The former Australia Test forward Dane Carlaw did this piece for League Express in 2008, his first year at Catalans Dragons where he stayed until the end of 2010.
How did you get into Rugby League?
I started at school and it just went from there. I’m from Brisbane and was a Broncos supporter right from their first year back in 1988. I used to go and watch them play so to end up signing for them at 16 on a schoolboy scholarship was a big thrill. Playing alongside players who I’d admired so much like Shane Webcke, Kevvie Walters, Gorden Tallis and Alfie Langer – when he came back from England – was fantastic. I also played for the Australian Schoolboys in 1997 alongside guys like Aaron Gorrell – my current teammate, Luke Bailey, Mark McLinden and Phil Bailey.
Do you remember coming into the first-team set up?
Yes, it was in 1999 and the club was really struggling at the bottom of the table. My debut was against Balmain in round 11 and it was only the second game the Broncos won that season. Alfie had just retired a few games earlier so it wasn’t the best of times for everyone at the club but it was still a big thrill for me. I played three games off the bench that year. I played regularly in 2000, the year we won the Premiership and it was a great team to be proud of. We were Minor Premiers over the Roosters and then beat them in the final, 14-6.
You made your Origin debut in 2001, the series remembered for Alfie’s comeback.
My debut was in the second game and we lost pretty badly after the boys had won the first. Then Wayne [Bennett] dropped the bombshell that he was bringing Alf back from Warrington. We were all shocked but we were so excited too and Wayne said he’d only bring him back if he was up to it. And we could tell he was when he flew over. We won convincingly and Alf put me over for a try in the first half before scoring himself in the second half.
You then toured to England with the Kangaroos later that year.
The tour was touch and go at first after the September 11 terrorist attacks but our safety was assured and only Shane Webcke decided to stay behind. The tour was fantastic and it turned out to be my only one. At first, you stick with the guys you know from your club or from State of Origin but then you fit in with the others. We lost the first Test at Huddersfield, not having much time to prepare, but then won the last two when it really mattered, playing some great footy. Guys like Darren Lockyer and Andrew Johns were in great form and it was an honour to play in a side like that.
The next Origin series was also memorable for you with you scoring the deciding try.
That’s right. I scored right at the end of the third game, from an Alfie pass, to level the scores. Lote Tuqiri missed the kick but the draw gave us the shield because, as holders, it had to be taken from us by New South Wales winning.
Can you imagine Brisbane Broncos without Wayne Bennett?
Not really! I was amazed when I heard he was going to leave and coach St George instead. He’s great to play for and he’s a totally different person to how he might come across in the media. He likes a joke and a laugh but that’s not really how he’s perceived.
When you were at the club he was close to signing for the Roosters.
We didn’t know if it was true and he never commented on it so, to us, it was just newspaper talk.
How have you adapted to life in France?
I love it here. It’s a fantastic place and my girlfriend is from New Caledonia, a French colony four hours from Australia, so she speaks fluent French which makes things a lot easier for us settling into a new country. The lifestyle is great and training in good weather makes it a bit like home, unlike the guys at the English teams! I knew Casey [McGuire] from the Broncos and that’s helped and Scott Barker, who works at the Broncos, has worked for the French national team as well and he told me before I came over how good some of the players are. I’ve signed for three years and I’m enjoying my footy at the moment. The standard is very good – both our team and the competition as a whole.
How do you find all of the travelling from the south of France to England and back?
I’m used to it. Playing at Brisbane, we were flying every second week so it doesn’t bother me at all.
Did you know much about French Rugby League before you arrived?
I didn’t know what to expect from the French boys other than what Casey and Scott had told me but there’s a lot of talent here and they’re just as professional as anywhere else.
How do you cope with the language barrier at the club?
We get by! We have French lessons twice a week and there’s a translator here too. Laurent Fraysinnous, who is Mick Potter’s assistant, is bilingual which helps. All of our calls out on the pitch are in French and it’s up to the rest of us to work things out.
How do you assess your season so far?
We’ve done pretty well and we’ve had to cope with quite a few injuries which proves we’ve got a good squad of players. We might have Casey back next week which can only help but in his absence, Thomas Bosc has been in great form. He’s on fire and I really rate him. It’s great to see him challenge the line and he does it all the time. He’s an awesome athlete and with the form of some of these guys, things are looking good for the French World Cup team.
Would you like to see some of the French players try their luck in the NRL?
Definitely. They’d go great over there, especially some of the forwards like Greg Mounis, Remy Casty, Big Ja-Ja – Jamel Fakir and Seba [Raguin]. They’d love it over there and it would suit their game.
What’s your favourite position?
I’ll play anywhere as long as I’m in the team! I’ve been playing lock which means I can get back early and take in a hit-up but I’ve played second row and prop too.
Are you crossing your fingers that Mick will stay on as coach?
Definitely otherwise I’ll have had three coaches in three years! Mick’s a very good coach with some great ideas. I’m learning a lot from him that I didn’t learn at Brisbane and he puts together a great gameplan. We play free-flowing and enjoyable footy under him.
What differences between the NRL and the Super League are most noticeable to you?
They throw the ball around a bit more over here which is great to be a part of. It’s more fun and there are more scoring opportunities. Other than that, there isn’t a lot of difference. The standard here is great, up there with the NRL as Leeds proved in beating Melbourne.