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Legend Q&A: Mark Geyer

A day hardly goes by where Mark Geyer isn't asked about his famous State of Origin face-off with Wally Lewis.

But the former Blues hardman reckons he'll never tire of reliving the iconic incident with the King of Queensland at the SFS in 1991.

"I can't get sick of it because it's probably what's got me where I am in the media and life," Geyer told NRL.com.

The second-rower only played three matches for NSW, but he's forever part of Origin folklore because of that incident.

Geyer, now a successful media personality on Triple M radio, spoke with NRL.com for an Origin-themed Legend Q&A ahead of the start of the series on Wednesday at the Adelaide Oval.

Origin Legend Q&A: Mark Geyer

What are your memories of watching the first State of Origin in 1980?

I remember it pretty vividly, to be honest. When it first happened I was about 12, and I remember my dad was a Parramatta fan and he let me stay up late to watch this game of Origin because he wanted to see Arthur Beetson play against Mick Cronin, his teammate ...

I think as a 12-year-old, I wanted to play it. I was playing footy at the time myself and it was all that anyone would talk about at school the next day. I can't believe it's 40 years ago.

Arthur Beetson tribute

Did the interstate matches before Origin capture your attention?

No, not at all. I didn't watch any of it ... I think basically because it was so one-sided, looking back. I think NSW would always prevail because it was basically anyone who was playing in the Sydney comp [could be selected for the Blues].

They'd play against guys who were playing in the Queensland Cup kind of thing. It was pretty one-sided. Everyone likes to see a competition and that's exactly what Origin gave us.

Who was your first Blues hero?

Probably Les Boyd - just because he was so crazy, I suppose. I was a bit of a closet Western Suburbs fan and Manly as well.

Graham Eadie came to my school the year before [Origin] in 1979, to Whalan Primary School. I thought, well, if a bloke from Manly can come to my school then I'm going to start going for them.

Graham Eadie was always a hero of mine. Tom Raudonikis is the man who captured my imagination.

He played for the Magpies and obviously Newtown later in his career. To see him run out in the first game was fantastic.

After making his Test debut in 1973, Graham Eadie went on to play 20 Tests for Australia during a golden era for the Kangaroos.
After making his Test debut in 1973, Graham Eadie went on to play 20 Tests for Australia during a golden era for the Kangaroos.

I actually was a massive Arthur Beetson fan, to be honest. He was a hero to me, I suppose because Dad loved him so much and would speak about him all the time.

As a 35-year-old, he led the Queenslanders out that night at Lang Park, covered in Vaseline and strapping. His jersey came off, he looked like he was wearing a singlet out on the oval.

He had a bit of an aura about him looking from a 12-year-old's eyes.

Fast-forward to your NSW debut in 1989 - did it live up to the hype of what you were expecting?

It's something that I never thought I'd do. In 1989, there was word I'd be picked in the first team and I wasn't.

Then there was word that I was picked in the second team and I wasn't. Then I got picked in the dead rubber up at Lang Park for the third game.

I got wind that I wasn't quite a Jack Gibson kind of player. I was a little bit hot-headed and even the first couple of meetings with Jack weren't anything to write home about.

Mark Geyer on the charge for the Blues.
Mark Geyer on the charge for the Blues. ©NRL Photos

He only said a couple of words to me each time. I learnt later on that's the way he was. 

I started my first game and I remember playing against a pretty star-studded Queensland team.

I remember I thought it was about 10 minutes into the game and I looked up at the clock for the first time and there was five minutes to go before half-time.

I'd touched the ball twice and I'd missed four or five tackles. We ended up getting beating 36-16. It was nine years after I was watching it as a 12-year-old.

It wasn't what I thought. It was heaps faster than I thought it would be, obviously more aggressive, but I just felt like a lamb to the slaughter when I played my first game. Totally wasn't prepared for it.

Did injuries keep you out of the 1990 series?

I had a bad groin all through '90. It just luckily got me to the semi-finals and to the grand final [with Penrith]. I was told before that game that it was out of me and [Canberra's] Gary Coyne [for Australian selection].

They said, 'Whoever wins the game, boys, they're the second-rower or hooker on the Kangaroo tour, the last spot'.

The Queenslanders rush in to fight Mark Geyer in 1991.
The Queenslanders rush in to fight Mark Geyer in 1991. ©SMH Archives

We got beat but I made the Kangaroo tour. That was a good experience. I came back and 1991 was probably my best year in footy. I started the year on fire and we changed our jerseys and I made the Origin team.

We got beat 6-4 in the first game in '91 up at Lang Park. When I heard the second team was getting picked, I didn't think I'd make it and I got a call saying I did.

We met up at Coogee to get our gear, our tracksuits and have a chat. Tim Sheens was the coach. After the meeting, I got called back by a couple of the selectors who picked me.

They said, 'Your first game was a little bit quiet, big fella. We need more out of you'. I said, 'I've just come back from a suspension and I'm a bit worried about being suspended again'. They said, 'You don't have to worry about it, buddy. No one's been sent off in Origin'.

I thought, OK, now I can play a little bit better and outside the lines ... And they said, 'Yeah, of course you can'. So I did. That second game, I just kind of went off.

I think I got cited on six different occasions in the game.

Mark Geyer

Well, I didn't go off - looking back on the game, I did a couple of things that were untoward but I think I got cited on six different occasions in the game.

I actually thought I had a good game. I thought I played pretty well.

Mike O'Connor kicked a great goal from the sideline to win the game. As they came into the dressing room after the match, the media throng opened the doors up and all these cameras came straight towards me.

My Dad was in the dressing room with me. I said, 'Dad, I think I got Man of the Match. He said, 'I don't think so, buddy'. And he was right.

The first question was asked: 'Mate, how do you feel to be cited on five or six different occasions?' I said, 'What? I thought I got Man of the Match'.

They said, 'No, Graham Lowe's next door - he wants your blood and the Queensland players want your blood, Queensland supporters want your blood for your hit on Paul Hauff and your hit on Steve Walters'.

1991: Infamous Origin stoush

Luckily the one on Paul Hauff, I actually missed him. If I'd hit him, his head would've went into the second row of the grandstand because it was a shoulder charge that went wrong and he kind of slipped as I went to hit him.

And then the blow-up at half-time with Wally, that was just all surreal.

Watching Wally Lewis in that first game [in 1980] we spoke about as a young bloke himself, probably about my age, and then being face-to-face with him in the pouring rain at the Sydney Footy Stadium was just like a dream.

Mark Geyer and Benny Elias are jubilant in the sheds after game two of the 1991 Origin series.
Mark Geyer and Benny Elias are jubilant in the sheds after game two of the 1991 Origin series. ©NRL Photos

I look back on that incident ... It was hard to believe. Here I am, I think I was 21 or 22 at the time, looking across at the best player in the game who wanted a piece of me.

It took me a while to calculate what was going on. Once I did, I thought, well, come on, let's go then. Let's get it on.

I knew after that first game in '91 that I did play quietly. I wanted to make a statement in game two and I certainly did.

The iconic photo of Wally Lewis and Mark Geyer during their Origin II confrontation in 1991.
The iconic photo of Wally Lewis and Mark Geyer during their Origin II confrontation in 1991. ©NRL Photos

Do you ever get sick of talking about that moment with Wally?

Mate, no. I can't get sick of it because it's probably what's got me where I am in the media and life. Not a day goes by that I don't get asked about it. 

Did you understand at the time how iconic it would be?

No way. Not a single moment did I think that 30 years later we'd still be talking about it. Especially around Origin time, it's the one thing that people obviously ask me most. It is that time that I do reflect and go, wow, what if that didn't happen?

What if the selectors didn't give me a green light to run amok? I think things happen for a reason and that reason was for me to try and become an Origin player.

I thought that becoming an Origin player [meant] you've got to do things differently.

As it turned out, that was my last-ever Origin game because I got six weeks' suspension and I never played Origin again for different reasons. That's probably the biggest disappointment of my sporting career.

It's probably surprising to many people - that you only played three Origins but are immortalised in Blues history. Did you feel hard done by not to get another game?

I was really disappointed that I didn't get to play that third game; I was really disappointed that I got suspended.

I started to find my groove after playing two games. Obviously I didn't set the world on fire in that first game in '91, but I started to get the feel of the camps and the intensity of the camps and the crowds and all that type of stuff that happens with Origin.

I got suspended for the six weeks so that ruled me out of game three. Obviously other things in my career happened that no one could stop from happening. You know what, I don't begrudge it.

I'm disappointed I never played more Origin because that is the hardest type of rugby league

Mark Geyer

I'm disappointed I never played more Origin because that, for me, is the hardest type of rugby league there is. As far as having any regrets about it, no. I'd do everything I did again and again and again because we probably wouldn't be having this chat now if that didn't happen in 1991 - me and Wally at half-time.

You mentioned the Queenslanders wanted your blood - what would have happened if you'd played Origin again?

It would've been chaotic in Queensland, I'll tell ya. I wouldn't have got a great reception, but I was ready for it. I was six-foot-five and bulletproof, or I thought I was at the time anyway.

When you're that young and brazen and you kind of get the keys to the castle to do what you want at a footy field - I probably took the keys to the castle too far.

I think they would've been waiting for me and baiting me and I would've had a reception committee, not just on the field, but I think Caxton Street would have given me something too on the way to the game.

Looking ahead to the series kicking off on Wednesday, what do you think about the game-one squads?

It's exciting for both teams. Eight debutants for Queensland, three debutants for NSW. Just the fact we've got Origin on is a blessing. We were so far from having it seven or eight months ago.

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Even rugby league looked like a pipe dream at the time. Now we've got three games back-to-back-to-back which is fantastic. The way they've pulled it off is fantastic.

I really like the NSW side, especially Luke Keary to make his debut. I like Junior Paulo being included in the front-row. It's something they'll forever remember. As for the Queensland eight who are making their debuts as well, it's exciting times for them. 

Everyone keeps saying you've got to watch these young guys and don't be complacent with Queensland and that's the truth. Everyone thinks back to 1995 with Paul Vautin's young team that beat us three-nil against a pretty star-studded rugby league team.

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But I think our fortune as New South Welshmen is Brad Fittler played in those games and was part of it. There won't be any complacency from the NSW team. They'll be ready.

They'll know that Mal Meninga's been added to the squad [as an assistant coach] for a reason. His reason is tradition and culture.

He'll be ramming it down their throats every night after dinner and every day after lunch and after every session.

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So they'll be fired up, the Queenslanders, don't worry about that. They'll be pumped.

I think NSW know that. Having Freddie have first-hand experience of being ambushed by Queensland will help our cause and I really like our outside backs.

I think Jack Wighton and Gutho [Clint Gutherson] in the centres is mouthwatering. It's good to see [Daniel] Tupou back on the wing after a four or five-year hiatus.