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Heroes of Yesterday, Interview 43 - 19 Feb 2019 - Phil Sigsworth

Where did you grow up? 

47 Park Street, Erskinville

What was your childhood like?

Pretty tough.  I had a father who was an alcoholic. Met my Mother and never knew her, met her around five times in my life.  I lived with my Grandparents, that was good, I enjoyed that.  Then I moved to Newtown, up the road.  I lived there with my Old Man until I was 15 when I left school, got kicked out of home and went to work. 

I have a brother Ron and my sister Rhonda passed away when she was 32.  Disappointing, but that’s life.

Did you collect footy cards as a kid?

I think everybody did, lets face it, you would get one Arthur Beetson for two Phil Sigsworth. 

I had the whole set of I think it was 1968 and, on the back, when joined together they had the big Scanlens across the back and I thought I was the king of the school, as you did back in those days.

What was your first football experience?

I played Aussie Rules as a kid.  I was a ball boy when I was four years old, so when they kicked it out of Erskinville Park I would race across the road and get the ball.  We used to kick the ball around the oval after the games, that was a good sort of upbringing in regard to catching and kicking a ball. 

When I was around 10 or 11 years old, I left Aussie Rules and played Rugby League for the Rovers. 

Who were your football heroes as a kid?

I’d say the South Sydney team.  Bob Fulton, he was great.  Another great player was Changa, may he rest in peace.  They are Immortals pretty much.

I liked Eric Simms with his kicking, John O’Neill, Ron Coote with his cover defence.  Bob Grant when he was passing out to Dennis Pittard. 

I used to go to all the games, we had a schoolboys pass and we would sit on top of the toilets of the old Redfern Oval, as you were allowed to do back then.  If we couldn’t get in because there were too many people, we would climb the fence anyway. 

I think I love Souths more than I love the game.  I used to talk to Bob McCarthy as a kid and he was a fantastic sort of person.  He used to work over the road here for a magazine called The Guardian and I used to chase after him.  He wrote columns and sold advertising for that.  He would walk right past my place and I would chase him up the road saying “Hello Mr McCarthy”  He said “You can call me Bob, Son”  We are still friends today. 

Tell us about your junior football days?

I started my football with Alexandria Rovers and then I went back to Erskinville juniors and then I went to Waterloo and then I went to the Newtown Hawks.  I always played centre or 5/8 as a kid until I went to Grade with my Aussie Rules background of being able to catch and kick, they said we will put you in to fullback. 

When I was 16 years old they called Murph (Col Murphy) up and about six weeks later after the SG Ball had finished they called me up.  I went back to the Junios for a year, because I was too small, then the year after I played two Third Grade or Under 23s games and then straight into First Grade and that is where I remained at Newtown. 

How was it coming to Grade with Newtown in 1977?

It was a huge step up.  I remember I got tackled and it really hurt, I got a corked thigh.  I thought there was nothing wrong with it and kept trying to use it after the game.  The doctors said “Mate, you’ve got to wrap it up and ice it and all those sorts of things”.  I had no idea what that was all about, but you learn. 

What got you into First Grade in 1977?

Funny thing, I had two games in Third Grade and mark Wright hurt his leg practicing kicking before training.  Paul Broughton looked around and said to me “Son, you’re in First Grade”

I was marking Mick Cronin in my first game and got run over by Arthur Beetson in the same game. 

In those days the two centres were always on the same side, unlike todays game.  He used me for a bit of a slowing down, a speed bump.  He was a hard man to tackle.  Paul Dawson was also in the centres that day and he was a Second-Rower.  We were running out of backs at the time, I showed ability but more to the point I think they didn’t have anyone else to put in the position. 

I went alright, I think we were beaten around 18-6. I was happy with my game and coach Paul Broughton gave me a well done and kept me in the spot for the week after.  I finished the year with 14 games in First Grade 

How was the culture at Newtown from 1977 to 1982?

Best club I have ever played for by far.  The best feeling, the best mateship, friendship, respect.  They didn’t have the money that some of the other clubs had.  Although I played for Canterbury and Manly, they didn’t have a smidgen of what Newtown had.  We did however have a few blokes move from Newtown to Canterbury that took that culture over there.

In 1980 you were hitting your straps and then got a broken jaw that year?

Yea I was playing Cronulla at Henson Park, there was a line drop out, I caught the ball, chipped over the top, I had my mouth open and Greg Pierce read it and jumped up in the air as I jumped.  I would have been under the posts if he wasn’t there, instead I was lying on the ground, broken jaw both sides and I was carted off to hospital. 

I came back six weeks later against doctors wishes, but the coaches back in those days were trying to get you back onto the field.  It felt OK with talking and eating but it was shot.  The actual breaks were still open because they were clean breaks.  The doctor said you can go back, but I would give it a couple more weeks.  I had never had a broken jaw before and didn’t really know about recovery times, so I was like a bull at the gate, went back too early, played two games and then I broke it again.  I had the rest of the year off and after that I never had a problem.

Tell us about playing Interstate and Origin matches in 1981 for NSW?

The Interstate side we had Kerry Bousthead, Paul McCabe, Rod Morris and John Ribot in the NSW side.  The feeling was really good, we were in Queensland, we trained well and nobody really thought it about it, we won the previous games. 

The Origin match we were in Queensland and we were ambushed in a certain way.  Our team was picked on the Sunday and the Queensland side was picked on the Sunday before.  They were rested and fired up and we had played the club game in Sydney that weekend and really didn’t give a rats tail about it.  We lead 15-0 at one stage.  A couple of loose balls from Les Boyd and they had scored a try before halftime.  A missed tackle by him and they scored another try just after halftime and before long they were in front.  Chris Close was a rampaging bull that night.

It wasn’t that famous game where Cronin got smacked by Beetson, but they had that same feeling, the build up from the year before.

They had a head start in a lot of ways, they had the weekend off where we didn’t get that weekend off.  They had ten days to prepare where we had two. 

NSW always picked a couple of Country players, they weren’t worthy of it.  That isn’t having a go at them, they just weren’t good enough.  Paul Field, Rex Wright, Phil Duke, they all came to Sydney, none of them could cement a First Grade spot full time and we were at the mercy of having those guys picked in our side and they were inadequate.  I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way, it was a political decision. 

First game I played on the Wing, second game Fullback, third game 5/8 and the fourth game I played in the centres and I was also the goal kicker. 

In 1981 you played for Australia against France, how was that experience?

That was just amazing to get picked, as a kid that is what you dream of, running onto the Cricket Ground, mate I think I sprinted out there like a 10 year old.  It was a really good feeling against the Froggies, although they were not much of a side, they were hard, but we had a great side.  We had Steve Mortimer, Wally Lewis, Steve Rogers, Mick Cronin, Kerry Bousthead, John Ribot, myself, Greg Brentnall.  Mate we had a great forward pack as well, Les Boyd, Craig Young and the likes.  I think we won by about 55-0 or something. 

The second game was up at Lang Park and they played really well, and we didn’t really turn up because we saw what they were like in the first game, like a walk in the park.  We had nothing really to play for.

Still on 1981, that famous brawl, I bet you get asked about that?

It is funny, someone came into our dressing room before the game, I don’t know who it was and said Manly are going to put it on.  They went into Manlys room and said to the them that the first scrum Newtown are going to put it on.  I joined Manly a few years later and got the full story about it. 

Whoever promoted should get a job promoting big fights because that was probably the biggest fight of all time on a Rugby League field.  26 players going hammer and tong.  Strange enough they sent Terry Randall off for kicking and they sent Steve Bowden off for fighting.  We went to the Judiciary on the Monday night and Bowden was found guilty because he had a broken foot and Randall got cited for fighting because he had a broken hand.  The Judiciary said you both have plaster on what we believe to be the instigators of the weekend. 

Les Boyd ran through after we got the penalty after the fight, Tommy Raudonikis started it all up again and it was all on.  Gary Cook, the referee separated the teams and said the next one to throw a punch is Off.  By then Manly were gone and we proceeded to play football and we played some of the best football we ever played.  We led 14 points to nil, they ended up coming back and we were winning by 17-15 and we scored another try to run away with the game.  Ray Blacklock scored a great try, and that is the way football should have been played back then. We played a very open style attacking game and very brutal in defence. 

It was a year to remember.

How was your 1981 Grand Final experience?

Well unfortunately in the Grand Final we were missing Steve Bowden, he was suspended.  Geoff Bugden was on the bench and unfortunately during the course of the game, Stephen Blyth hurt his leg and Paul Morris got hurt.  Warren Ryan really only had to make one replacement, to put Michael Pobjie on to replace me at Fullback and move me into the 5/8 position.  I had played most of the season at 5/8 and that would have only been one change.  He didn’t do that, he changed the hooker, he was killing them, Barry Jensen.  He replaced Craig Ellis who just made a magnificent run.  He just changed the whole makeup of the side.  Ken Wilson came on and it would have been a hard game to come on and he got a bit lost unfortunately.  If anything he should have left Tommy at halfback because after that Hartley (Referee Greg Hartley) made some questionable decisions and Tommy would have questioned them.  I think he got even with us because we didn’t touch the ball in the last twenty minutes.  How does that happen?  That is why I put a question mark over the refereeing performance of Ray Hadley.  It was cruel, it was disappointing, we were all gun ho.  Losing Bowdo (Steve Bowden) was huge, if we have him, we win by a mile.  If Warren Ryan had just brought Geoff Bugden on and put him in the Second Row or put Craig Ellis in the Second Row.  Instead of making all of those changes.  He changed the Half-Back, The 5/8, the Winger, not that the Wing would change that much, but he changed the whole Front Row as well and he left the bloke on that he should have taken off.  Shane McKellar, he made a big mistake when Kenny (Brett Kenny) went down the outside.  I should have just crashed Burt (Brett Kenny), would have been easier. 

I don’t want to bring this up, the 1982 State of Origin with the infamous pass?

Well, I got called into the team on Monday afternoon to play Tuesday night.  I knew nobody and no one was talking to this aboriginal kid called Phillip Duke.  Anyway I took him under my arm and said this is what I want you to do.  Once again, I felt sorry for the bloke, he came to Sydney but he couldn’t cement a spot in First Grade, he should never have been there.  I passed balls like that many times in my career, took chances and I would do the same thing tomorrow.  Unfortunately he looked a Wally Lewis running in front of him, he ran around from being in front of me to being behind me and he should of stayed on his wing which we discussed.  Don’t come around inside, stay out on the wing.  I passed the ball, he saw Wally, he dropped and ball and Wally scored.  They won the series.  That cost me a Kangaroo Tour.  It took me a while to live it down.  My confidence was zapped a bit at the time. 

In the off season I switched clubs, I went to Manly and after that I won the Rugby League Week Player of the Year Award.  I was the Runner Up in the Dally M.  I won numerous other awards, I fought my way back and I played for NSW the next year.  I played every backline position for NSW bar Half-Back and the next year I played in my fourth position for NSW and I was Goal Kicker as well and I kicked two out of three and that was pretty good I thought. 

That was a big hole and I knew I was better than that.  Wrong place, wrong time and wrong thing to do. 

If you can be remembered for anything about football that is better than not.  If they remember me for the pass, they still remember me, I don’t really care what it is.  It was thirty years ago and people still come up and ask me about that, which is testament to not just the pass, but to how I played. 

Take Graeme Langlands for example.  He is an absolute Immortal, a champion of the game and he is remembered for his white boots.  They don’t remember you scoring a try or a try saving tackle, or winning a game or winning an award.  They are hard markers here in Australia, and that is how it is.  If I am remembered for that, then at least I was playing at a high level of the sport. 

Why did you go to Manly?

When I was a kid I did sprint training with a guy named Sammy Martin over in Centennial Park and Tom Mooney and a few of the other First Graders were there and they saw me when we were doing some pretty hard sprint run throughs this day.  We did something like eight 150m sprints, I had never done it before and I was a 16 year old kid.  I almost passed out doing these runs, trying to keep up with these blokes.  Tom Mooney came over and said “You’re a tough young bloke aren’t you, you tried to keep up”  By the end of the night Sammy said, how you going? Is your mouth dry? Is your throat dry?”  He said, “I tell you something, don’t spit it out, it is probably the end of your ass”

Tom Mooney went away and told Ken Arthurson that story.  Anyway, every year after I got into First Grade, Ken would ring me and say “Phil, what are you doing?” and I would say, mate I am staying in Newtown. Then in 82’ when Newtown were looking like they couldn’t pay the bills, that was one of the reasons I jumped ship and went to Manly and the money I was getting paid there was nothing to sneeze at either.  Probably the most money I earned at any club. 

I would say Ken Arthurson and the remuneration.

How was it playing at Manly?

I had never played with players on a week to week basis with the skill that they had.  We had a world class background.  Phil Blake was there, Alan Thompson, Chris Close and myself in the Centres, Kerry Bousthead and john Ribot on the Wings and Graham Eadie at Fullback.  Max Krilich, Ray Brown and Dave Brown in the Front Row, Geoff Gerard, John Harvey Paul Vauting, Noel Cleal, Paul McCabe in the Back Row.  We had Ian Schubert there as well.  I mean that is a world class team.  We had 17 players at the club who had played for Australia. 

You had to be on your metal everyday, every week and at the same time it was nice that I won the Best and Fairest there in my first year. 

I broke my shoulder in the Grand Fina and we were disappointing in the Semi Finals.  In the Semi Final we won our first game.  It was the top five then, the first week we had off and the second week we played then the third week we had off and the fourth week we played.  So we only played two games in five weeks.  Our timing was out, we dropped the ball and were beaten 18-6. 

We smashed Parramatta all year and came to one game and we were just so rusty and Parramatta had played all the games (Semi Finals) and didn’t have any injuries.  We also lost Dave Brown and Les Boyd during the year, those two blokes were massive losses in the forwards.  We didn’t have anyone who could cover for those two blokes.  That is why I believe our best team didn’t play.  Much the same when we played them at Newtown, our best team didn’t play as well.  Disappointing but that’s the way it goes. 

I scored the only try.  I was screaming for the ball all day but unfortunately our forwards kept dropping it.  We had blokes in the forwards, I am not going to name who it was, they just didn’t like each other and they didn’t talk to each other.  I noticed the difference in culture from playing at Newtown where everybody was on board but at Manly, everybody wasn’t on board.  I question some of the tactics used in that game as well, we had the best team by a mile, but they all couldn’t take the field, but we still had a very good side.

What got you to Canterbury in 1985?

Warren Ryan came to me during my last year at Manly.  I had hurt my shoulder at the end of 1983, and I was carrying it.  He said come over to Canterbury and we will get your shoulder fixed, we will get you the right doctor and you can play with a team that is going to win the comp. 

He got my shoulder fixed and I played with a team that won the comp. 

In 1985 I played in the Final and he put Greg Mullane on the Grand Final.  I was very, very disappointed and felt dejected.  He nearly cost us the game alone.  I thought I would have been a walk up start to go up onto the field, unfortunately whether it was a miscommunication, or what happened there, but I was filthy.  We won the comp, and although I played many games throughout the year, won many Silver Bulldogs as they called it and scored many tries.  I played in the Final and Mick Potter was crook leg that day, long story short, he was right for the Grand Final.  I kept them all on their toes, which is good. 

How was the culture at Canterbury?

Well we had Peter Kelly and Mark Bugden were there and they brought a lot of that Newtown culture, and Warren Ryan also brought that Newtown hardness to the club.  Warren Ryan tried to bring a lot of that culture from Newtown to the Bulldogs.

Once again we had a superb team, many good players.  We had Peter Tunks, Paul Dunn, Peter Kelly, Peter Johnstone, Mark Bugden, Paul Langmack, all of the Mortimer brothers, Mick Potter, Terry Lamb, magnificent side.  We should have been the last team to win three in a row, unfortunately the last year in 1986 lost 4-2 to Parramatta.  If Buggo passes to the left with the last pass, we win the game.  If I don’t get Sent Off, we win the game.  It is disappointing that I did get Sent Off.  That’s Rugby League.  Mick Stones first Grand Final and he shit himself. 

Do you think you should have been Sent Off in the 1986 Grand Final?

No way, Brett Kenny said the same thing in his book, and Peter Sterling also said the same thing and even today they are saying the same thing. 

It was a brutal game.  Terry Leabeater had his kidneys re-arranged.  Mick Delroy had his head walked over.  Ray Price had his head taken off.  There was no place for the meek or weak hearted that’s for sure. 

We should have won that game.  Mick Delroy absolutely shit himself, he was never up for that game.  That is his one claim to fame, good on him. 

So you lost three Grand Finals with three different clubs all to Parramatta?

Yes, three losses, all to Parramatta.  It is funny because we used to beat them in the club games and Mid-Week Cup matches.  Yep, the ultimate bogey team. 

What got you to Balmain in 1987?

Well, I hurt my knee and really I would have retired in 1986, my knee was shot.  The doctors were looking at it and said, mate your knee is finished. 

If we won the 1986 Grand Final I would have retired, that was at 27 years old. 

Balmain had an opportunity to play 5/8 and partner Scotty Gale and I only played a handful of games.  The coach was Billy Anderson and I was instrumental in getting Warren Ryan to Balmain.  Had I hung around, it would have been four Grand Finals with four different teams. 

Anyway, 1988 I didn’t play and they got beat, so they can’t blame me for that one. 

What are your greatest moments of playing Rugby League?

Obviously getting picked to play First Grade, playing for my country and playing State Of Origin.  Playing in Grand Finals and playing with people I used to idolise and next thing I knew I was in the same room with them. 

So many positives, I try not to even think of the negatvies, which there were.  There are too many highs for me to really pin point one.  The pinnacle has got to be playing for your country. 

Although I didn’t play in the 1985 Grand Final, I played in the Final, so winning the comp with Canterbury, that was a highlight, walking around the Cricket Ground with the shield and getting on the drink with all the boys and drinking for a couple of days. 

Who was your most respected rival?

Steve Rogers I think, he was the best of all time.  He played from Second Row to Fullback, he captained NSW, captained Australia.  No other player could do that. 

I think Ray Price would be number two and probably Mick Cronin as number three. 

I would have single those guys out as the best players I have played against. 

Sludge by far the ultimate player, he could run, he could tackle, he could kick.  He was the pinnacle of what any footballer would want to be. 

At the same time I played against Bozo, he is one of the blokes I looked up to.

Greg Hartley is someone I tried to model my game on.

Which was the best team you played against?

I would have to say Parramatta because I was beaten in three Grand Finals against them.  They had blokes there in the backline like Steve Ella, Mick Cronin, Peter Sterling, Brett Kenny, Eric Grothe, unbelievable players really.  I look at the teams today and the try scorers, and they had plenty of try scorers.  You had to be on your metal every time you played them. 

Although we beat them in a lot of regular games, they seemed to stand up and be counted in those big games. 

When did you know it was time to give the game away?

My knee was shot, the doctor said you have two choices here.  I was 26 years old when he told me this.  Keep playing and by the time you are 40 you will need a new knee.  I couldn’t run any more, let alone get around a football field and it wasn’t any fun anymore.  It is thirty years ago and I am going for a knee replacement on that knee, so I think the doctor was right and I appreciate the advice he gave me. 

What followed football?

I coached for a while in the Metro Cup and then I went overseas and I coached for Hull and we won the Championship in my third year there.  I said at the start that we would win the Championship in three years and we did that and for my troubles I got sacked.  It is different in England, they bring someone in to build up the club and then they bring their own people in.  I had some good offers back in Australia so I came back and went to Balmain and was Assistant Coach there under Wayne Pearce.  Then I coached at the Wests Tigers and I thought I would get the top job and I was sacked again and this time Wests Tigers were reluctant to pay me out.  I took them to court and won my case, they didn’t even front the court.  They tried to call my bluff, the blokes on the board at that time, I don’t have any resect for at all.  They know who they are, no need to name them. 

I decided to go back to school and I studied Business Marketing and I got a good job after that and then got a better job after that and then I got a better job after that which I am doing now.  Harvey Norman Commercial department 

Do you do much with the Bulldogs now days?

The Bulldogs are the best after playing team, they look after their past players.  I go to a lot of the things that they have on, and I hope the future Bulldogs CEO’s and leaders maintain this tradition, after all, it is the family club. 

They are the best, fantastic, and every club should learn from them.

How has the game changed since your playing days?

Well, there’s no contest in the scrum anymore, there is no contest in the play the ball, there is no contest in the high ball.  There is no contest in so many things and there is no contest in the game anymore. 

They should shorten it up to five metres from the second marker and it would then come to a game of people with footwork, they would come into their own.  They are all prototypes today.  They are all big, strong and fast.  Yes, the wingers have some incredible skills, but the rest of the team are all forwards.  If you are less than 92 – 94 kg, you are not in the game today, whereas when I played, I was 82-84kg, 86kg at a pinch.  I wouldn’t even get a run on today, I would be in trouble big time. 

If you have a look at games from 1981, with the Fullback chiming in to the back line and the days when Changa (Graeme Langlands) and Graham Eadie played, you see a different type of football.  I have a lot of video footage and I have lent some to people, and the first thing they say is “Mate, wasn’t it a different game back then?”

All of the contest has gone out of everything that was contestable, that is my biggest disappointment in the game today. 

Did you keep a scrapbook?

Yea I did, and it is up to date and I sometimes go through it and give it to my kids to have a look.  Every now and then I get a couple of DVD’s out, I had them on VHS before and Phil Pelirizzi changed them all for me.   Every now and then I say to my kids, I have this great movie you have got to see and it is another game, and they turn around and say, Dad, not again.  I have fond memories. 

Most famous of Rugby nicknames, Whatsapacketa, where did it originate?

It is funny how it came about.  A bloke rang Singo (John Singleton), I was working with him at 2KY, we called it 2Kwireless.  This bloke was saying, how is Boondie (Ray Blacklock) going?  How is John Ferguson going?  He had a name for him too.  How is Fruit Fly Tommy going?  We were playing a mid-week final against Manly.  He then said how’s Phil Whatsapacekta going?  We were sitting in the studio at the same time, and Singo looked at me and said Phil Whatsapacekta? Who is that? And I said, I don’t know mate, I have no idea.  Singo said to the guy, what is this Phil Whatsapacekta worth? 

He said, “Phil Whatsapacekta Cigg’s worth”

That just stuck, and people still ask, mate do you get offended by people calling you that.  I don’t, it is a nickname.  Anyway, since then it has been rated one of, if not the number one nicknames for sport.

Who is the guy who gave you the name Whatsapacketa?

I don’t know his name, wouldn’t know him from a bar of soap.  He was just a one off caller and he was rattling names off.  He was a funny man and he wanted to check on all of the Newtown players.

What is your favourite restaurant?

It used to Bill and Tony’s, it was in town, Italian.  It has since shut down.

I like a lot of seafood places, there are a lot at the Quay that I like, so there is no specific one.