Andy Gregory (1)

I spoke to Andy about his glorious career in 2006 for Thirteen.

Which of your Challenge Cup finals do you regard as your favourite?
Obviously the first one, which was Widnes v Hull KR in 1981. Then, representing my home town Wigan five times at Wembley and winning the Lance Todd award twice. Nilling Saints was pretty good!

Was that first one when you needed to go to the dentist on the morning of the final to get your tooth removed?
Yeah I did. It had bothered me for a few days. On the Friday night I was a bag of nerves and my roommate, Keith Elwell, probably thought I was a bit of a nuisance, keeping him awake! They took me in the next day to have it removed and we got on with the game. I came through it, scored a good try and we lifted the cup. I remember my younger brother, Bryn, asking what it was like walking out at Wembley but I couldn’t remember.

What do you remember of your days as an Illawarra Steelers player?
Good times. We weren’t a fashionable club, finishing towards the bottom of the ladder quite often. But, the year I was there in 1991, we did well in the Panasonic Cup. We beat Cronulla and carried on going all the way to the final. No one in Wollongong could believe we’d got there but we lost to a very good Brisbane Broncos team. I was man of the match in that game and everyone was over the moon that we’d done so well.

There was a lot of hostility towards Wally Lewis and his Broncos team that day from the Sydney crowd.
Yeah he suffered in NSW with the crowds, even when he captained Australia. No one was more patriotic than Andy Greg when playing for Great Britain and Wally was the same with Australia. He was a good friend of mine and still is.

What were the highlights of your Test career?
Sydney 1988. I made a break and put Mike Gregory in for that try. We were fantastic that day. I remember all week Malcolm tried his best to get a team together because of injuries. There were a lot of changes but it was still a Test match and we played some good rugby and we surprised Australia. They just expected us to lie down but we came up with a great victory and put some pride back into the Great Britain jersey. Henderson Gill’s try was great and I made a couple of breaks and put people through but the outstanding try was Mike Gregory’s. We’d played great in the first half in the first test but didn’t get much luck after half time and you need that in test football especially against Australia. Then they hammered us in Brisbane. We sat down and talked long and hard before the third game in order to turn things around. We knew we could play better and win. We certainly took them aback and were all over them. Being named man of the match in Sydney and being part of a winning side against Australia was one of the highlights of my career. You can’t get much better than that.

Then you came so close to winning the 1990 series.
The first Test was fantastic. We all played well and came up with a great victory. Land of Hope and Glory as we came out at Wembley was absolutely unbelievable with 60,000 people singing it and that really lifted us. The end of the second game was terrible for us, when Lee Jackson took the dummy off Ricky Stuart and Mal Meninga scored. That really destroyed out morale, and in the third they just cancelled out myself and Ellery and won 14-0. The end of the second game had finished us off. We lost something when that happened. That was the nearest we got to winning the Ashes. I sat in the changing rooms afterwards and just thought that sport was supposed to be enjoyable. It was the lowest I’d ever been in my life.

What do you remember of the tours you went on?
Well, I’ve lots of stories, good and bad, about tours! Too many to mention probably but I loved them and when people I know go out there now, people ask them about me. “What about that little Pommy half back?” That’s the highest sort of accolade you can get.

What have you thought of the British halfbacks in recent years? Have they disappointed you?
I don’t think there are good enough halfbacks coming through compared to my era but, then again, the game’s changed and people have to adapt.

Do you think it’s changed for the better?
The top halfbacks now, while they have great individual skills, seem to lack the organisational and leadership skills that the top halves of the ‘eighties and early ‘nineties had.
I like watching all rugby league but less so the high-scoring games. Give me a 12-6 game any day when the halfbacks really have to work hard to create play for others. The game is certainly faster now but there’s not as much skill.

Do you think the change to ten metres from five has taken some skill from the game?
Yeah, I do actually. A lot of people might think it’s better though.

What do you remember of your battles with Peter Sterling?
Yes, I played against Peter a few times and what a player! You talk of great halfbacks and he’s right up there. He’s the best I faced on the international stage.

Was the Salford v Wigan cup tie the highlight of your coaching career?
No, that would be taking Salford out of the first division into the Super League. We’d finished top in the Centenary Season which was around the time we knocked Wigan out of the Cup, but there was no promotion and that made everyone determined to win it again in that first summer season and go up. In the 1997 Super League season, we did well, finishing mid-table. Then in 1998 we got to the Challenge Cup semi-finals. We’d been beaten at that stage by St Helens the year before but, you talk about highs as a coach, the defeat to Sheffield at Headingley in ‘98 signalled the end of Andy Gregory’s reign at Salford to be honest.

You mean in the sense that you couldn’t lift the team, or even yourself, for the Super League season after such a disappointment?
Yes, that’s probably right. To be perfectly honest, it took the heart out of me. I tried to put a brave face on it for the players though. Full credit to the board though, who tried all they could to make things right but it didn’t happen and I left.

So, were you jealous watching Sheffield lifting the Cup because it could have been you?
No, because I didn’t watch it. And I still haven’t.

How do you look back on your time at Salford?
With a great deal of pleasure. I enjoyed a lot of great games, coached some great players and the supporters were great too. Most of all, I can’t thank someone like John Wilkinson enough.

How proud does it make you feel to see players that you brought through like Malcolm Alker go on to have such a great career?
Yes, I signed Malcolm as a 14-year-old. He’s 110% Salford and the backbone of the club and, talking of Salford, they’ve made some good signings and I think they’ll go okay in 2006.

Do you think he was unlucky to miss out on Great Britain?
Yeah, I certainly do. In every game I’ve ever seen him play, he’s given his all and that’s what you need in big internationals.

What were your opinions on the Origin series when you coached Lancashire?
I enjoyed it and it was good to work with players from other clubs. It was a pity there was a few players who didn’t take it too seriously though. But people shouldn’t have compared it to State of Origin in Australia because it would have never got to that level. That competition over there is awesome.

Luke Robinson was frequently referred to as the next Andy Gregory. What are you opinions on him?
I speak to Luke quite a lot and I hold him in the highest regard. Wigan made a mistake letting him go. He hasn’t let Salford down and was a massive signing for them.

In your book you say “trips across the Channel to play France meant the misery of a couple of nights living off ham and French stick.” You talk about hating playing there and even pulling out of GB squads to go their with injuries that were “niggling”.
I’m still not a great fan of the French rugby to be honest because I’d much rather see a strong Cumbrian team in there because we need to be maximising the potential here. We’ve wasted money in France before and I just hope it doesn’t happen again.

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One Response to Andy Gregory (1)

  1. Louise says:

    Love the website Richard, and love this interview brings back many a memory!
    Thanks for a great read.

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