After Warrington announced they had signed Matt King for the 2008 campaign, he spoke to me for a Rugby League World feature. King struggled for a while in the primrose and blue but when he finally settled, he became a devastating player and helped the Wolves to Challenge Cup successes in 2009 and 2010.
How relieved are you that your future is now settled?
It’s been a bit of a strange experience for me because it’s only the second contract I’ve ever signed. And it’ll probably be the last too. It’s been a long time and it’s played on my mind a bit but I really think I’ve done the right thing. Now I can focus on the NRL and hopefully we can make up for last year and win the competition. But I’m also excited about the move. The Warrington squad list for next year is pretty impressive and I’m looking forward to joining up. I think we can be successful and I can be successful but I also think I’ll enjoy my time there. For me to be able to come over as a single bloke to a new culture and a new country is really exciting.
How did the move come about?
My manager went over to England just before this year’s State of Origin series. I had a contract with Melbourne for next year but I had a clause allowing me to play in the Super League if the opportunity arose. He came back telling me there was a fair bit of interest and that’s when it started to take shape. There was some interest with a few clubs interested but I don’t want to give too much away about which clubs. The big decision for me was to stay with the Storm or go to England. I wouldn’t have gone to another NRL club because I couldn’t imagine playing against the Storm. Melbourne’s my home in Australia and if I hadn’t chosen England then I’d have looked to extend my contract at Melbourne but the opportunity came up to go to England and I wanted to try my hand at something new.
It was a torrid few weeks with the Origin, the weekly NRL and my future in my head but now I can concentrate on the Storm and winning a Premiership with them before I go. Sometimes contract negotiations affect how you play footy but that didn’t happen with me. If my footy had started to suffer, I’d have come to the decision quicker but, even so, now the decision has been made I realise what a big weight it was on my shoulders. All I’m doing now is a few interviews and focusing on the Storm, of course.
Being a current Australia international, your move has come under considerable scrutiny over there. How have you handled that?
I wouldn’t say it’s put me under any extra pressure. I’m pretty good at switching off from League, not watching TV, not reading the ‘papers and distancing myself from all the media talk. I’m not an out and out footballer. I love playing it and I know how great it has been for my life but I don’t live for the game. I think I’ve got a pretty big sense of the bigger picture and I’m happy to come to Warrington.
But what about Ricky Stuart’s comments that you should have been excluded from the final State of Origin match for moving to England?
I was disappointed with that although one thing I’ve learned with being a footy player is that you can’t believe everything you read. Ricky and I have had a pretty good relationship over the last few years and he was my coach when I first played in the City/Country games. He was then my first Origin coach and then coached me playing for Australia so he’s had a big influence over my career. If he did say what I read in the ‘papers, then I’m disappointed.
Andrew Johns seems to be doing a good job for the Wolves there. How big a part did he play in persuading you to sign for Warrington?
I took a lot of advice from a lot of people. It was Jamie Lyon who got me really interested in going to England. He couldn’t speak highly enough of the competition and the people over there. I also shared a beer with Andrew after the third Origin and had a chat with David Kidwell too. Andrew couldn’t speak highly enough of the club, of the town and of the people there. Both of those guys played at Warrington and fully recommended the place. I got a good feeling about the club and I think I’ve come up the right decision in moving there. Like you say, Joey’s obviously doing a good job for the club over here telling everyone how great it is, but he was 12 beers deep when I spoke to him!
Are you excited about playing alongside Martin Gleeson?
I’ve played against Martin in Test football although not directly opposite him. I was playing on the wing and he was the centre on my side. Matt Cooper marked him and it was a good battle. It’ll be good to think that we can form a good combination in the centres and he’s a top notch player, having been in the Test team for a few years. Hopefully we can learn off each other and strike up a good partnership.
What about Adrian Morley? Did he ever land a good shot on you?
No, he didn’t! I played against him obviously but he was someone you tried to put a sidestep on or just simply run away from! He’s a very aggressive player but, by all accounts, a great bloke. Warrington will have a good backline next year but you still need the forwards and our front row looks very attractive. I can’t wait to meet up with Moz and have a beer.
What can you tell us about Warrington’s other NRL signings?
I don’t want to wrap up Monaghan and Hicks too much because they play for Manly and they’re chasing us at the moment! Michael Monaghan is a hooker or a half and they’re the two most important positions on the footy field. For him to swap between them as he does is great and he’s a top acquisition. Chris Hicks is a pretty silky finisher who scores a lot of tries when they don’t always deserve to be scored. Louis Anderson is a very aggressive back rower for the Warriors and it’ll be great to have him and Vinnie together, as well as the Gleesons. If there are brothers in a team, they always seem to inspire each other and their enthusiasm rubs off. Hopefully they’ll do that for us next year.
Have you spoken much to Paul Cullen?
No, I haven’t. Over that period, I just spoke to my manager and he’s the one who spoke to their coach and CEO.
You won’t play representative football again after this year. How big a wrench is that?
It’s sad; definitely sad. I value my representative jumpers so much and it’s sad that I won’t get any more but I’m looking forwards, not back. I’m humbled about what I’ve achieved in the game and maybe one day they’ll change the rules so I can come back and play. Darren Smith got a game for Australia in 2003 when he was playing in England so maybe that will happen to me.
You must have wanted to go out on a representative high but New South Wales just lost another Origin series.
Yes, that was disappointing. When I first played Origin in 2005, we had a red hot team. We just lost the first game but won the next two convincingly and it set a standard for me personally. I thought I deserved to win every Origin series from then on! But last year we got beaten in the last minutes of the third game and this year we were completely dominated in the first two games, which was a big disappointment but we showed a lot of pride and character to beat Queensland in Brisbane in the third game.
How much do you want to go out a Premiership winner?
It’s what’s driving me this year. We’re not far from the semi-finals and I can’t wait for another crack at it. I’d even give all my New South Wales and Australia jumpers back for a Premiership and it would mean the world for me to leave this competition with a Premiership under my belt.
You said some things about the referee after last year’s Grand Final loss to Brisbane didn’t you?
They got me at 5.30 on the Monday afternoon, stuck a microphone in my face and I said something I shouldn’t have. You can imagine the state I was in and it ended up costing me some money but I wasn’t real happy with the referee.
What’s your Rugby League background?
I’ve played Rugby League ever since I can remember but when I left home to go and play in Sydney, I just thought it was going to happen for me. I didn’t put my head down, didn’t train hard, didn’t eat properly. I did all the wrong things and by age 21 I thought I’d had enough. I had a year away from footy and travelled up and down the east coast of Australia. It was during that time that I realised that I had something to offer and that footy was a pretty good way of life. I thought I had something to offer, went back to Sydney and trained really hard. I went to Cronulla but things didn’t work out there and, to cut a long story short, I went to Melbourne at the end of 2003. They were running short on outside backs and I was playing first grade within two weeks. I’ve gone the long way around but, if I had my time again, it’s a journey I’d still make because I really appreciate what I’ve got.
Melbourne’s feeder club is in Brisbane which seems crazy. How does it work?
I moved to Brisbane Norths and had a couple of months there then came down to Melbourne where I’ve been ever since. We have a squad of 33 here and the top 18 stay and play first grade. The other boys travel back to Brisbane and play in the comp there. There’s no standard of footy good enough in Melbourne for them so it’s the best way although it’s not perfect.
Weren’t you a dustbinman before you played for the Storm?
At one stage I was a garbo. I did it for about three months but had a lot of other shitty jobs along the way. A lot of the boys I knew are still working as garbos so it makes me realise how lucky I am.
What has been the highlight of your career?
If we’d have won the Grand Final it would have been that but playing for Australia has been the highlight and to rattle off some of the names like Johns, Lockyer and Kennedy that I’ve played with is great. It makes me feel like I’ve really achieved something.
You might also be talking about the fact you played with Inglis and Folau in a few years’ time.
Definitely! They have a really good recruitment policy down here and I’m sure that the Storm will be strong for a long time.
How good a coach is Craig Bellamy?
Without a doubt, he’s the reason I’ve been doing so well in League. I’ve asked him to have my State of Origin and Australia jumpers while I’m away and he’ll look after them for me. He’s taught me so much and without him, I wouldn’t have been able to do the things I’ve done. I learn new things off him all the time and he’s still learning as a coach as well.
How big is Rugby League in Melbourne. Do you get recognised on the streets?
Blokes like myself, Billy Slater, Greg Inglis and Cooper Cronk might get recognised sometimes but, on the whole, it’s a little hideaway down here. I was at an AFL game recently and no one knew who I was. It’s not a bad thing for us though because we can get away from it all and enjoy ourselves.
When do you come over to England?
I’m not sure exactly but probably in December at some stage. There’s a lot still to be sorted!