Tough life lessons at the Clydesdales made Thaiday
The last Clydesdale.
Before Sam Thaiday sat down with NRL.com for a lengthy chat at Brisbane headquarters he came up with that as one topic we should cover for a story.
"That's what I am now. I'm the last Clydesdale," Thaiday said as he reiterated that it would make "a good story".
That morphed into a conversation about aspirations, invaluable lessons and the often long and winding journey all elite NRL players make to get to the top.
Thaiday was referring the fact that at the Brisbane Broncos he is the last of the now defunct Toowoomba Clydesdales, a Brisbane feeder club that once played in the Queensland state league now known as the Intrust Super Cup.
It was at the Clydesdales where Brisbane-contracted players toiled away with the hope they could one day be Broncos, and where coach Wayne Bennett sent players who had been dropped.
The lessons learned by a young Thaiday in the early to mid-2000s were plenty, including the fact that no one is safe from the axe at the Broncos, no matter how big a star you are, or think you are.
"I can still remember a couple of games where we pretty much had a Queensland forward pack," Thaiday recalled.
"We had Dane Carlaw, Brad Meyers and Carl Webb who were huge NRL stars and had played for Queensland and Australia, and here I was as an 18 and 19-year-old getting my opportunity to play alongside them and learn from them.
"That definitely showed me that you are accountable for your actions on and off the field and if you weren't performing then you weren't going to get the chance to wear that Broncos jersey."
Thaiday had the likes of Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Ben Hannant and Neville Costigan alongside him.
There were "plenty of times" when Bennett sent him back to the Clydesdales after he'd had a taste of the NRL from 2002-2004, and more lessons were learned.
"Sometimes that is the kick in the butt you need to make sure your head is in the right place," he said.
"Another huge lesson I learned too is that when you are part of a schoolboy system or a club football system and think you are on top of the tree, you get down to Brisbane and you get cut down, and all of a sudden you are at the bottom of the tree.
"I wanted to climb up again and I had to work damn hard. There were a few old forwards in that Queensland Cup system and they didn't care if you were the next big thing or where you were from, you definitely got taught a few lessons.
"I probably had a bit of a smart mouth on me in those days, as I still do, but I hadn't earned the right to use it. I definitely got brought back down to earth."
Thaiday said there were plenty of fun times and recalled how when Kevin Walters was coaching the Clydesdales the players would jump on the bus after a Toowoomba game and all the Brisbane-based boys would head to a memorable post-match function.
"Kevvie owned the Broadway Hotel at that stage which was right near the Gabba. I think it was struggling a bit, the old pub," Thaiday grinned.
"It was almost like a promo us going back there, but Kevvie only put one jug of beer on our tables and he'd get the chef out the back to make us what he called his "gourmet pizzas". I reckon it was the leftover mince from Taco Tuesday that was put on top of the pizza with some cheese, and he called it gourmet.
"The pub didn't last under Kevvie very long. We used to give him plenty of stick about it."
Thaiday was inspired on a personal level to go full circle and play a trial this year for the Broncos in Toowoomba and captain the team.
"We did two days of community work before the game in Toowoomba where I went into schools, and they were things we were doing when we played for the Clydesdales.
"It was really good to see how much the Broncos brand is still loved by the community."
Now there is an under 20s team based in Toowoomba called the Western Mustangs which takes in a catchment from the broader Darling Downs region.
Thaiday would love to see a Toowoomba side back in the Intrust Super Cup. His nostalgia for the club which folded at the end of 2006, and where he learned so much, remains palpable.
"It was such a wonderful starting point for us and helped us stay grounded and push to achieve what we ultimately wanted to achieve."