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Heroes of Yesterday – Robbie O’Davis

Where did you grow up?

Grow up….

That is a pretty amazing story actually.  My Dad went to the Vietnam War and he came back and Mum was based in the Newcastle Air Force base and she went down to see Dad when he came back from Vietnam and she was pregnant, with me and I was born in Kurrajong.  He didn’t know she was pregnant.  Realistically If he didn’t come back early I would have been born in Newcastle, instead he came back early and was posted to Richmond.  He came home early from Vietnam because he fell out of the back of a truck, pissed as a parrot and spent three months in hospital. 

He started playing for Penrith at the time and at the age of about two years we moved up to Toowoomba, and I did all of my trade up at Toowoomba, until I was about 15 years of age.  Then I went to Brisbane and had my first game in First Grade at the age of 15.    

What was your childhood like?

I have a brother who is sevens years younger than me and a sister who is two years older.  I learnt to get tough through my sister, she used to put shit on me, she was my tackling bag also.  As my brother got big he developed into a Queensland Rugby League player as well.  I got to practice my skills on both sides with them.  I was scoring 5-6 tries a game at the age of nine and ten.  I was one of the lucky ones who had that speed, beautiful speed that Billy Slater has. 

Did you collect footy cards as a kid?

I did, I think everyone collected Bubble Gum Cards, it was a little bit different because you used to get the bubble gum with them.  The Sydney cards were massive, the football card that virtually brought me here to Newcastle were the Paul Harragon and Mark Sargent cards.  I used to love those guys and collect their cards.

I was a massive Balmain fan as well.  I don’t think I ever wanted to play for Balmain, I always wanted to play against them.  I love the boys and met them all in 2004 in an Old Boys Game and I was just fresh out of the game and on the bus, and they were sort of envious of my career, because I was sort of fresh out of it and they were asking, what is it like to play in this modern comp sort of thing.  The guys like Garry Jack, Paul Sironen, Ben Elias were talking about my career, and I was just starry eyed looking at these guys thinking geez, I was asking them questions, you know, what about Warren Ryan, what did he do with you boys.  Then we struck a bit of gold when found out that Paul Sironen was the Manager of Krispy Cream, we were like who cares, I don’t care about your football, give me some Krispy Cream. 

What was your first football experience?

I think watching Dad while I was growing up.  Dad was a shadow played for State of Origin.  He played in the old Country v City matches.

He played with Oakey in Newtown and Toowoomba.  He played for Penrith First Grade when he came back from Vietnam and in the late 1970’s he played for Wests in the Brisbane competition, they won a Premiership.  They had players like Norm Carr, John Ribot in that team. 

He then worked at the Air Force base as a civilian and got transferred to Toowoomba, and when he went there, he started playing for Oakey.

That jersey you are getting downstairs (1992 Newcastle v Great Britain Tour jersey) the Pommy jersey, it is interesting, because in Toowoomba they got to play the touring Poms all the time.  Toowoomba was one of the only sides to ever beat the Poms back in the 1970’s and it is pretty amazing that Dad was part of that team. 

So my first football experience I can really remember apart from watching Dad run around in the local comp was Dad playing for Queensland Country in the Panasonic Cup who were sponsored by Theiss Toyota, great big Australian symbol on the red and white jersey.  They played Tommy Raudonikis’s Newtown Jets at Lang Park and I went down to watch Dad play.  I was a puppy then, it was 1978 so I was six years old.  Watching that match and old Uncle Tom getting the better of him, they won 40-0 or something. 

Who were your football heroes as a kid?

Dad was the biggest.

Wally Lewis, being a Queenslander and the number of things he did in the game that remain big moments in the game are huge.  I still believe that those who become Immortals are ones that are great at different aspects of the game.  Wally with his torpedo pass, no one was doing that at the time, throwing a leather football 30 metres away and hitting him on the chest was just enormous.

Tell us about your junior football days?

I was at Newtown for two or three years and then I went out to Oakey Bears and won two premierships out there I think and then came back to Newtown.  At the age of 15-16 I was always playing three games a day.  Ever since the age of about eight I was running around on the Wing for Dads footy team.  In the country everyone works so they are always short of numbers.  They would say “Robbie, fill in on the Wing for us tonight”.  I was training with a First Grade side since the age of eight really. 

How was your first time to get into First Grade Footy?

By the time I was 15 years I was Australian Touch Captain and I was in the Queensland Rugby League side and all that sort of stuff and I was still just a little whipper snapper, 62kg ringing wet and they said “Do you want to play First Grade” and I said Rightio. 

I played in the Newtown night trial against Norths in Brisbane and my first touch of the ball, I grabbed it and I have taken off down the sideline after a backline movement and there was this massive 5/8 who used to be Wally Lewis’s main nemesis, his name was Darryl Duncan who was coming across in cover defence and Michael Booth was his Fullback.  I was thinking Michael Booth – Darryl Duncan, Michael Booth – Darryl Duncan, I thought I will take on the fat fella.  Mate, I went hard with my right step and Darry Duncan drove me that far over the sideline that I actually ended up against the fence.  I looked up and my best mate was leaning over the fence down at me, just laughing his head off.  I said “At least I am out here having a bloody go”, and he goes “No mate, look down”  He’d pulled my old fella out and pushed that hard up against the fence, just by the way he had my shorts.  That was my first ever touch in First Grade Footy.

By halftime I had moved into Halfback and I was just doing chip and chase.

What got you into the Brisbane comp?

After that game, there was a big uproar about a 15 year old kid playing in the First Grade comp.  A couple of the big boys in town said “You’re a little bit too tiny”.  I said no, I am a First Grader now, I am staying here.  They said no, you are back Under 16’s.

So the side across the road, Valleys said, we will sign you as a First Grader.  So boom see ya.  I said I will sign up if you sign my Dad as well, and we played that one game.  It just happened to be against Easts and they were coached by Johnny Lang.  We lost that game, they were three point tries back then.  I scored the try and the goal and we lost 35-5. 

Johnny Lang came over to me and said you’re coming with me, and he took me to Brisbane with him. 

By halfway through the year I was leading the tryscoring in the Under 19s and also in Third Grade.  Johnny Lang one day said Gavin Payne is out and someone else is out and you are in the Centres for us in First Grade. 

My second game in Brisbane was at Lang Park.   

What got you to Newcastle?

When I played at Lang Park for my second game, Brisbane played Newcastle the next day.  Newcastle came up to watch our game and I scored two tries and got Man of the Match and Newcastle took me under their wing, signed me up and said finish this season and come and play for us in 1991.  The next morning Broncos called me and said we are interested, come and talk to us.  I said I am signed already, should have talked to me yesterday.  I am signed and gone. 

Every kid wanted to sign and play in Brisbane.  I just remember watching that game in Lang Park and watching the Chief (Paul Harragon) and Sarg (Mark Sargent) running around thinking how I would love to run off those blokes.  You didn’t know anyone else in that Knights side. 

How was it when you first arrived at Newcastle?

I still remember the first time I entered the stadium to meet a guy named Keith Oslow, he runs the Country Rugby League and he said I have got to show you something.  He walked me up, right to the top of the Grand Stand and sat me there and David Waite came up and he introduced himself.  David Waite then said, “I want you to close your eyes” so I am sitting there with my eyes closed and he said “Now, just hear the crowd calling your name, just focus on the crowd, all 30,000 of them calling and screaming out your name.  Now open your eyes and visualise yourself running down the sideline with the same noise.”  I was buzzing, give me the ball. 

The next day I went to training.  Cocky little bastard I was, I went straight over to the First Grade team.  Big Sammy Stewart, Glenn Miller and the Chief all standing there and introduced myself, “Hi boys, Robbie O’Davis”, the Mundine of Oz.  I shook all their hands and said I will be training with you guys tomorrow.  Still to this day the First Graders still remember that first day when I came up and saying I will be training with you guys tomorrow. 

Robbie Tew was the Under 19’s coach, he virtually said hey mate you’re coming back with me, Under 19’s.  No no, I am a First Grader mate.  Get back to Under 19’s. 

So I played my seven games with Under 19’s, we won the Premiership.  I got graded straight into Reserve Grade and eight games later I got straight into First Grade.  It all happened pretty quick

Do you remember your first game in First Grade?

I do, it was against Easts.  I played a couple of trial matches, but my first run on was against Manly when they were trying to get Auckland into the comp and we played at Eden Park.  I ran onto the field with one minute to go and ran straight over to dummy half and picked the ball up and just chucked the ball rom dummy half and it went bang, bang, bang and Sam Stewart has popped it to Ash Gordon and put it over the corner and scored.  The funny thing about it was Johnny Schuster was the kicker of the comp at the time, and I ran around and grabbed the ball to set it up, I had been on the field for one minute and Johnny was like “hey, whats going on?”  I said, I am the kicker and he let me have the kick.  I missed it.  They won the game already anyway.

My first run on was against Easts.  I got a kick to the corner by Matty Rodwell and just as the ball was about to run out over the sideline I grabbed it and I put my hand out and it just stuck there.  The crowd erupted, but the slow motion on the big screen showed I put my feet on the line about five times and then hit the corner post, it was never going to be awarded.  Just to be sprinting down the sideline, be able to grab it an put in down and the crowd erupted, I felt like, oh shit, that’s what I wanted.  Tony Kemp was the biggest hog in the game so I had to go in looking for it.  I am there 68kg ringing wet out on the wing wondering when am I going to get the ball. 

And then there was this moment when I closed my eyes and thought, this is going to make me famous.  So I went in to second marker and looked up and thought this is my moment, my time to shine, this will be when everybody knew who Robbie O’Davis was.  From dummy half I looked up and thought this is great.  It was the fifth tackle, I ran out from marker, Gary Freeman kicked the ball and I jumped up and went fucking, boom.  Yep, I put one on the end of the Kiwi captain.  Next day in the paper it was reported, 18 year old kid knocks out Kiwi captain.  I was getting interviewed by the Judiciary, they let me off, gave me a warning.  If it was anyone but Gary Freeman, I would have went.  I just had that moment in time, my life flashed before my eyes and thought if I knock this bastard out because I don’t like him as a player, love him as a man, there is a big chance I get a start, and I did. 

David Waite said lets go again, and I got another round.  That is where I scored the 60m try at Kogarah Oval and he just said to me to stay there.  Then Brad Godden pulled out in the warm up and David said you better get to Fullback.  I was playing Fullback in Reserve Grade anyway.  The Reserve Grade side was eight from eight at the time.  We had Adam Muir, Matthew Johns as Hooker, Jamie Corchrane as a Centre, Jamie Aisncough was the other Centre, it was a massive side, just like a First Grade team playing Reserve Grade.  As I went up so too did a couple of others.

How was the culture at the Knights in those early days?

It is amazing because we talk about this a fair bit because they (Newcastle Knights) need their culture back and they can’t have it because they are multi million dollar footballers these days.  It isn’t like ringing the Andrews, ringing the Matthews, ringing the Darren Alberts asking if you have some food in the fridge, simple as that.  Yea I have.  Can you cook? Nah but if you bring some two minute noodles we can share it.  And that is how it was, and you wouldn’t ring from a mobile, you would ring from the home phone or you were taking a punt, driving to your mates place to see if he had food in the fridge. 

I think my first contract was $5 Grand, second one in 1993 was $7 Grand and then in 1994 it was $15 Grand and then it was heading into Super League and the ARL.   Yea, so we were all just scabbing off each other, hanging out of each others pockets. 

Who was your biggest influence over your career?

Always Dad because he made sure I got to where I had to go.  My parents had to be my biggest influence. 

Until you get coached by guys like Mal Reilly, David Waite.  I didn’t see much in Hages, Michael Hagan) for me, everything was done for me by then and Hages didn’t treat me with the respect I deserve.  I am in the best position on the field and Mal Reilly would ask after a game, can you explain to everyone what happened?  Joey (Andrew Johns) would ask me what happened?  I would say someone didn’t slide across there and Joey would react to that, so he knew but Hages didn’t.  In the team meetings Hages would ask Hughesie (Mark Hughes), and I would be thinking why are you asking Hughesie for?  Just because they are good talkers.  I actually said to Hages “I have the best view on the field, why don’t you ask me what is going on?  Joey does.”  I didn’t have much interaction with him. 

Mal Reilly was do as I say, not as I do type of thing.  Just a tough bastard.  He virtually said if they score 20, we score 21.  Lets just be as tough as we can, defend hard and also be hungry on the attacking side where we can create anything.  I won’t get in the way or develop your attack, I will just let you guys that have the ball in your hands so much.  So Andrew and Matthew Johns were creating our attack for us, their passes would just hit the quickest blokes in town, Adam MacDougall, Timana Tahu, Darren Albert and all those sorts of guys.

How was 1995 and that year being selected for Origin?

The way you get picked for Origin was you had to hear it on the radio and that is probably the most disappointing thing because you are sitting there listening to the radio and one of the reporters would ring and say congratulations, you have been selected for Origin.  I said “Mate, I haven’t heard it yet”.  So that is how I found out. 

I then realised what have I got myself in for.  As a kid watching the Origin would see these massive big monsters just bashing the shit out of each other. 

You guys were publicly named the underdogs for the series?

You don’t think of that, you go in thinking you are the best side.  Fatty, still to this day, and he would probably still be the first one to admit it, couldn’t coach a duck to water, he wouldn’t have a frigging clue.  He basically looked at Chris Close and said “We are here, what the bloody hell do I do now?”  Choppy said to him “Why doesn’t Rowdy (Dale Shearer) take the backs down there and Gilly (Trevor Gillmeister) take the forwards down there and how about we sit in the grand stand up there and recover, they were on the piss the night before.  They were falling asleep.

Fatty (Paul Vautin) virtually said, I haven’t got much of an idea what is going on, but if I can make you best mates then you will want to play with each other because you all have the ability to win games.  Pretty easy, if they don’t cross our line, you win.  Stop them crossing your line.  Then the Queensland call came out, so that evolved through our team.  They put that camera in the tunnel for the first ever time in the 1995 State of Origin series to trial it.  Billy Moore was at the front and I was right behind him.  I always say he became famous for saying “Queenslander” and after “Queenslander” everyone else shouted out “Yeeew” and I stood right behind him and yelled out “Yeeew”, but I never got famous for that. 

How was it playing in that Origin Series?

Yeah, it was good, you run out and embrace the crowd.  Wally Lewis when I was playing at the Lang Park game, he said to me “Do one thing in your life, run straight over to the Red Hill, you will never witness anything like it in your whole life.  So I did it, I ran onto the field and straight over to the Red Hill.  That was what Origin was all about.  They didn’t care who I was, they just cared that I had a maroon jersey and mate, they were just chucking hats, and glasses and I was just thinking, do I pick them up, put them on, play the game? Oh theres a pair of Ray Bandz.  No beers, just whatever they had on.  It was just unbelievable.  I imagine Wally walking over there, it would be surreal.  I can vision that so clearly now, you do lose a lot from your memory but that is clear. 

The first game in Sydney everybody hated us.  Just tried to blank out of that crowd and that is why the Lang Park one was so important to me, great memory for me

Just that first game, winning 2-0, not letting them cross our line.  Some of the things Gary Larson was doing, he was just a human missile and Gill (Trevor Gillmeister), I didn’t realise how hard a little man could hit a person.  He’d hit them with a good brunt and would just snp their legs every time, the bigger they are the harder he would hit them around the legs.  Gary Larson was the upper body confrontation, he was a man mountain. 

The same year you got selected to play for Australia?

Yea it was good, I was sitting on the right wing against the Kiwis and nothing was coming my way and a message came out, “get in there and have a run or we will replace you”.  I think it was Jamie Aisncough who would have replaced me.  So I went over to the other side of the field, hit the ball up, about 30-40 metres out, went through and scored in the corner.  A message came through “Bozo said he will leave you on for the rest of the game”.  That was a good memory, scoring a try. 

I got chosen for ten Tests and twice I didn’t enter the field, they were the first World Cup and the World Cup Final.  I warmed up those two times just didn’t go on.  I think I got 8-10 tries. 

So the next big season was in 1997?

I was always a consistent player, would return the ball strong then in 1997 I just clicked into gear.  It was a whole different me, I had a really big off season, had no injuries and I was enthusiastic. 

The Johns boys were at the peak of their powers and the Chief was coming to the end and we had Tony Butterfield and Adam Muir, we had a lot of Australian players in the side.  Along came Darren Albert, he became my best mate, it was great having my best mate play with me for the whole year.

How was the lead into the Finals and playing the Finals series that year?

Like I said, we were living in each other’s pockets, even though our pay had gone up, we just got into the habit of it.  We could say we won a lot of games on alcohol.  We’d finish the game and go straight to the pub and we would drink until the next training session the next day.  I think Matty Johns said on one of his shows the other day that we won against so and so but the problem was we didn’t sober up until Wednesday and had to play again on Friday night.  That’s just the way our team was. 

We would always hang together, go out, whether it was taking Joey into the corner off a pub to stop him getting hassled from every bugger or if we went to a local put together as a little group, we just all hung together. 

How was the 1997 Grand Final experience?

We had a really good week, we all stuck together and what happened was, we realised we had the whole town behind us.  We played for a town not a team.  We left the place and there was 100,000 people cheering us down the roads.  I remember girls taking their tops off on the back of trucks.  We were rock stars just for that one day and we were rock stars on the way home. 

We went down there and there were a few things that happened actually, before the game in the dressing room.  Paul Harragon, one of the best speakers and kindest gentlemen you will ever meet and always will be, but he reads out of a dictionary when he talks.  He is a big mane, inspirational and will go and knock somebody, but, sometimes you just need “C’mon boys, lets knock their heads off” that sort of speech.  So we all got in our circle, you could feel the nervous tension and he (Paul Harragon) goes “This is it, we are the big house now, this is the show” and this sort of stuff.  He is talking like that.  As smart as Matty Johns is, he was nervous and he needed to calm, somebody needed to calm, somebody needed to hear either “We gonna kill these bastards, rip in, lets go and do it”.  He was speaking soft and gentle “This is the way we are going to do it, we are going to do it for the town”, everyone was like “Yep, cool” I think we were going to doze off. 

Then Matty Johns goes “Righto boys, thanks Chief, good speech mate.  George Clooney”.  Everyone just paused and went “What?”.  He said “George Clooney, lets all be gorgeous like George Clooney.  Yep lets do it, hands on your hips”  and everyone just lost it in fits of laughter.  It eased the tension and that is what we needed.  We virtually walked out of the dressing sheds all laughing.  It was funny.

At half time we came into the sheds and Mal (Mal Reilly) is giving us a speech on what we had to do.  Anyway Tuesday or Wednesday the other week and one of the boys remembered it and said “Hey, who farted in that ringing circle at halftime and everyone was like “Yes, who did it” and then Tony Butterfield was in the corner smiling, and we knew it was him.  At half time we couldn’t focus on the speech, it was dreadful.  That was our team entertainment, the boys were going mad. 

That was good mate, and obviously winning that game, coming home.  I only just watched the highlights the other night, I tried to show the kids, they don’t give a rats ass about it.  They are like, I want to keep playing the Nintendo or whatever it is he is playing.  They don’t realise how big it was, I came up really depressed the other night and sat on the bed next to Lousie and she asked What’s up.  I said “I just watched the highlights of when I was playing on the old VHS movies I have downstairs”.  I kept every game I played in.  I said “I just can’t believe what I did in my life”.  She said you did great.  I said “Everything just went to shit, I lost my marriage and stuff.  I am happy now, but honestly at one stage we were bloody rock stars, 30,000 come into a stadium to watch you perform and I think to myself, what did I do with it all, why didn’t I manage my money properly.  I just got a bit depressed about it and I was happy as Larry the next day. 

It was pretty big, having the whole town and they were doing that stupid dance in night clubs for about a year afterwards instead of Nut Bush.  

And you got Man of the Match in the Grand Final?

Yea, I was lucky to get the ball over the line a few times.  I had three or four really good touches and two were obviously tries.  Matty Johns always says one of the most brilliant touches of football he had ever saw was that first run of me.  What I did was buy really long studs, remember the old screw ins, 1.5in screw ins and I said, mate I am not going to slip today.  I had been slipping all year and I made sure on this day at the big stadium I wasn;t going to slip.  They failed to kick the ball into touch when Chief and Spud (Mark Carroll), and I ran and went bang and shot through like a cannon and went straight through and Tooves (Geoff Toovey) had his head down because he didn’t kick it out, and I was gone.  The way I exploded through that gap, it could have been three tries. 

Fast forward to 2001, did it feel different?

Everyone tried to make it different because of the stature of the side we were playing as the best ever side.  You don’t see that as a team or a player, we were just told that again and again and again, look at these guys, how they are going.  They all said how great they were, we just saw their number seven as a speed bump.  We said, this is a pretty easy game, just keep running at him.  Then three tries and then four tries we scored over him and then said, see, I told ya. 

In that Grand Final side, I think Hindy (Nathan Hindmarsh) is the only one from there.  It might not be him, but somebody told me, only one player was actually from Parramatta in that whole team.  The Newcastle side were all Newcastle boys, or adopted as I was.  Then there was Ben Kennedy who fitted in real well and he came straight back here when he retired. 

What won the Grand Final for us was, we went and stayed in Parramatta the night before the game.  We left that day with all of those people cheering us down the road again, into Parramatta that had two balloons in one window, a streamer in that window, not much and then we came into the Travel Lodge and it was done up like the Newcastle Knights.  Ben Kennedy said “Did anyone else see that? Or was it just me.  Does anybody even support this team in this town”  We went down to Peter Wynns shop and he had every colour from every team.  It was unreal that the town wasn’t even supporting the side and they were the best side in the comp.  We just thought this is it, we have got this.

We got away to a good start.  At halftime we treated it like a game in the local comp.  When we came in at halftime it was like someone had opened a bottle of champagne.  We were laughing and joking and we just lost our focus, and they went bang.  If it wasn’t for PJ Marsh they would have been beaten by 60.  PJ Marsh had a really good outlook on the game and had really good dummy half sprints and if it wasn’t for my best mate he probably would have scored.  It was like a personal challenge of him trying to get to me, and me not letting him get past me.  The same thing, in 1997 if Manlys hooker doesn’t get suspended they would have won that game by 30.  I always said thank Christ he was suspended, he was a gun player, no one could tackle, and offload and create second phase all the time.  PJ, if it wasn’t for him sending Brett Hodgson away, could have been different.  I put my ball on Hindy’s boot, there is a try that could have been and then Simo (Steve Simpson) getting held up, it could have went anywhere with those two changes of luck.  Instead it went bang, bang, bang Parramatta’s way.  Enter Joey in the in goal line, they had scored two tries and he is going “Whoa, we got this boys, don’t worry”, I am like Joey, I don’t know.  He goes “No, we got this, we partying”  Then they scored another try and we are thinking, shit, c’mon boys and then Joey is saying “nah, it is all good, let them have a couple.  Then they scored the last one putting them within six points of us Joey is in the in goal saying “Don’t worry about this boys, I will pull us out”  and he is clapping his hands and carrying on.  We were like, mate you said that five times ago.  He goes “Nope, Iv’e got it”.  Then the ball came back to him and bang, 40-20 and he jumped up with the water bottle, that photo.  He got up to the scrum and said “See, I told you”

Ben Kennedy should have got Man of the Match, by a million miles.   

What do you think of the Sevens tournaments you were involved with?

We won the first one back in 1991 or 92 where Ash Gordon kicked from the sideline to win the game and then I played every Sevens from then on. 

I liked the Sevens, I was a diver, a show pony.  I was that sort of guy who would score a try and run straight over to the audience, you didn’t get much time,  That’s the beauty of the game, the Sevens was fun.  It suited the quick boys. 

They had a lot of characters, this young guy from South Africa, this little fella called Jacob Steemag, I remember his name because Mark Sargent used to call me Jacob Steemag.  He would run onto the field for South Africa and sprint straight for the corner post and he bicept curl the corner post.  He would put it down and go and play the game, he is the quickest bloke in the world. 

The famous photo of you with your broken nose, what is the story behind that?

It was 2003, it was the last minute of the game, 36-6 up against the Wests Tigers.  I got through from 10m out from our line, and I headed from one side of the field the other corner on the other side.  Robbie Beckett came across in cover defence and about 20m out from the line Matt Gidley was coming up on the inside towards the posts so I ducked down to pass under his arm and he just went Whamo… Split my palate down my throat and my nose on the side of my head, so that is where all of my brain damage came from. 

It shouldn’t have happened, the fact that Robbie had a bad game that day, really bad game, because I have watched the video of him, he had a shocker, so the anger was put out in his bad game on me and plus 36-6, the hooters gone.  I think intent behind it, they’re saying head clash.

The story behind the Jersey I have just bought off you from the match against Great Britain?

That was pretty amazing, I knew of a lot of the players, but I didn’t realise how bloody good they were.  I knew this was a side that had a lot of classy players in it and I thought they were a team that were playing from a comp that couldn’t tackle real well, just a massive attacking side.  During the game I said, I thought these guys couldn’t tackle.  The reason they couldn’t tackle over there is because the ground over there is so slippery, with a little bit of footwork, they’d get past you, playing on ice all the time.  It wasn’t because they couldn’t tackle, they could, it was because they were playing on ice most of the time.

They jammed us and playing against Ellery Hanley who was one of my favourites

What are your standout performances?

I’d have to watch TV to remember.  Obviously 97’ was great for me.  The last match, I always remember that one because I didn’t want to make it my last match, where the Wally Lewis thing where he said to acknowledge the crowd sort of things and you will remember it forever sort of thing.  I always acknowledge the crowd anyway, but that last game I went around and acknowledged every single person.  Walked around the ground and chat to the crowd.

I have had a couple of good ones.  One against Penrith, I had three tries by half time.  I couldn’t get the ball in the second half.  That was at Marathon Stadium, two of them were length of the field tries. 

The Under 19’s Grand Final

What are your highlights of playing Rugby League?

Mate the biggest highlight was to drop my name and be allowed to visit hospitals.  I became the patron for Ronald McDonald House.  I would have a bad day and just walk in to visit kids and that would put me on the straight and narrow.  I would just randomly go, and I was taking my 21 year old daughter who was three or four at the time.  Visiting kids in hospitals was the biggest highlight to me.  To be able to make someone happy and smile, I was doing it again and again.  If I was to say I got one beautiful thing out of the game, it is that.  You don’t ask to get known, but when you get there it can be a powerful tool if you use it the right way.  To see my name up there as a Patron at Ronald McDonalds house is great. 

As it turned out, there was a young kid and I painted his face and he painted my face.  I wasn’t told to go to Ronald McDonald house to visit kids, I went because I wanted to.  I wouldn’t spend hours there, not just the regular 15 minutes, get a photo and get out as they do these days.  I went in to see young John, I painted his face and he painted mine and I fell asleep, I had my head down on his white sheets and he fell asleep.  His Mother came back to the hospital at 1 O’ Clock in the morning and tapped me on the shoulder and she said “Oh, you’re still here”  I said sorry.  I looked down and my face print was on the sheet.  She rang at 7 O’Clock in the morning and said he never woke up.  They actually used that sheet to cover his coffin.

I just said I can’t do it anymore, I had my own little daughter then, I don’t want that, I couldn’t bear to see my kid die. 

At my Testimonal dinner, every single kid from the hospital came.  It was at the Workers Club, they rolled them all onto the stage.  Even the kids who couldn’t be touched by humans were in capsules and things, they wheeled them all onto the stage. 

Who was your most respected player?

Until Andrew Johns evolved into the inspirational player that he became, Matt Johns was.  Matt was someone who developed himself into a great player rather than his ass being kissed by a rainbow sort of thing.  Joey says in his book, so I have been told, he worked a lot on his ability, where he had a lot of ability, where Matt didn’t have that.  The most surreal moment which showed that Matt could have been anything in the game, he could have been the next big thing.

We walked on the field one day, we were playing at Marathon Stadium against the Gold Coast Seagulls.  Before the game he came up to me and said “I heard you say on the radio before that you are going to get Man of the Match, I need the money mate, I am going to get it today”.  I said this family died in a car crash, if I say I should get it because it was such a bad thing, it is a pretty important thing, don’t worry about it mate.  He said “I need the money, got a few bills to pay”.  I was like, well no, I need this. 

We were on the field, the kick off is about to happen and he is looking over his shoulder nodding at me.  I am thinking, he is my team mate and he is trying to out play me.  So we are playing the game and every play the ball we would be looking at each other.  Just before halftime a scrum was packing in near our try line and he was telling me before the game about this step he had been practicing.  He said stay on my left-hand side, I will give it to you at halfway.  Rightio.  Craig Weston was in front of me.  He went bang, bang, bang and ran away and I got to halfway and he gave it to me and Dale Shearer was trying to get under my hand at the posts.  I ran back and said yea, how good is that, how’d you know.  He said “I knew Craig Weston can’t tackle and I also know I can’t run 100 metres and you can”.  I got Man of the Match.  So I gave the money to the Campbell family who lost their kids. 

So I thought if someone can visualise something and make it happen in a game.

Visualisation became my biggest part of the game, obviously catching those frigging things with 30,000 people watching.  My eyes are damaged because of it, used to catch balls in the sun.  I used to say to Joey, kick the ball up in the sun and he would ask why.  I said if I can see through the sun then I can see through the lights at the stadium. 

So I think Matt is the guy I respected most during the game and what he is doing for the game now, even just talking football

Which was the best team you played against?

I think the Broncos in the early 1990’s were the team.  When you have guys like Steve Renouf running around you untouched without even stepping, that is pretty good.  Then you had your big guys on the wing Mick De Vere and Big Wendell on the other wing, they are pretty amazing those sort of blokes. 

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

They retired me unfortunately and I didn’t want to play against the town.  I had a few chats with Russell Crowe but nothing there.

When I heard I was getting punted from the Knights.  They had Dave Seage coming through, he is going to be pretty good, they didn’t realise he had a stuffed knee and was never going to come back. 

I went pretty hard on the Knights at the time, embarrassed them, and that is why they sort of cut me from them because of what happened right back then.  So I retired as a 32 year old, super fit.  All these publicity stunts I was putting in the paper like winning the NSW Triathalon, like showing them how fit I was and they wouldn’t employ me anyway so it doesn’t matter.  I never knew it was the time to retire.

Three years after I retired I went down to the local park down here, I got to play a bit of football in the Touch Football comp and I went across to try and take an intercept pass from a little aboriginal kid and he took off and I took off and chased him and I couldn’t gain a centimetre on him and he just went.  I cried all of the way home. I cried because I knew that was it.  If I couldn’t chase down a little aboriginal kid then I had lost it because that was my main thing, being quick and chasing people down.  So I may as well not try anymore. 

What followed football?

I went into depression for two years, lost everything.  It is hard to get off the money, so I chased for two years.  I worked for a Real Estate company, sold one house in two years.  Obviously, I wasn’t driven, I was drinking coffee every day.  Just depressed, I was taking anti-depressants for a couple of years.  So I thought, Rightio, I have another life to live and I went and found fitness and fitness saved my life. 

Up until about four years ago I was still sitting on the edge of cliffs trying to chuck myself off, drinking a bottle and cartons of beer.  For some reason I kept on jumping back to life.  My kids were my biggest influence, they pulled me off the cliff. 

I never told anyone because I thought I was a litterer.  I was chucking these beer bottles off the cliff, they would hit the beach or the cliff and I was littering.  I never told anyone because I would be classed as a litterer rather than someone who needed help. 

One day I saw a few players who were in need and I helped myself by helping them.  I sort of helped them so I sort of kept in contact with them without telling them that I had the problem.  So I saved my life through them.

Then about a year ago when I lost my marriage and I got taken for everything and I was out of work and I did a bit of a publicity stunt on the front page of the paper and said I have a few things and I put my Grand Final boots up for sale and that just hit national news.  I just needed the money at the time.  Some bloke rang up and said I will employ you and he has employed me ever since, which is good.

Now I run my hobby business called change for change, only advertised on Facebook.  I am BDM for The Café distributors.

How has the game changed since your playing days?

You are not going to say it is softer because these guys are bigger, stronger and faster.  The hardness has been taken out of it, like playing through injury.  They play all of this second phase when we were really direct back in those days

I suppose Newcastle Knights under David Waite in 1992 they were evolving second phase play and brought it back through Craig Bellamy, 10-12 years later I think and now everyone does it. 

I am against the shoulder charge ban.  Mate, shoulder chargers change games, that is what it is all about, I love a shoulder charge, bring it back.  When someone drops a shoulder the crowd gets excited, they want this game change, they want something to happen.  They want Paul Harragon to knock someone out with a shoulder charge.  You don’t see these hits now, you just see arms and legs.  Some guy getting Sent Off the other night because he got his head in the wrong position, mate he wasn’t even looking.  They penalise these guys now, they come in a good position to make a tackle and the attacking player has the ball and step and ducks and runs into his arm and the defender is penalised.  Contact with the head, penalty.  Mate, really, you used to be allowed to knock peoples heads off. 

Mate, my brain and my face doesn’t say anything nice because I suffered from all of the head injuries that I had.  Mate, if you are going to play that violent game, you are going to war.  It affects us different ways, with depression and that sort of stuff 

Did you keep a scrapbook?

Yea, Mum has kept every single newspaper article, there are millions and millions of them.  She has kept every game which I saw the other night.  She kept every single game on VHS and every single write up has been kept in a box downstairs, which the kids don’t give a shit about. 

They will at a certain age.

I think so, they still introduce themselves as Robbie O’Davis kids, I suppose that’s pretty important. 

What is your favourite restaurant?

Mawson Caves Beach

What was your nickname?

Booby Boochey?