I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Rogers, aptly nicknamed The Prince of Centres, in 2005 in the build-up to the Tri-Nations for Thirteen. Rogers was working at the time for Cronulla Sharks. Devastatingly, Steve died just a couple of months later – one of the code’s finest-ever players snatched from us far too early.
Which Kangaroo touring side was the best you played in?
Well obviously the 1982 side was the one that broke records, becoming the first side to go through Europe undefeated but, on a man by man basis, I think the 1978 and 1979 sides were better. Comparing sides is difficult, even if they’re just four years apart, but in 1978 there were guys like Bob Fulton, Mick Cronin and Tommy Raudonikis who weren’t there four years later, then in 1979, when we were home to the British, we had a great side. That was probably the best I played in.
1978 was the year you lost to France in somewhat dubious circumstances wasn’t it?
Yes, hometown referees! We’d come off the back of a pretty tough tour of England where we’d lost the second game at Bradford. The Pommy side was a lot more competitive in those days but we won the third game.
You scored some great tries at International level. Which was the best?
Probably the most memorable was against New Zealand at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Being able to score in test matches was great. I wasn’t too prolific but I certainly enjoyed them!
You enjoyed a great centre partnership with Mick Cronin back in the days when centres played alongside each other. Was he the perfect foil for you?
Anyone could play outside Michael. He wasn’t the most dominant centres in terms of pace but he was just the complete centre otherwise that I had the pleasure of playing with. You knew he’d always do his job defensively and, with regards to being able to structure play, he was second to none in area so he made my job a lot easier.
Who were the best internationals you played against?
Roger Millward was certainly one. I always enjoyed playing against John Joyner and Eric Hughes and I had a healthy respect playing against each other and we became good friends. Then there was Malcolm Reilly. He was the best English forward I’ve ever seen. He had the touch of a surgeon but could put you under the surgeon’s knife at the same time! As for other Englishmen, I loved playing alongside Tommy Bishop and Cliff Watson at Cronulla. Having Tommy’s guidance and skills was a real learning curve and having Cliff there ensured no-one was going to try and intimidate you.
Cronulla have had a lot of Englishmen there haven’t they?
Yes, there’s been Tommy and Cliff as well as Bobby Wear, Jeff Grayshon, Vince Farrar. Billy Benyon also came out, played one game and broke his arm.
You had similar bad luck at Widnes didn’t you?
Yes, I was at Widnes at the end of the 1985 season. I hadn’t played much footy here because I’d broken my jaw in the first game of the season. I arrived on the Thursday in England and wasn’t supposed to play on that weekend. It was against Wigan and it was Ellery Hanley’s debut. Widnes were keen for me to play so I said I’d see how I felt. I trained on the Saturday and said I’d play. I broke my leg after 13 minutes. It was a long way to go to break my leg!
You went on the 1973 Kangaroo Tour but didn’t play in the Tests.
Yes, I didn’t play in any tests as I got hurt in the second game against a French B side. I broke my jaw and, as you do when you’re young, I tried to come back too soon which put me out of commission for the English side of the tour so it wasn’t the best of tours but still a great experience for an 18 year old.
You played in the 1975 and 1977 World Cups as well.
Yes, I did and we won both of those series but I had to wait until 1978 for my first test cap against New Zealand as World Cup games didn’t have full test status. The highlight of my test career came in 1981 in the two games against France when I was captain.
What do you remember of the inaugural State of Origin in 1980?
Oh mate. In amongst a running war, a game of football broke out! They took it far more seriously than we did and we paid the price for it. We didn’t have an ideal preparation. They’d been in camp for a week, basically being fed raw meat and we had to play on the Sunday in Sydney, then we picked a side and went up to Queensland to play on the Tuesday. Not what you’d call ideal preparation!
Shouldn’t you have played for Queensland technically speakiing?
Yes, that’s right. The irony that took place with me and my son is we both should have played for the other state. I should have played for Queensland and he should have played for New South Wales. I played for a Brisbane representative side in 1972, meaning I qualified for Queensland because I’d played my first football there and Mat’s first senior football was here in New South Wales. Mat played for Queensland school’s rugby league and rugby union, but it’s where you play your first senior football but they assumed he qualified for Queensland.
You must have been very proud to have been named in the Australian team of the ‘seventies?
Yes, I was. It was terrific. It was a great re-union catching up with a lot of old mates and great players.
Realistically, can Great Britain or New Zealand win the Tri-Nations?
I think the gap is closing. It’s all about taking your opportunities when they come along like your cricketers did. Over the last few series, the Poms have taken these things to deciders but haven’t been able to deliver the knockout punch. Whether it’s down to belief or not, that’s for them to work out. Some of the Australian test players haven’t had great years and it’s a new look side they’ll have but, having said that, they’ll still be favourites.
Were Cronulla once interested in Danny McGuire?
Yes we were. That was through the association with Stuart Raper who had coached Castleford and Wigan. I’d also chatted to Roger Millward about him too. We’re looking at a couple of Englishmen this year too. We put an offer to Chev Walker but he decided to stay and also to Stuart Fielden. We were interested to see what his future held.