up, it was great.

Being so close to Europe was great to be able to travel.

4. Tell us about the success you had at Hull FC, particularly winning the 2005 Challenge Cup final.

In 2003, I went to Hull mid season. They had Jason smith , Craig Greenhill, Richie Barnett, Colin best, Sean Ryan and Dean Treister,

It was the appeal playing along side these guys which enticed me to Hull.

We were fortunate enough to win the Challenge Cup in 2005 with Hull. We were the underdogs and nobody expected us to win.

We had some great players in the squad, Steve Kearney, Richard Swain, Nathan Blacklock, Motu Tony.

That was along with plenty of the best English talent at the time in Richard Horne, Paul Cook, Kirk Yeaman, Garreth Carvell and Ewan Dowes.

The following year we made the grand final at Old Trafford against St Helens.

They were too strong on the night. But the experience of playing on the other side of the world and experiencing so much made the adjustment worth while.

Shayne McMenemy

5. You also had the chance to represent Ireland at the international level; what did it mean to you to don the Irish jersey?

Playing for Ireland was a great honour. My mum was born in Belfast along with my uncles.

My debut was down in Albi against the French. The passion involved in those teams are something else.

The 2008 World Cup was a great experience. Some great players in that squad and even better times off the field. 

6. Post-footy, what have you been up to? Have you maintained any involvement with the game?

I have been involved at different levels over the past 10 years.

I worked as a Strength & Conditioning coach at Parramatta for several years. I was also working as a personal trainer at the time.

I also helped out at Western Suburbs Magpies for a period.

When my son Callum started playing, I took up coaching his team at Narellan Jets and continued to do that 6 years later.

I have been the Narellan Jets Juniors President for the last 3 years which is very rewarding.

I coached Narellan Jets first grade for a couple of years also. I also coached the Group 6 rep team last year.

I have coached a lot of Oz Tag over the last 5-6 years also for both Callum & my daughter Isabel.  

I currently work in sales/Hire in the EWP industrial. I work for a company Called “Want Access”.

It’s a great company who really look after their employees and have a friendly family environment.

Shayne McMenemy playing for Halifax

7. If you could give advice to any budding rugby league players, what would it be?

To always give your best.

Be focused, disciplined, have a great positive attitude, listen to your coaches and most importantly enjoy yourself and have fun! 

Ricky’s NRL Interviews Pt 25: Ben Cross

Former rugby league player Ben Cross in his NSW Blues jumper

The rugby league interviews never stop as we have a chat with Ben Cross, a former NRL and SL player, now rugby league coach. 

Ben Cross enjoyed stints with the Canberra Raiders, Melbourne Storm, Newcastle Knights, Leeds Rhinos, Wigan Warriors and Widnes Vikings.

Since then, he has forged a successful coaching career and stayed active in the sport.

So sit back, take a sip of that cold one and let us entertain you with our Ben Cross interview. Here are the questions:

1. What are your earliest memories of rugby league?

Watching it as a kid and playing in the backyard with my brother and neighbours in Wagga.

I started playing when I went to high school in Year 7 when I was aged 12.

It was for the under 14’s and we had a ball lost the grand final.

I used to sit and watch old State of Origin games my dad taped and always dreamed of playing in the sky blue jersey one day over and over again.

I love those old games.

2. You made your debut for the Canberra Raiders; run us through the experience of your debut game and were you expecting the call-up?

A Channel 9 game on Sunday afternoon, free to air TV; how much better could it get?!

I started the game for Ryan O’Hara who was out injured and I had been playing really well in NSW cup in my first year at a NRL club.

Just a couple of months before this, I was playing in the local league.

I just remember thinking to myself I can’t believe I’m out here with guys like Trent Barrett, Jason Ryles, Luke Bailey, Mark Gasnier and playing with Ruben Wiki, Simon Woolford etc and holding my own.

Former Newcastle Knights prop Ben Cross

3. Melbourne was your next stop and in 2007, you reached the grand final and won; what was grand final day like?

Grand final day and winning was the best feeling ever after losing the year before.

Being able to get back there just made it more special.

I was in doubt all week with a hamstring injury and in a way it took my mind off the game and gave me something else to focus on all week.

It was a great reward for all the people who had helped me along in my career because it was for them as well.

4. You then spent a few years with the Newcastle Knights but asked for a release in 2010; was the opportunity in England too good to pass up?

Yeah, I was 31 at the time and came into the NRL at 24 and could see I was running out of time.

Leeds made an inquiry so I jumped at the chance to get over to the UK.

I had 3 great years there.

The first, a pretty rough year after leaving Leeds half way through the year as I and a few other players weren’t in the coach’s plans.

Going to Wigan, I broke my arm twice and then missing the Challenge Cup final was a kick in the guts but myself and my family were living in a great little village called Standish.

The move to Widnes was to help a new club coming into Super league.

It was a tough first year but we got better the second year as we recruited better and the players started to handle the step up.

I left with great memories and good friends.

Former rugby league prop Ben Cross playing for Melbourne

5. On your time in England with Leeds, Widnes and Wigan, how did you feel the game differed from the NRL?

The intensity of the game isn’t the same from week to week.

There is a big drop in standard from the top 4-5 to the bottom 3-4 teams.

This is unlike the NRL where every week regardless of where the team is on the table you need to be on your game.

Just the speed of the NRL feels faster.

The physicality of the UK game was very tough and challenging but not in the same consistent way as it is in the NRL.

6. You returned to Australia to then coach back at the Knights and have since become the NSW Women’s coach; was coaching always something you had considered?

I always wanted to get into coaching.

I started while playing at Widnes and I coached an under 16’s and under 18’s team in Wigan for 2 years before returning to Newcastle and hooking up with the Knights NSW cup team for 2 seasons.

I then coached in the local competition in Newcastle with Souths Merewether while coaching the NSW Women’s Origin team.

I was also coaching at Hunter Sports High School and my sons under 8’s team.

I just love coaching and helping people become better people and hopefully better rugby league players.

It’s a career I’ll continue to pursue for a long time.

Former rugby league prop Ben Cross playing for Widnes

7. Away from footy, what else do you do to keep busy?

I’ve got 3 kids and a needy dog so I’m fairly busy all the time with them, along with a fair bit of study so that’s pretty much me sorted all the time.

8. If you could give advice to any budding rugby league players, what would it be?

Do more than what’s required at training.

What you’re doing at training is the bare minimum you should be doing.

If you want to be like everyone else, well, then that’s fine.

But if you want to be an NRL player and take your game to a higher level than the norm. you need to be doing more than the others.

In every aspect; sleep more, train more, mediate more, study more.

The more you put in, the more you’ll get in return. You’re investing in yourself.

NSW Women’s Origin coach Ben Cross

Ricky’s NRL Interviews Pt 24: Michael Witt

Former Parramatta Eels half Michael Witt

The Parramatta Eels, Manly Sea Eagles, New Zealand Warriors and St George Illawarra Dragons all enjoyed the play of Michael Witt.

Witt also ventured to England with stints for the Crusaders and the London Broncos.

He provided the NRL and the English teams with some stand-out moments.

A talented half, injury cut his career short but he reflects on footy, England and his career post-footy.

Enjoy the read and the answers from the man himself:

1. What are your earliest memories of rugby league? 

I remember playing with my oldest brother for the Newtown Lions in Toowoomba.

He made a break run pretty much the length of the field and waited in the in goal for me.

Once I got there, he gave me the ball and I dived over to score.

2. You made your debut with the Parramatta Eels; what do you recall from the game and was it an opportunity you were expecting?

Paul Green was injured the week before so I thought I may be a slight chance to play.

I had started the season really well in reserve grade and we had won our first 3 games.

I remember getting the call from coach. I was pretty nervous.

We were playing the Roosters who had just come off winning the GF the year before and they had some huge names in Fittler and co.

Michael Witt playing for the Manly Sea Eagles (photo courtesy of Getty Images)

3. Your time at the Eels came to an abrupt end when the club decided not to retain you despite your contract; what ran through your mind when that happened and what prompted your move to Manly?

I got a call out of the blue from Noel Cleal who I lived with when I first moved to Sydney.

He was now at Manly and said we want you here.

That’s all I needed to hear and we got the deal done pretty quickly.

4. The New Zealand Warriors were your next side; what was it like across the Tasman and run us through that famous 2008 win against the Melbourne Storm when you scored the winning try? 

My wife and I loved our time in Auckland.

I rang Steve Price when I received an offer from the Warriors and he gave the place a huge wrap so we decided to take the leap.

That try, well, it was never in doubt.

Capped off an amazing game where no-one gave us a chance to win. We were super confident that day.

I put the ball down (eventually) but it was the 2 guys who touched the ball earlier in that play that came up with amazing play.

Jerome [Ropati] & Manu [Vatuvei].

Michael Witt during his playing days for the New Zealand Warriors

5. You moved to England and played for the Crusaders and the London Broncos; what prompted the move to England and looking back, how was your experience over there?

It was an opportunity really.

I had a short stint in Rugby which didn’t go great so I decided to take the opportunity over there.

I always wanted to play in the UK.

Probably not that early in my career but we really enjoyed our 4 years over there.

6. You returned to the NRL with the St George Illawarra Dragons but injuries cut your career short; was it tough not being able to go out on your own terms?

Yes it was. Certainly not the way you picture finishing your career.

These things happy in footy. I had the opportunity to play on but decided to call it a day.

My eldest daughter was about to start school and we didn’t want to move her around.

Michael Witt at the St George Illawarra Dragons

7. Post-rugby league, have you remained involved with the game in some capacity and how do you keep busy now?

Not really.

I decided this year to get back and do a little coaching with the U18 Burleigh Bears who play in the Mal Meninga Cup.

That only lasted 1 game with Covid 19 hitting and our season was cancelled.

8. If you could give advice to any budding rugby league players, what would it be?

Always use your manners and look after the people who help you alone the way ?

Former rugby league player Michael Witt

 

Ricky’s NRL Interviews Pt 23: Nick Kouparitsas

Former Canterbury Bulldogs forward Nick Kouparitsas

This time, we had a chat with former Sydney Roosters, Canterbury Bulldogs forward and Greek international, Nick Kouparitsas. 

The proud Greek will talk about rugby league life, what it meant to play for Greece, post-footy and more.

Just another insight into the life of a rugby league player so sit back, soak it in and enjoy.

Here are the questions we put to Nick Kouparitsas:

1. You were born in Canberra; what are your earliest memories of rugby league in the nation’s capital? 

My earliest memories definitely was the cold mornings.

I remember the younger you were, the earlier on Sunday mornings you played so most Sunday’s you were first on the oval and the fields were covered in frost and fog.

But we all loved it. I played for West Belconnen Warriors throughout all my junior footy.

2. In 2001, you made an appearance for the Australian Schoolboys side; describe to us how it felt to make that side.

It was a great feeling.

We had a pretty good side too with a few of the players going on to represent Australia at senior level also.

The traveling English team was supposed to be the best they had sent in years.

I am pretty sure they had players in the team that were playing regular first grade in the Super League at the time.

We beat them both games.

Nick Kouparitsas in his playing days for the Sydney Roosters

3. You had stints in the NRL with both the Canterbury Bulldogs and Sydney Roosters; what was it like to play in the NRL and did you think you would play for over 5 years? 

Playing in the NRL was my dream and growing up, that is all I wanted to do.

I used to think to myself I would be happy to play just one NRL game.

Then when I got my first taste of it I didn’t want to go back to reserve grade.

I was lucky to debut during the Origin period.

At the Bulldogs, we had a fair few players out representing so I got my opportunity.

It was against the Raiders, I don’t think I had a very good game.

4. You then joined Harlequins (now the London Broncos); what prompted the move to England and how did the English game differ from the NRL at the time?

It was 2010 and I was at the Roosters. We made the GF and lost.
I didn’t take part in the final and could tell the Roosters were not going to re-sign me.
We had Brian Smith as a coach, technically a great coach, but he was hot and cold as a man manager.
He used to say and do some pretty strange things.
I had my manager look around and he asked if OS was an option and it went from there. 
The English game is very different. It didn’t seem as structured but it was also slower.
We had some great players in our team but the Harlequins were a poor club, we didn’t have much depth and we suffered.
The best thing about the Super League is the ‘player loan system.’
We had some guys from Wigan who couldn’t crack their first grade side and they were loaned to us which helped.
I think the NRL should adopt the same system.
Former Sydney Roosters forward Nick Kouparitsas
5. You represented Greece on several occasions; what was it like to don the Greek colours?
I loved it. We had so much fun in training and in our games.
We had some really good players that never got the chance to play first grade but they lifted for Greece. It was a really enjoyable time.
I remember the games against Italy and Malta were physical and there were a few good punch ups too.
I played in the Greek team with both of my brothers which was a real highlight of my time playing league.
6. We noticed that you now work in real estate; tell us a bit about what you do and why you chose to move into real estate.
Yes, I have been in real estate for 7 years now, very similar to pro sports.

There is flexibility and you get out what you put in, a lot of ups and downs but I love it. 
7. Finally, what advice do you have for budding rugby league players? 
That is a tough question.
I guess looking back, play every game like it is your last because it may not feel like it at the time but it does end.
Nick Kouparitsas post-footy

 

Ricky’s NRL Interviews Pt 22: Justin Murphy

Justin Murphy playing for the New Zealand Warriors (photo courtesy of Getty Images).

We another interview for you, this time it’s Justin Morgan, a former Canterbury Bulldogs, New Zealand Warriors, Widnes Vikings and Catalans Dragons winger.

The Sydney-born winger enjoyed success as a player and a coach and talks about his rugby league career and life beyond.

In addition, one of his greatest achievements was representing France and he touches on that.

So enjoy; Justin Murphy and his wonderful answers:

1. What is your earliest rugby league memory?

My earliest memories are of playing in the back yard with my brother and my father coaching me.

He played for North Sydney in the 70s. The first game that I remember watching is the 1986 Grand Final with all the Eels kit on.

2. Your debut came in 2000 with the Canterbury Bulldogs; what was the experience like and were you expecting it?

My dream was to play NRL and I left the Broncos for an opportunity.

Before my first NRL game, I hadn’t even trained with the first grade side the night before the game.

Steve Folkes called me and told me I would be playing as Willie Talau got injured.

We played the Brisbane Broncos who were the best team in 2000 and Darren Smith told me to just talk and support.

The game went by so quick. We lost, I got a try and that was my only game in first grade for the Bulldogs but it was a dream come true.

My first NRL game was against my old club, the Broncos.

Then my first game for the Warriors was against my former team the Bulldogs. 

Justin Murphy in his Catalans Dragons jersey (courtesy i

3. You played in the 2002 grand final with the Warriors; what was the grand final experience like despite the unfortunate loss?

It was the most memorable experience of my career to play in a Grand Final.

A few weeks earlier, I had torn a muscle in my abductor and I was unsure if I’d be right.

I missed the first final and came back for the game against Sharks to get into the Grand Final.

My speed still wasn’t 100% and in the Grand Final, I got an intercept and wasn’t confident in going 90m so I sort of submitted.

I wish I  would of backed myself and had a go for the tryline.

Playing in the 2002 Warriors team with great players and the freedom to play with vision was very enjoyable.

We had players like Ali Lauiti’iti,  Clinton Toopi and Stacey Jones who were the best players in their positions in the world.

4. You had a brief stint at Widnes before shining with Catalans; what was your rugby league experience like in France?

My first year was the year before Catalans went into Super League and we were preparing the French players for professional rugby league.

We went through the season undefeated winning the Lorde Derby Cup and the championship.

The only game we lost was in the Challenge Cup to Wigan in a close game.

We trained at St Esteve and I remember a group of us players helped move the gym gear in and set up and paint the place.

The training facilities were not very good.

In our first season in Super League, we had a good group but it was a learning and development stage for the club.

To be in the first ever team for Catalans and to play Wigan in Perpignan and win, is something I’m very proud of.

I was chosen in the 2006 Dream Team and Super League’s Top Try Scorer which I’m also proud of.

Justin Murphy in his Canterbury Bulldogs gear

5. You played at the international level for France; what did donning the Les Bleus jersey mean to you?

My wife is French and we have 3 Australian/French children, so to represent France and play at International level is something I’m grateful for.

6. Living in the South of France now, how do you keep yourself busy work wise? Do you currently have any involvement with rugby league?

We decided to move back to France last year to be closer to my wife’s family and give our children the experience of living in the French culture.

I have been coaching Toulon Marlins in the French Elite 2 division and doing coaching and development at schools.

Former NRL and SL player Justin Murphy

7. If you could give advice to budding rugby league players, what would it be?

Work hard, be dedicated, willing to sacrifice and use setbacks positively to drive your ambitions.

Ricky’s NRL Interviews Pt 22: Luke Phillips

Former Sydney Roosters fullback Luke Phillips

The interviews are rolling in! This time, it’s Luke Phillips, a former player, former referee and video referee, now successful businessman.

Phillips played for the Canberra Raiders, the North Queensland Cowboys, the Manly Sea Eagles and Sydney Roosters.

He was an NRL referee and video referee and has now forged a successful career with his own pinball and video game supply business.

It was a good chat so sit back, relax, get that glass of wine and enjoy the read. Here are the questions:

1. What is your earliest rugby league memory?

My earliest memories of watching rugby league are of the Parramatta Eels.

Them winning Grand finals with such a great side full of stars. They were my team I supported until Wayne Pearce come on the scene.

My dad said to me one day, “look at how this bloke plays”. The way he ran the ball was so hard.

I bought a Balmain jumper with no.8 on it and used to think I was him playing with my mates up at Charnwood Oval in Canberra every day after school. 

2. Your NRL debut came with the Canberra Raiders and it turned out to be your only game for them; what was the experience like for you and being able to play against the Western Reds?

Tim Sheens was the coach and he only told me the night before the game as a few of the Origin players couldn’t back up.

So I didn’t have much time to think about it. I couldn’t believe it.

I had only played a hand full of reserve grade games and had played 5 games for a pub side The Valley Statesman the year before.

So to be playing 1st grade six months from there was very surreal. It was so fast. 

Former NRL referee Luke Phillips (image supplied by Getty Images)

3. You made the move to North Queensland the year after; what prompted that move and how was it in Townsville as a Cowboy that season.

Tim Sheens had left Canberra to coach the cowboys and called me and asked if I wanted an opportunity to maybe start the year in 1st grade.

They needed a goal kicker and I had two international wingers in front of me at Canberra. So I thought, why not?

It may have been the only opportunity I got. Townsville was awesome.

They had a brand new facility and great warm weather which you don’t get in Canberra. 

4. The big moment came in 2002 with the Sydney Roosters, a team that won the premiership; what was it like on grand final day and winning the big one?

Yeah, you can’t put into words the feeling you have when you win a GF. I’ve never felt anything like it before or since.

I guess it’s all the hard work and effort you have put in over the years and to get that reward.

It’s something that you dream of as a kid and when it happens the feeling you get you just can’t describe it.

Also to see how much it means to the fans is what made is so special.

I remember seeing how much it meant to the Roosters fans when we walked around the ground after the game.

Grown men with tears in their eyes wanting to shake my hand is a memory I will never forget. 

Luke Phillips working with the NSW Blues

5. A chronic shoulder injury forced you into premature retirement; how did it make you feel knowing you probably had some more footy left in you?

Yeah, it was really hard to retire. More so feeling you are letting your team mates down.

But I just knew that I didn’t have the drive to keep playing. I just started my business and was really focused on that.

And because my injury was so bad, I just realised that footy won’t be there forever and being in rehab.

Not feeling part of the team, I just decided to call it quits and concentrate on my business.

I could have played on for a few more years but made the decision and don’t regret it.

6. The retirement opened up doors in refereeing for you; what was it like being an NRL referee and what is your favourite memory as an NRL referee?

Phil Gould sort of got me into refereeing. He said it’s something I should try because I retired early.

I actually enjoyed it in the junior ranks.

But as soon as I got to NRL level, you have to change the way you referee which I found very hard.

So I moved into the video reffing side for a few years. 

My favourite memory is video reffing the Souths v Bulldogs grand final. The atmosphere was unreal.

Former NRL referee Luke Phillips at the 2011 Toyota Cup grand final

7. Tell us a bit about your work with your own pinball and video game supply business.

I started a business in my last few years at the Roosters.

This started with placing Arcade/Pinball machines in pubs and Clubs around Sydney. I’ve always loved Pinball since my early teens.

It’s recently turned into opening my own Arcade centres. I did this whilst working with the Titans last year.

I’ve opened one in Broadbeach and the second is underway and will be open in Australia Fair Southport hopefully soon. 

8. If you could give advice to any rugby league player, what would it be and why?

Probably the best advice I could give is what my dad gave me as a kid.

Always play the game as if it’s your last. And never settle. Once you think you have made it, you will be found out.

Former Sydney Roosters fullback Luke Phillips

 

Ricky’s NRL Interviews Pt 21: Joe Williams

Former South Sydney Rabbitohs half Joe Williams

Back again, as this time we have a chat to former South Sydney Rabbitohs, Canterbury Bulldogs and Penrith Panthers half Joe Williams.

A talented half, Williams has not been shy, rather quite open about his battles.

He talks about that famous 2002 Jersey Flegg final, how boxing has played a part in his life and much more.

So as always, sit back and enjoy the questions:

1. What was your earliest rugby league memory?

Playing against my big brother and cousins. Some of the most gifted opponents I ever played against were relatives in our backyard.

2. In 2002, you kicked the winning field goal with the Sydney Roosters Jersey Flegg side; what was the grand final experience like and what do you recall of that game?

It was magic.

It was a huge occasion; we were in the GF and first grade was in the GF later that night.

One piece of advice I’ll never forget. Gus Gould pulled me aside before we went out to warm up and said to me, ‘name me a grand final winning team where the halfback didn’t play well.’

I couldn’t.. He looked at me and said (along the lines of) ‘that’s right, you can’t; and if you guys are going to win today, you need to play well.’

I was lucky a few things went my way that day.. We won, first grade won, it was a solid few days to follow..

Former South Sydney Rabbitohs half Joe Williams

3. You made your NRL debut for Souths in 2004; what did it mean to make your debut and were you expecting it?

You always want to, but can never expect to.

I was grateful that I was given the opportunity but copped a head knock from an accidental knee in the opening minutes, so I don’t remember any of the game.

4. The early to mid 2000’s were tough years for Souths; what was the team environment and atmosphere like throughout that time?

It was tough.

I was grateful to be in first grade but wins were few and far. Pressure is always on when you aren’t winning.

Former rugby league player Joe Williams as boxing champ

5. After brief stints with Penrith and Canterbury, you turned your hand to boxing; was it always something you wanted to pursue?

Yeah. I was always in gyms as a kid, my old man was a boxer also.

To this day, I love boxing more than I love league.

6. You’ve been open about your battles with depression in the past and were a part of a short story ‘The Enemy Within’ released at Waggafest a few years ago; what helped you get through the battle in the end?

The battle continues, I’m just better equipped to keep it at bay these days.

Boxing helped me in the early days and it continues to help me today with the training side of things.

Former South Sydney Rabbitohs half Joe Williams

7. If you had any advice for young rugby league players, what would it be?

Just be the absolute best you can be; try and train as hard as you can.

Although football my seem like a huge priority in your life, it’s more important to think about and set yourself up for life after footy; education, uni, trades etc.

Do your best, but remember, it’s a game, it’s not life.. it can be, very much so, but for the majority it’s not; set yourself up for life after footy.

 

Ricky’s NRL Interviews Pt 20: Tony Duggan

Former Crusaders rugby league player Tony Duggan

Sometimes, it’s just one NRL game that a player plays but it means everything. Context and history are everything. That was the case for Tony Duggan.

We had a chat with Tony Duggan as he looks back at his Broncos game and sole debut, his successful time at the Crusaders and his career in France.

Plenty to read over so here we go; our chat with Tony Duggan here for all to read:

1. What is your earliest rugby league memory?

My earliest memory would have to be my first game for Wattles Warriors under 8’s.

First touch of the ball, I caught it and started running and someone was yelling, “run around them, Tony”, so I did.

I ran straight out over the sideline and around all the parents standing there watching before coming back into the field of play and scoring under the posts. 

I was very proud and couldn’t understand what the problem was.

2. Your sole NRL appearance came with the Brisbane Broncos; did you know your debut was coming and what was the experience like?

Yes, I knew my debut was coming for a while. It was in the baby Broncos era when Brisbane players made up the majority of the QLD team.

I had been picked the year before (the famous victory over West Tigers) but ruled out with injury and I had been close a few times.

Unfortunately, there weren’t a lot of opportunities because Darren Lockyer was still playing fullback. I’d known from the start of the season if I stayed healthy and in form, then I would get a run around origin time.

In the end, it was amazing. I had been a Broncos fan since 88 and to play for them was something I’d always dreamed of.

It took me a long time to get there and to have my family with me to share it meant the world.

Former rugby league player Tony Duggan

3. It was at the Celtic Crusaders where you excelled, scoring tries galore and setting numerous club records; just describe what it was like for the club at the time.

The Crusaders was an amazing experience. Rugby union is a religion in Wales so to start a professional league team from scratch was a huge task.

I was lucky that I had known and worked with coach John Dixon for a long time and was already friends with most of the other imports so we had a very close playing group.

The lofty goal was to win our way into Super League in 3 years and we achieved it.

The Welsh public were amazing and it was a hell of a ride going from playing in tiny Welsh fields in front of very few spectators to playing at packed out Headingley.

We played a very expansive brand of footy and scored a lot of points which helped covert the union fans. The atmosphere at the games is very festive and the crowds are very vocal and sing non stop.

They had individual songs for every player that they used to sing every time the player got involved which made it a lot of fun.

John was a very smart coach and we had a side brimming with quality which helped me play some of my best footy over there.

As a fullback, I was involved in most of our structures and I liked to stay around the ball which opened up a lot of opportunities.

Dad had always told me to push forward in support play which I did and it allowed me to capitalise on the good work of the players around me.

We had a lot of success and I loved every minute.

4. You were close to playing for Wales before you were told you were being deported because of incorrect visas; what would it have meant to you to play for Wales?

Yes. We had qualified and probably would have played for Wales in the end of season European cup except for the visa issues.

Being Australian, I thought about it for a while but I would have proudly pulled on the jersey after what we had done to develop the sport.

It was very disappointing it ended the way it did.

Former Crusaders rugby league player Tony Duggan (photo by Getty Images)

5. A lot of your rugby league was played in France; did you know much about French rugby league when you signed and how did you accustom yourself to it?

France was another experience altogether.

In Wales, we were trying to convert union fans. In France, they are very loyal and passionate leaguies.

I remember waking up in the middle of the night to watch the Kangaroos play against France in the Kangaroo tours and I had always wanted to play there.

I signed for Football Club Lezignan for 1 year on my way back to Australia after Wales.

The first year went well and we won the first championship and cup double in the 100 odd year history of the club so I re-signed.

The second year, we won the double again so I re-signed and in the end, I played for another 7 years.

FCL is a very proud and successful club and we had a good run.

French daily life is very different and takes a bit of getting used to especially the language barrier.

I did 6 months of French in Year 8 but when we arrived, I could only remember how to count to 7, haha.

Simple things like getting a haircut became an adventure.

The French people were very accommodating and most have a bit of English so you can get by but there were some funny times at the start.

6. Post rugby league, how are you keeping yourself busy? Do you still have a role within the game?

Post footy, I am still in France.

I met my French wife Marine in 2011 and we have a 2 year old daughter Ruby who keeps us busy.

I am working as a personal trainer and at the moment I don’t have anything to do with footy except for training players individually.

After my last season, the club wanted me to sign for one more but I knew it was time for a change.

After being involved for so long, I needed to step right away for a while.

I will get involved again at some stage but at the moment I am enjoying my free weekends.

7. If you could give advice to any budding rugby league player, what would it be?

It would be if you’re really passionate about making it, then just keep working hard.

Everyone has set backs and challenges to overcome but you can’t get disheartened.

It’s the players who keep trying to improve each day and get better each year that will have the best careers, not the most talented.

Talent will only take you so far and alone it’s not enough to make it to the NRL.

A growth mindset and a will to learn and improve will help you achieve your dreams.