Tough-as-teak Queensland second-rower Sam Thaiday admits that if it weren’t for some sage words of advice from State of Origin icon Arthur Beetson he might have wasted his career playing the ‘bully’ on the football field.
The irony is that the punishing Thaiday is now focussed on bullying the Blues forwards into submission in Game One at Etihad Stadium on Wednesday night.
In an exclusive interview with NRL.com on the eve of the series opener, the Broncos captain recalled how Beetson sought him out after watching him play at a junior carnival when he was 17 years old.
“He told me to stop trying to be the bully and play my football… and that I would get selected [in higher teams] if I did that – and I got selected, too,” Thaiday said.
The 27-year-old is adamant those words from Beetson, who passed away last December, changed his career.
“I think so… I think especially as a younger kid I was a little bit bigger than some other players and I did try to play that tough type of football role, where I tried to get over the top of people,” said Thaiday, who will suit up for his 16th game for Queensland.
“I figured out that you can’t always play the aggressor – sometimes you do need to put in a little bit of attention and a little bit of skill if you want to be a great football player.
“He [Beetson] was a great mentor – he was someone that I looked up to and someone that I would like to be like when I get older. He did a lot of work for indigenous people, he really strived to promote indigenous health and indigenous education – two things that I am passionate about. He was a very inspiring and powerful man.”
Beetson’s legacy has been evident all week, with the Queensland players even shouting ‘Artie’ as motivation during training sessions. Also, Beetson’s name will adorn the Maroons’ jerseys, alongside fellow deceased Queensland representatives Peter Jackson and Ross Henrick.
Meanwhile Thaiday knows getting on top of the Blues early will be crucial to Queensland’s hopes of drawing first blood in the 2012 series – and he says that starts with negating their pack.
“Shutting down the forwards first,” he nominates. “If we can shut them down it won’t give their backs an opportunity to play the great football they can… they have got some good mobile backs that we will have to try to keep out of the game.”
Informed New South Wales had won the second half in each of the past four Origin clashes, Thaiday said the damning statistic only emphasised how importance it was that Queensland maintain their effort throughout the 80 minutes.
“Yeah well, that’s the first time I have heard that!” he said. “We are happy with our past success but it is not going to help us win games this year, we have to restart, make sure we are doing everything we can on the training paddock so we can play good footy on Wednesday night,” he said.
“Game One of every series is a huge game and it is a bonus if you can get away to a good win and a good start, it puts you on the front foot.”
Thaiday said not having to worry about the captaincy had assisted his preparation for Wednesday night’s game.
“It helps a lot,” he said. “You know, you do try and think about the team when you are playing for your club, and you try and make sure the team comes first – but this week has given me an opportunity to relax a little bit in my role.
“I still want to try to be quite careful out on the field but I just won’t have that added responsibility of trying to captain the side.”
In an ominous sign for NSW, Thaiday singled out Cooper Cronk as the individual who had most impressed him in the Maroons’ camp.
“Cooper Cronk always impresses me… he is always a very professional athlete in everything he does – he is always doing a whole lot of extra work in perfecting his game.”
Thaiday also said he was hopeful of providing even greater impact in the game given Johnathan Thurston’s shift to five-eighth.
“I’ve played a lot of footy with him and I think him playing five-eighth now will give him a lot more freedom and a lot more roaming ability,” he said.
“I am sure he will pop up all over the field – and hopefully he will pop down that right-hand side and help me out a little bit with my attack as well.”
Not surprisingly, Thaiday rates Paul Gallen as the biggest threat to the Maroons.
“He has really impressed me this year and in previous years as well, so he is a huge player for them and he’s going to be a handful.”
But he added Queensland were also wary of Blues interchange Tony Williams, despite the fact he hasn’t played since being suspended in Round 3.
“It’s always tough sitting on the sideline and then coming back and playing football but I’m 100 per cent sure that he has been working hard,” he said.
“These days when you are suspended it’s not a holiday at all – if anything your study load gets heavier and your fitness load gets a lot harder as well, so I am sure he has been doing a lot of off-field fitness and working hard to be as fit as he needs to be for the start of the game.”
Q: Routine is important in the lead-up to Origin: what things do you stick to?
A: “One is you have to make sure you don’t eat too much. It’s always tempting especially being in Origin camp where we do get to eat at some very nice restaurants. There is a buffet nearly every night in the hotel too, so that’s the first thing you have to make sure you are staying on top of: your food and eating right, making sure your weight is right. And just making sure that you are keeping busy too, you are not constantly thinking about the game – otherwise you can play the game in your head days before. I’ll make sure my game-day routine is spot-on as well.”
Q: What simple thing do you do to make sure you keep your mind off the game?
A: “I just make sure I have fun. I always try to get around the boys as much as I can and have a laugh and a giggle… play cards… go to the movies… anything that gets you out of the hotel room and gets you out of sitting down and sitting around, thinking about footy.”
Q: Who is the biggest joker in camp?
A: “There is not really a big clown or a prankster. We all have a bit of a laugh and a joke at one another, poke fun at one another – I think Dave Taylor cops it most.”
Q: What about a pest?
A: “No, no real pest… Cam (Smith) gets a bit annoying every now and then – he sits in the front row of the bus and he thinks that making fart noises on the microphone is a funny thing! Cam is always last on the bus, too. Always last for everything. That’s Cam Smith… if you’re counting heads and you are wondering where that last player is, it’s always Cam Smith!”
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