Kevin Campion knows all about the pressure of finals football – having played in four grand finals with two premiership rings to show for it – and even though he is tipping two of his former clubs, Brisbane and the Warriors, to fight it out in this year’s decider he admits to some concern over the exceedingly young age of their respective squads.
Campion’s two grand final wins came as a member of Broncos sides jam-packed with experience and to this day remain his career highlights. Yet he has never forgotten the pain of his grand final losses with St George in 1996 and the Warriors in 2002.
“Particularly with the Warriors – the support that we had back in New Zealand was unbelievable. We were like rock stars that week and I think that sort of affected the team heading into the grand final,” the 40-year-old explains.
“There was a lot of hype. Being one of the older guys, I could handle it because I had been there before but a lot of the guys just got caught up in the week and we didn’t play to our ability on the day. In the end we got beaten by 20 but it wasn’t the game that I would have liked us to produce.
“The young guys in the team were trying to be flairy and it wasn’t working on the day, but they kept on doing it and we kept making mistakes. The week before we’d played the Sharks and it was a tough, grinding match. That’s what we needed to do against the Roosters. And I was disappointed because I didn’t think we were going to lose that grand final.”
Even though Brisbane’s remaining premiership campaign hinges on their ability to cope without Darren Lockyer, who sensationally announced his withdrawal from this weekend’s sudden-death preliminary final with the Sea Eagles, Campion is confident of a Broncos-Warriors decider on October 2.
“That way I’m happy either way. There are reasons why I would like them both to win so it doesn’t really matter. It’s an achievement just to get there. Whether you win or lose it’s a great week and a great experience.”
Campion, a tough-as-teak back-rower with four Origin appearances for Queensland to his name, played 241 first grade games for six different clubs between 1993 and 2004 but it was the time he spent with Brisbane and the Warriors that he is best remembered for.
He won two premierships in three years at the Broncos before playing a key role in lifting the Warriors from eternal battlers to genuine premiership contenders, yet neither would have become a reality were it not for the influence of supercoach Wayne Bennett.
“He was definitely one of the major influences on my life,” Campion recalls. “I was very fortunate because I was basically discarded from [the Adelaide Rams] under the coaching regime down there and luckily enough I had met Wayne in the Tri-Series playing for Queensland that year (1997).
“It was just a phone call and he got me out of Adelaide to the Broncos. And turning up to training the first couple of days with the likes of Alfie (Allan Langer) and Kevvy (Kevin Walters), Gorden Tallis, Steve Renouf, Mick Hancock – I was just in awe.”
Similarly, it was Bennett that kicked off negotiations with the Warriors when Campion went cold on a deal with English club Warrington.
“I was over in England playing for Ireland in the World Cup and decided it was too cold to take my family over there,” Campion explains. “I’d signed with Warrington but I rang Wayne and said ‘Mate I don’t really want to come here – I heard the Warriors might be interested?’ Within a couple of hours I was signed at the Warriors.”
While both clubs hold special memories for Campion – Warriors coach Ivan Cleary remains one of his closest friends – he says it is hard to go past the 2000 grand final when it comes to career highlights.
“I was in the starting side for that one,” he recalls. “I got my opportunity when Peter Ryan was injured in 1999 to play lock forward and I was able to hold that position through ’99 and 2000. We were probably a different side to what we were in 1998.
“We weren’t an attacking, flairy side. We were a hard, grinding, defensive outfit and that’s how we built our year.”
Much like his nomadic career, which saw him spend time with the Gold Coast Seagulls and North Queensland, Campion continues to wear many hats. Having started a development company during his time with the Cowboys, he now owns a Ray White real estate agency in Pottsville in northern NSW, where he specialises in property management and sales.
And in his spare time he is involved in the cleaning industry, helping good mate and fellow former Maroons forward Mark Hohn set up his cleaning business in Gladstone.
“I’m basically a regional operations manager up here,” Campion says. “The Pottsville business takes care of itself which allows me to help out Mark, which I enjoy doing.
“There is plenty of opportunity in Gladstone. The mining sector up here is a new area for us and we’ve actually picked up a big contract with Adrian Brunker’s company, The Maroon Group. He does mining accommodation, so it’s keeping us pretty busy.”