As a former Rugby League player I want to be remembered as a sheer competitor and a good teammate, both on and off the field. Being tough is an important part of our game, but as is setting an example for your teammates and leading by example off the field. The 80 minutes on the park during match-day is vital, but the most important part of playing for a professional sporting team is the week leading up to it. The successful teams are obviously very talented, but it’s the hard work and dedication that they put into their craft during training sessions, preparation and recovery that sets them apart from their rivals.
When I reflect on the definition of tough there are two things that come to mind, physical toughness and mental toughness. Rugby league is a sport that demands both forms, and it is the players that are able to deal with both that are the strongest in our game.
Physical toughness isn’t about who comes out on top in a fistfight, it’s about the player that continues to train, play and fight for their team on the footy field despite carrying various injuries. I was never worried about the physically intimidating players, the big guys that would hit you as hard as they could, it’s a physical sport and you go into every contest expecting to be hit.
Then there is mental toughness, the player that demands the ball when their team is four points down with three minutes remaining. Their mental strength enables them to put their name and their reputation on the line, and put their team first with the belief that they can have an impact. There are a lot of players that carry the fear of letting their teammates down and costing their side in pressure moments, but there are also a select few that demand the ball and rise to the occasion.
State of Origin defines tough; it is ultimately a competition that brings our game’s toughest players together. The footballers that are out on that field push their bodies to limits they never thought they could. The player’s that excel in Origin, well they are on another level. There’s something a little bit different about those players, like Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston, not only are they tough but they have the ability to read the situation and know when it is their moment to execute a match-winning play.
My Toughest Three:
Greg is the first player that you think of when you hear about the North Sydney Bears, he embraced the leadership mantle and wore the expectation from the club and supporters like a badge of honour. As a player, I really respected his leadership, he was always one to lead from the front and put himself before his teammates. Early on in my career he scored three tries straight over the top of me, I remember thinking: ‘this guy is superhuman’. Greg was one of those blokes that were extremely hard to tackle, and I learned that the hard way.
I have only admiration for the way he conducted himself on the field, he was as tough as they come but in my opinion he was extremely underrated. During North’s prime, it was Greg’s physical toughness and leadership, both on and off the field, which drove them. He was a different five-eighth, he was a runner and that hadn’t been seen much before. He was the captain, and epitomised on-field leadership and mental strength. Greg was one of those guys that demanded the ball in the closing stages of a game – his teammates had so much respect for his footballing ability and his leadership.
If there were one player in the modern game that reminds me of Greg Florimo, it would be Greg Bird. They are both very similar in the sense that you wouldn’t want to run into either of them, they could both certainly hit with that pure strength and toughness.
When I think of Luke Ricketson there is one memory that I have that defines him as a footballer. He tore his hamstring in the early stages of our qualifying semi-final against the Brisbane Broncos and couldn’t return to the field, he was extremely upset but the work he did off the field the following week was simply incredible. Luke did everything in his power to get himself ready for the next game. His rehab, training and resting practices had to be spot on, he worked tirelessly and the fact he played the next week is a testament to his will power and professionalism. I remember before kick-off the following week he was running laps of Homebush Stadium to keep his leg warm – he just did everything right. Luke was one of those players that were both physically and mentally strong enough to play through injury.
Ricko played well above his weight, but playing for the Roosters and being a pretty good looking rooster he attracted a false perception and most people didn’t respect him for his footballing ability. The amount of injuries he has played through throughout his career is unbelievable; there was no way of stopping the man. His ability to get up week-in week-out inspired his teammates. Luke would receive needles yet not miss a training session, he would continue playing through heavy knocks or broken arms.
If there were one player in the modern game that resembles Luke, it would be Matt Gillett. He is similar in a sense that you can count on him to make his 30-40 tackles, he is extremely reliable and you know what you are going to get from him. Both men symbolise what a good teammate looks like, both on and off the field.
Towards his last State of Origin game and my first, I was fortunate enough to play alongside Tooves. I was shocked by the size of the man, I had played against him several times but in the heat of the battle you don’t notice how small he really is. He epitomises playing above your weight, playing against him I never realised how small he was because he was tough enough not to show it. Geoff had the ability to move from halfback into hooker, he would line up against players like Petero Civoniceva, Shane Webcke and Brad Thorn in State of Origin.
Geoff is a perfect example of pure strength, a combination of physical and mental toughness. He stuck his head where other players refused to, and although he suffered the consequences with several head knocks and concussions he never shied away from playing his own tough way. Geoff was not only physically tough enough to place his head where it doesn’t belong, but he was also mentally tough enough to be prepared to do it, nothing worried him on the footy field.
Geoff thrived on the physicality of our game, he was one of those players that when he saw someone running at him he would get in underneath them and hit them twice as hard. When you are playing alongside a teammate like him it gives you great belief, his on-field actions inspire you. He is very much an old school footballer, and I think that was reflected on his coaching. I think Tooves would flog his Manly team pretty hard, and perhaps the younger blokes didn’t understand that form of coaching.
Nathan Friend is the modern day player that I would associate with Geoff Toovey. They are both similar in the way that they would refuse to take a backwards step on the field, despite their small figure. Similarly, both players had phenomenal work rates and continued to inspire their teammates on the field. Often past teammates would describe how these footballers inspired them through their actions, through their ability to smash front-rowers or through their strength to bounce straight back up after suffering from a heavy hit.
Australian former professional Rugby League footballer who played in the 1990s, and 2000s.