Heroes of Yesterday, Interview 31 – 17 July 2017 - Wally Fullerton Smith
Where did you grow up?
I am from Roma and I went to boarding school on the Gold Coast, South Port from 7 to 15 years of age. I went back to Roma to finish off my schooling. I played Rugby at boarding school, there you had beautiful ovals and so forth and then when I went back to Roma you had rocks on the paddocks etc. My family had a property 30 miles out of town and I had one younger sister.
What was your first football experience?
At Roma I turned up and played cricket there in the summer and they said do you play footy, I said Rugby and they told me no Rugby here only League. As things turned out I knew how to tackle from playing Rugby and that was the best skill that I had. We ended up playing in the State Championship in Year 12. We made it to the final which was played at Lang Park which was a bit of an achievement. Wayne Bennett was our coach.
As a child what was your most memorable experience of Rugby League ?
I didn’t know anything about Rugby League until Years 11 and 12 at school. Rugby League is a team environment and it encourages you to aim up and do your best, I seemed to fit into the team pretty easily. Roma is a famous Rugby League town with guys like Arthur Beetson, Darren Lockyer and Ray Higgs coming from there. I was going out with a girl in Grade 12 and we went down to Brisbane to watch my first Test Match between Australia and France. Ray Higgs from Roma was playing and Graham Eadie was the fullback, I was 17 years old.
Did you collect footy cards as a kid ?
Who were your footballing heroes as a kid ?
I went from Roma to Redcliffe and we had a very good leadership group there, guys who had played in the 70’s such as Tony Obst, Money Pierce and Greg Oliphant who came back from the 1978 Kangaroo Tour. They were good mentors and would pull you up quick smart. I went into the Leagues Club and Greg Oliphant had his Australian jersey on and I thought how good that would be. That enticed me to aim up and from that moment it was in my subconscious.
Lead up to the top grade?
I had a couple of years playing for Roma and attended the South West Division Carnival.
How was your time during the Redcliffe years between 1981-86?
I went to Redcliffe as a 17 year old kid, in those days there was Third Grade, Reserve Grade and First Grade. When I was 19 I was in First Grade and Ron Raper was the coach, he was a task master, he made us run 12km with a brick in each hand. In those days you think you are playing OK but then you go up and down.
Frank Stanton was the coach in 1980 and then we had Arthur Beetson for three years followed by John Barber. You learn a lot from guys like that. I wasn’t the most gifted players. I played in a couple of Reserve Grade Grand Finals and in 1982 we got kicked out in the Semi Final.
In 1982 Greg Oliphant said to me, I have something you may be interested in, have you ever thought about playing in France? As a 22 year old this was a big deal for me, he discussed it with Arthur Beetson and Terry Webb and we both put our hands up. We went over to Tonniens, France and it was a wonderful experience, I tried to do my best with the French language. I came back from France with added confidence.
The next thing after coming back from France was being selected for the Combined Brisbane side in 1982. I think we played South Sydney and there was a big blue and Phil Gould was on the opposition side. We had big Mal Meninga, Wally Lewis and in the forwards we had Greg Dowling, Bryan Neibling and Greg Conescu, I think we played at Lang Park.
I also played in the Charity Shield when I came down to join St George and I remember Craig Young telling us in the sheds before the game that it will be on for young and old.
QLD Tour of GB in 1983?
I had a good year in 1983. Ron McAuliffe said “I am going to have my QLD go to England minus the Sydney guys. We played St Helens, Leeds and Wigan. John Dorahy was playing for St Helens. I had a room y myself up near the managers, I didn’t plan that, it just worked out that way. We were beaten in the first game by St Helens then we defeated Leeds and the Wigan game was four days away, the management and Arthur Beetson said righto you boys, you can go anywhere in your four days off. Waly Lewis and Gene Miles went to Scotland and people went to other places. Artie said “Gator, where are you going? He invited me to join him to go to Amsterdam with Gavin Jones and Cavill Heugh. We went through Leeds then Hull and got the North Sea Ferry and arrived at Amsterdam at 6am. We were at Rotterdam and needed to be back by Wednesday morning, Artie said “gee is’s been a good time, bugger it we will stay another day.” The King was blowing up, we arrived just in time and he said “Righto, just f#$%ing make sure we win the game. Leeds approached me and asked if I would like to play the offseason playing with them. I passed my offer to Terry Webb and he went over in my place and he ended up staying for 6-7 years. I went there the following year; it was a good experience that period of time.
How was your experience playing for Leeds in 1984-85?
I went over there and it was bloody freezing. There was a battle of the Unionists at the time and there was a few minors in the team and no one would talk to me. The coach was no good, he wouldn’t come to training on Tuesday and Thursday nights, the worst thing was he was selected as the Great Britain coach. We ended up getting Malcolm Cliff as coach and then we really kicked off.
I then came back to Australia and played for Redcliffe a week before the State of Origin. I played one game and was selected in the QLD side and then I went on Tour for New Zealand. I ended up getting the Players Player award without playing a Test.
How did you get to St George
Basically in those days if you said you were going to play for QLD you had to sign a contract not to play in Sydney. 1986 was a very big year, it was a Kangaroo Tour year and Wayne Bennets first year as coach and five days before the QLD Origin team was picked, bugger me I broke my ankle. I missed the whole State of Origin Series and I didn’t get to go on tour and as a result I didn’t have to sign that QLD contract. The flood gates opened with Sydney clubs wanting to sign me, I had quite a few interviews and I ended up going with St George. I had a bit of a career as a financial advisor and the guy in the interview offered me a job as a financial planner. I had a great year in 1988 and got back into the QLD team and the Australian team and played in three Test matches against Great Britian.
Do you remember your first game in first grade, and what were the highlights and lowlights?
I missed the first match for St George because I played in the Charity Shield match and was hit by Les Davidson and I couldn’t get out of bed for a week. I had rib Cartilagedamage. I was off for three weeks and when I returned we beat the Bulldogs. There was a big rivalry between Roy Masters and Warren Ryan in 1987.
How were you experiences playing for St George between 1987 and 1992?
It was good, we won the Panasonic Cup in 1988 and we had Peter Gill, Trevor and Clinton Mohr who all came from Brothers in 1988. It was an unsettled time, we had a different coach every year, Roy Masters, Ted Glossop, Craig Young in 1989 and 1990 and then Brian Smith. Peter Gill was our best player and he was demoralized when Matty Elliott was taking over and took my spot. The next day I went over and played in France.
How was your State of Origin debut in 1983?
It is a pretty daunting experience; we were coming up against legends of the game, Max Krilich and Les Boyd. All I wanted to do was not let anyone down. As things turned out I went from being a reserve to starting the match which was unbelievable and things fell into place for me, I played in all three matches.
12 State of Origin matches between 1983 and 1990
Obviously your first one is pretty important. One that was very important was the 1988 Series. Jack Gibson was the Blues coach and NSW had picked the best NSW side ever. Wayne Bennett sat us all down and said, Don’t move anyone, I want to have a chat with you all. They think we can’t play, well the most important thing is you guys, the forwards. Sam Backo, Martin Bella, Bryan Neibling, you guys have got to lay the platform and Allan Langer, Gene Miles and Mal Meninga can score the tries. We won that series 3-0.
We had a fair contingent in the Australian team. I was then selected again in 1990, I was only in for one game and then out.
How was your debut for Australia in 1983
My debut for Australia is something I won’t forget, I remember putting my jersey on and looking in the mirror and thinking, Wow I got there. I went over the play in Auckland, Eden Park, the Kiwi’s play an aggressive sort of game. I was beaten to Man of the Match by Steve Rogers. Max Krilich and Greg Brentnall were playing their last games. The second Test Match we were beaten.
Playing for Australia between 1983 and 1988
I played 8 Test matches and three other tours games. 1988 was a good year. I put playing for Australia above playing Origin.
Who was your most respected rival?
I loved playing with Wally Lewis and Mal Meninga. I always remember when we got in that first Panasonic Cup as Combined Brisbane. Bob McCarthy came up to Brisbane to coach. He loved these set moves that we played. We had five training sessions before playing a match. In Sydney the spectators were spitting and yelling obscenities at us. We respected Bob McCarthy, he was ahead of his game, he learnt a lot from Arthur Beetson.
In the Sydney competition I especially respected the Souths Sydney and Canterbury Bulldogs forward packs. No one told me about the rivalries before coming to Sydney football. The first game against South Sydney was like all out war, then there was the Bulldogs at Belmore and then Cronulla, all were close rivals.
What was the best team you played against?
Canberra, everytime we went down to Canberra they would either dust us up, or they would get it out of the death. Players like Ricky Stuart, Steve Walters and Mal Meninga and coached by Craig Bellamy. We nearly beat them and the Noa Nadruku picked it up from Dummy Half and ran 70m to score. They had the wood on us.
When did you know it was time to give the game away?
I just lost that drive to come to training all the time, and if you are not winning and not getting paid well you tend to look for employment elsewhere.
What followed after football?
I tried a few things and then eight years ago Michael Sullivan went down to Sydney, he is a top bookmaker, Sporting Bet (PLC) and said we need to get into the market here. You wouldn’t say I was much of a punter but I have been here for eight years. The mobile phone is being used for everything we do. www.williamhill.com.au It is a mini franchise for me, I have my own link.
I am on the Board at Men of League which I enjoy doing. I go to the spinal Unit at the hospital on a weekly basis; it helps to give back to these poor buggers. We try and raise money for them. I speak at functions all over NSW and QLD.
How has the game changed since your playing days?
Two referees is a really big change, I was just watching the Test match which had only one referee and I thought it went really well. When I played it was an endurance affair, now it is a power game. It would be good to keep the endurance aspect.
What’s your favourite restaurant?
I have plenty of them, my job involves lots of hospitality, I love a good Italian or French Restaurant.
What are your hobbies?
I have granddaughters and I have a hit of golf once or twice a week.
Have you collected your own footy cards ?
Not really, people send them to me, I sign them and send them back.
Have you collected scrap book ?
A fan kept a scrapbook for me and then gave me some of it, I haven’t been much of a collector.