I grew up on a farm about an hour SW of Tamworth
What was your childhood like?
Childhood was good, I was the youngest of four boys so there was plenty of action on the farm. It would take us an hour each way to get to Tamworth to play league and that was a bit of a trek in itself.
I went to school at Quirindai and we lived 50km to the west from there and would take the bus. We always had something to do, that’s for sure. I did my Primary and high Schooling there, they were only small schools.
Rugby League was the main sport, there wasn’t too many other sports being played. If you weren’t playing Rugby League then you would be playing touch football. They used to get me dressed up in shoulder pads and use me as a rag doll. They were all pretty handy footballers my brothers, just one of those things, everyone played it.
Did you collect footy cards as a kid?
I did, the 1994 Kangaroo Tour cards and that set was stacked full of superstars. Obviously the 1994 Great Britain side was very good as well then. I remember getting the Coke Kangaroo cards as well.
What was your first football experience?
Back yard footy, we had a bit of a grass patch in the back yard and it was my eldest brother and myself versus the two middle brothers. We had an orange tree and that was pretty much used as a third defender. You could use it as a decoy.
Every afternoon after school would have some cereal and then have a run around.
I first started played football Under 6’s at Gunnedah. My Aunty had to pay me $5 to go out and play because I didn’t want to go out there and play.
Watching footy there would be big fights in the family room. Friday nights we would all sit around and watch the footy.
Where did you play your junior footy?
I played most of my footy with Werris Creek Magpies
Did you play any junior rep footy?
No I didn’t play and junior rep footy. I wasn’t destined for any greatness. There was nothing too spectacular, just a bit of bush football, throwing the ball around.
It wasn’t until I was in the Under 18’s and we were in the Northern Division side and we made the Country Championship and it kicked off from that.
What got you to Parramatta?
There was a scout at the Country Championship at Wollongong. My brother had been playing a little bit of football with the Dragons and was really good mates with Daniel Wagon.
I went down to Parramatta in 2003
How did it feel when you arrived at the club?
Very daunting that’s for sure, it was the first time I had left home. I remember coming down with Mum and Dad and they dropped me off at the home. Parramatta had a home stay back then. You get looked after by a family and I felt like shit is getting real.
I didn’t know what to expect, very intimidated.
I played in the Jersey Flegg team, it was Under 19’s then. There would have been six or seven Australian Schoolboys in that squad. There were some good players, and there were a couple of boys who had played NRL that year. Ash Graham was one of them.
I was thinking I don’t belong in this environment; I was too skinny. It was very intimidating, especially that first year, I was very homesick as well.
How about the family you stayed with, what were they like?
Beautiful. Mark Horo who played for New Zealand. Justin Horo was there, he was a few years younger than me. They were awesome, they really looked after us, but we also had that independence. You had to cook and clean, it wasn’t just a case of being mothered.
You would be there for a year or two and if you were still part of the club you would move out on your own a spread your wings. It was a great environment.
Who was your coach in the Jersey Flegg side?
That first year that I came down there, Jason Taylor was the coach. He was very knowledgeable. He had only been retired a couple of seasons. The year before he coached the SG Ball. He was a good coach, JT.
What happened in the 2004 season?
I was still in the lower grades. I received some good advice that year. My brother said to me “It doesn’t matter how you got to this level, you are here now so you may as well make the most of it. Just Rip in and give it your best, that is all you can do.”
Rocket Reddy`ran a JETS program, which was a Junior Elite Training for about eight of us and we would do extra training to give us a bit more skill set. Rocket said to me “This is the last year of your two year contract and at the end of this year, if you don’t turn up you will be back on the farm with your old boy. The decision is up to you.
In that first off season I put on over 20kg. I was very skinny and I had that frame that could carry a bit of weight and that put me in good stead for that 2004 season and that was the year I made my debut.
2004 First Grade debut against Melbourne Storm, how was it?
We were at TAFE, a handful of us, it was part of the program we were in and one of the boys got a call from Grant Jones, my phone must have been off. Grant Jones looked after the program line ups at the club. “Benny, you have to come in to NRL training, now.”
That was on a Wednesday afternoon, I was thinking holy shit and went straight away. I turned up and started training. Nothing was really said about it, then on the Thursday morning they talked to me and said you will be making your debut.
They were down on Centres that year. Jamie Lyon had walked out on Parra in 02’, 03’ Willie Tonga had gone to the Dogs and David Veaeliki tore his Achilles . Feleti Mateo also made his debut that day.
It was very surreal, the best part about it was we didn’t have much time to think about it. On the Friday trained and then flew down there and played Saturday. It was all a bit of a whirlwind.
I do remember walking into the sheds and the whole set up was completely different. It was the big boys club. It went very quickly. There was a massive difference across the park, it was almost like just strap yourself in and do what you can and recollect afterwards about the experience.
I was only 19 at that stage and it was an amazing feeling. I came up against Matt King in the Centres
How was the rest of the year?
That was the back end of the year and I played two more games and the third game was against the Sharks and I fractured my eye socket and broke my nose. There may have been two or three games to go, but that was the end of it.
Our Reserve Grade team made the Semi Finals but they got knocked out
The 2005 season must have been amazing?
A lot of us younger guys got called up that year. Started in Reserve Grade again. I think it was around Round 7 or 8 that I got called up into the NRL. I think that may have been the City v Country weekend so I guess we had a few players representing, but I stayed there for the rest of the year. Timana Tahu was one centre. Daniel Wagon started in the Centres but he could play Back Row and Lock.
We were Minor Premiers so obviously was a great year.
That 2005 season, Parramatta should have made the Grand Final with impressive wins in the Semi Finals until you met the Cowboys?
We went to watch the Dragons and I just remember Mark Riddell walking out of the hotel saying it looks like we have the Tigers next week. Maybe we were a little over cooked, maybe we lost sight of that game, maybe thinking too far ahead, I don’t know.
I remember midway through the second half and looking up towards the grand standand people were just walking out. I was thinking “Oh well.”
I think being a young kid in those circumstances, you think that it will happen again. Probably don’t appreciate the opportunity that you have.
I remember years later talking to Johnny Morris who was our 5/8 at the time. He said “That 2005 season, we should have won that, that was ours.” Reflecting back and it was a missed opportunity. These are things that you regret when you retire, obviously had the opportunity to go out and chase your dream and do something that you love at the highest level. It is like the holy grail and being that close.
We did beat the Cowboys earlier in the year by about 30-40 points and they were beaten easily by the Tigers in the Semis. I guess that is where we took them lightly. This leaves a sour taste for me.
Being that young you don’t appreciate how hard it is to get there and how close we were. Being someone who is retired and looking back at the sacrifices you had to make t get there. Those opportunities don’t come very often, I have so much respect for those Melbourne Storm teams, people like Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater. Those guys are there every year. It reflects how good they are as players and what their club as an organisation is all about. It is a ripple effect across the whole organisation and for those guys to be the core / nucleus of it consistently I can’t help to take my hat off and give them the respect they deserve.
You arrived as a young bloke, how’d you find Brian Smith?
I loved the way he coached. You hear all of these stories about him, the negativity and things that would happen. I personally had nothing to do any of that.
I can’t praise him enough, he was big with confidence building, pointing us in the right direction. Every session you are always learning and picking up things. He would always have you thinking. He was always helping me to grow as a player.
As much as people want to to put a negative spiel on Smitty, you just have to look at what he did at Parramatta and what he did at St George before that. He coached well at the Roosters and he brought Newcastle up to speed. Unfortunately for him, he had been at the dance a few times. I don’t always think it is a reflection on the coach because he got them to the point to be in that position.
I had an ankle injury early in the year so I missed a big chunk of the season. We were under Jason Taylor and we just wanted to make it fun. We went on a run and won 6 or 7 games straight and that put us up to around fourth spot and then we came up against the Broncos and they beat us by about 16-0 and that put us down into the bottom half of the 8.
We came up against Melbourne and we were very unlucky not to win. Glenn Morrison scored a try and it was deemed a no try. I was there. It was a very low scoring match. They lost to Brisbane the following week.
A lot of guys were moving on in 06’. Michael Hagan was coaching us the following year
2007 was a good year, beat the Bulldogs and the Warriors in the Finals?
Michael Hagan was a good coach in the sense of bringing the boys and the club together. We had a good year, most of the year we were running third. Without speaking out of school I think only Manly and Melbourne were better than us. We lost a couple of games towards the back end that dropped us down to fifth. It was one of those years that we didn’t under achieve and we didn’t over achieve. We were beaten by Melbourne and Manly during the season and they were the two best teams that year.
2008, no Finals that year?
I had two operations on my knee. I came back and played one game and I had a clean out of my right knee so that I could play. I came out and played 5 minutes against the Roosters the next week and I need another knee cleanout. They were pretty much taking out the cartilage out of my knee.
What happened in 2009?
It was just one of those things, we weren’t winning and it got to about midway through the season and Daniel Anderson rather than being structured, just through the ball around.” It just clicked. Second phase play and all of those offloads obviously worked for Jarryd Hayne. It gave him the opportunity to be in the broken field a little bit more. It was almost like touch football. He is just a freak with the ball. We had a lot of good fortune, but we created that good fortune.
Daniel Mortimer started that year.
I think we won 9 in a row and then we played St George at Kogarah Oval. By the time we had come to play them, we had snuck into the 8. That week we didn’t do any video on the Dragons, none at all. That Friday night they pumped us. We rolled in to training on the Monday and we were playing them on the Sunday and Ando (Daniel Anderson) said to us “I knew we would be playing them again, that is why I didn’t do any video on them. I didn’t want you guys to go out and beat them last week, when we had to go out and beat them again.”
At that stage, the loss didn’t even phase us, we were on such a roll. It was like a dint in the armour. We just had a confidence about winning. On the bus trip over, it was the start of September, it was a hot day and there were Dragons supporters everywhere, and they were going to pump us again. We just had a confidence of winning that game.
Hayne was the biggest influence, but we also had Fuifui Moimoi, Hindy (Nathan Hindmarsh) and Nathan Cayless. You probably couldn’t get a better leader than Nathan Cayless on and off the field. Joel Reddy and Krisnan Inu were killing it at the time. We had a bunch of good players, we were playing with confidence.
That was probably my most enjoyable part of my NRL career, 09’. When teams play with confidence, it just snowballs.
I remember the crowd at the Dragons Semi Final and it was full of red and white, there wasn’t a lot of blue and gold. They had us under the pump for the first 15 minutes and we saved a fair few tries and the we got a break and a try from a Luke Burt tap back against the run of play and we just got a roll on from there.
The Friday night we had to back up against the Titans, I think they finished second. We played them at the SFS. At that stage we knew we were going to win and we ended up winning 27-0. We started a little bit sluggish going from playing on a Sunday to a Friday. Even then it was just a knowing and a confidence with each other.
Some of the things Hayne was doing, you just can’t at that NRL level.
The week after that was the Bulldogs. I remember hearing that was the largest crowd in the history of the game with the exception of a Grand Final or Test match. I remember running out that day it was a hot day and there was a tension between the two clubs, especially with the fan base. Literally half of the stadium was blue and gold and half was blue and white. Their defensive plan was to keep a straight line otherwise Haynsey will tear you apart. Haynsey would hit the line and spin, and as he spun got the ball away to Joe Galuvao.
There was a lot of emotional energy burnt after that game.
How was lead up to the Grand Final and the match itself?
Very confident again. Melbourne were the first team we beat to go on that run mid-year.
After that win over the Bulldogs we were so pumped about getting into the Grand Final. We are going to do something as a young kid you always wanted to do, the whole team was like that.
I watched the Melbourne Storm win over the Broncos to get into the Grand Final and it was just like another game for them. I saw it then but I didn’t quite understand it, looking back now I can see it. It was like it was just another job to get done, one more game to go.
For us, it was the first time for a lot of us. It does go very quickly.
The actual game, I don’ remember too much it happened so quick. We had a good run on the back end of the second half. If there was five more minutes in the game, we would have won it.
I remember they lost the ball coming out of their own end and they got a penalty and they got down there and kicked a field goal which put them in front by a point. If we had of got the ball then instead of them getting the penalty we probably would have scored because we were on such a role.
Unfortunately, it is one of those things. I look back at it now and it is another missed opportunity. It is one of those things you can never change. It can never be taken away from us as well. That close to accomplishing something that very few people ever accomplish. I have had a few sleepless nights over thinking. Especially thinking as a young fella would be thinking these opportunities would come up again. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t come up again, but I am very grateful to say I have had that opportunity.
The last 12-13 years the Storm aren't here at the end of the season.
There are a lot of better footballers than me who never had the opportunity.
The following year, 2010 was a bit of a downfall, what happened?
I honestly don’t know what happened there. We had a massive off season. Maybe we didn’t have that air of unpredictability which we had the year before. They were prepared for Haynsey. I think it would have been very hard for Jarryd as a player and there was a lot of responsibility to create something out of nothing. It isn’t playing park football, it is playing against the best Rugby League players in the world and they were ready for him.
You got to play for Australian Prime Minsters XIII?
I had the opportunity to play in the Australian side which I was very proud and humbled to get that opportunity. It was very unexpected. It was awesome mate, I never thought I would have that opportunity.
I got the opportunity to go over and play Papua New Guinea and they are football mad. It is their national sport. We would be in the hotel and there would be 20-30 people waiting outside.
The stadium roof collapsed while we were getting ready to play, just because there were so many people sitting on the roof.
We had to get wrapped and do the warm up at the hotel and get on the bus. On the way in it was just a row full of people. It was just a matter of get off the bus, into the sheds and onto the field.
It was an awesome experience and can never be taken away. I have that jersey framed
How tough are the footballers in PNG?
Mate, they are just muscle. The first 15-20 minutes you were just getting bashed. It pelted down rain and it was like playing on a bitumen road. I remember coming off that field and I had claret on my knees, elbows, my shirt just because the ground was so hard.
We were giving away our boots, socks and we brought up a bag of training gear to give away.
How were your final four years at Parramatta, 2011 to 2014?
After 2010 I had an operation on each of my knees, I think just from wear and tear.
2011 Stephen Kearney was the new Coach. We were so close to winning games that year. A lot of games we were beaten by only two points, or we would be beaten over time. Everything was there, we probably lacked that finish. I think we lost 6-8 games by about 2-4 points. It is heartbreaking.
The fans really stood behind us. Every home game we had big crowds there. Stephen Kearney was an awesome coach and we had Brad Arthur as the Assistant Coach. It was unfortunate, we probably should have done better than we did.
How’d you summarise your time at Parramatta?
I am very grateful to get an opportunity by Parramatta and I was able to start and finish my career at that club.
One thing that I can be proud of is to play at the one club for a long time. I played 152 games and looking over my career, I missed over 70 games through injury. I had 12 operations throughout my career.
I am very fortunate that Parra stuck with me and I stuck with them.
Who were your good buddies in those final years at Parramatta when you were a senior figure?
09’ to 11’ I was with Haynsey, we were living together. It was always good fun, always laughing.
I was also good mates with Burty, Matty King, Timmy Mannah.
In Rugby League, players come and go but no one can take away what you have to go through together in that week to week arena. It is something no ones understands unless you have been there. To appreciate the amount of sacrifice you have to go through.
When I was going down to Sydney, I was told I wasn’t good enough.
Who told you that?
Pretty much everyone.
Who told you that you could do it?
Mainly my eldest brother, he had faith in me.
My Grand Father at the time.
They were the two who really got behind me at the time.
To have that opportunity to go down to Sydney and play makes me feel very grateful.
What are your greatest memories of playing Rugby League?
I would have to say making my debut. Thinking about where I came from, it was 50km to the nearest town. Making that journey and how I got there. It is way up there, it was living my dream.
I think it doesn’t matter if someone plays one game in the NRL and that is their dream.
That run in 09’ and making the GF.
Making the Prime Ministers XIII.
Being a One Club Man.
Did you ever think about other clubs?
There were opportunities to go to other clubs but my heart was with Parramatta.
Who was your most respected rival?
Steve Matai, he was a gentleman off the field, but he was one of those guys who was tough. He broke my nose a couple of times.
You can’t not respect anyone. Coming up against guys like Mark Gasnier and Greg Inglis, you didn’t want to give them space.
When playing in the Second Row, you defended a little bit more compact, so if you made a mistake you would have someone to cover for you however in the Cenres it is one of the hardest places to defend on the field because you are so isolated. You have your halfback inside you who you are looking after and if you protect him too much there is space outside you, and there are some really talented Centres who can make the most out of that space.
Who was the best attacking footballer you played with?
Have to be Jarryd Hayne.
Other players would be Feleti Mateo, he was just a freak with the ball, the way he could hold the ball and for such a big guy.
Who was the best attacking player you came up against?
Probably Mark Gasnier and Greg Inglis.
Ruben Wiki was a very tough attacking player, he was playing more Back Rower at that stage. He was just hard and tough.
Some blokes, the harder you hit them, the more they loved it.
Which was the best team you played with?
05’, we probably should have won that year. 09’ we were just hot. 07’ we had a very good year.
In 05’ we had some cracking players who were at the peak of their career. Timana came down from the Knights and that was his first year as a Centre and he had a point to prove. I learnt so much off him. He was very humble and very giving of his time.
Which team was the best you played against?
That storm team from 07’ was the best team we were coming up against.
06’ The Broncos with Shane Webcke, Darren Lockyer, Petero Ciconiceva, Brad Thorne. They had an Australian team. They were a class act.
07’ to 09’ Manly team, you knew when you turned up that you had to play because they played tough and they were one of those teams that hunted. Anthony Watmough, Steve Matai, they loved the hard stuff.
Who was your favourite Coach?
I really enjoyed Brian Smith because I learnt a lot from him. He is such a knowledgeable. You could not learn from him.
Michael Hagan looked after his players. It was a joy coming to training because you were with a bunch of mates and you had fun.
Daniel Anderson was very knowledgeable as well and you would learn from him.
Brad Arthur was there in my last year 14’. He was very thorough in the way he went about his business. You probably wouldn’t find a harder working coach than him.
When did you know it was time to give the game away?
I knew mate. I didn’t want to hang around longer than I was able to.
12’ I had some injuries and then 13’ I had an operation on my knee. That was probably my most unenjoyable year of football, I was ready to walk away then. I didn’t want to leave with that taste in my mouth so I went and spoke to BA, I had that repour with BA. I knew my body was falling apart and I wasn’t able to keep it at that level. I got a one year contract and was able to finish on my terms. I am grateful to BA for giving me the opportunity to do that.
I was told from the physio that I was only going to be able to train one day a week and the rest of the week was going to be rehab training. I thought fuck that, I have a point to prove so I trained every day.
I had another operation and came back with a stint in Reserve Grade and then the last three games in First Grade where we had to win one of those games to get into the Semi Finals and we lost all three of those. It would have been great to play a Semi Final game, but that is the way the cookie crumbles.
How has the game changed since your playing days?
There is more structure in the game now.
Even since I started playing to know it has changed heaps. The Front Rowers have changed from the big humans who could play. You look at guys like Jason Taoumololo, he is the biggest human in the world and he can punch out 80 minutes. How the science has evolved.
It is nothing like the 70’s, that was tough, it was a lot slower though. Now they’re all athletes, they train twice a day. They are wrestling in the tackle these days. A play the ball is everything in todays game. You can’t really compare the game, it is so different.
Todays game, what some of the Wingers are doing scoring tries, that is ridiculous what they can do.
As a player you could cop a bad call from a ref. It is a bit harder to take when the refs have al of this technology and camera work. You must have a little bit of consistency, either way. There has to be a bit more respect to the players. The Ref should give the player a bit of respect instead of talking down to him.
Did you keep a scrapbook?
No I didn’t mate. I wasn’t one of those guys who played league to define me. My cousin kept a few things. It is only now that I am having a little boy that I am trying to get a few things together so that I can show him. I want to show him what I accomplished, that is why I am trying to chase a few of the footy cards.
I did keep my training shirts, one signed by Nathan Cayless, one by Hindy and one by Timana Tahu. They’re just legends.
What followed after football?
I moved up to Newcastle. My two brothers live up in Newcastle and they have lived there a long time. There was nothing keeping me in Sydney. I was more partial to move to Newcastle and I am glad I did, I met my wife up there.
Having a family is my priority now, and it is something I am looking forward to. Two months away, I am having a little boy. We are both at that stage in our life where we are more than ready to have a family.
What is your favourite restaurant?
Parramatta Restaurant, Maloneys. Best food, best environment. The owner, Joe is an absolute legend. I tell you what, back in the day, Haynsey, Inu and I went there all the time.
Now, the best restaurant in the world is my wife's cooking, unbelievable cook.