Published in Thirteen in 2005
Brett Kenny’s State of Origin career
Brett Kenny is rightfully regarded as one of the sport’s greatest ever players. A Parramatta legend, he scored two tries in three consecutive Grand Finals as the Eels won the competition in 1980, 1981 and 1982.
Famous in England for his spell at Wigan, Kenny’s crowning moment over here saw him win the Lance Todd Trophy in 1985 with a majestic performance as Wigan beat Hull in the most famous of Challenge Cup Finals by 26-22.
Kenny tells Thirteen about his State of Origin career which ran for six series. His debut, as a substitute in game two of 1982 was in a period of Maroon dominance and Kenny’s first three series ended in defeat. However he was a key figure in halting this run of defeats as New South Wales triumphed for the first time in 1985 with Kenny in the stand off position that he is remembered for. This was followed up, in 1986, by Origin’s first whitewash as Kenny took the man of the match honours with a brilliant performance in game three at Lang Park.
His feats were duly recognised as he and Wally Lewis, his great rival, were featured on the Winfield State of Origin shield.
Brett, what are your memories of the early games?
I made my debut in 1982 and I was on the bench. That made it even more difficult. I came on after half time and Queensland had just scored. After a couple of sets I was blowing hard and I thought it was just nervous energy but as the game went on I started to realise it was because of the sheer pace of the game. Then just as I got used to it, the hooter went! But it put me in good stead for future years.
Was it easier for you playing Origin with so many Parramatta team mates there?
Yeah it always helps having guys you know there even off the field because I was a shy bloke and it helped me in getting to know the other guys.
What did you think about the theory that the Blues didn’t try as hard?
It didn’t bother me. It was just a media beat up but the Queensland press and maybe the supporters, not the players, probably felt a bit inferior. I know Wally was pissed off with it, and probably the other players, because we were trying just as hard.
It must have been flattering to be featured on the State of Origin shield…
Yeah it was. It was a great honour and something I never expected. It made me get noticed a bit more and it was very special.
What do you remember about the battles with Lewis?
They were good. I remember Wally playing a test in 1982 at the Sydney Cricket Ground and feeling sorry for him because the New South Wales press were bagging him for being the only Queenslander in the side. But it wasn’t his fault! He deserved his spot. Then I started playing against him and enjoyed the confrontation. We were good mates and with our faces on the trophy as you mention we had to do a lot of media work together to promote State of Origin and we became good mates. We had a lot of fun out there. There was sometimes joking when we tackled each other. It may surprise a lot of people that it wasn’t always as serious as you’d imagine.
What is your favourite State of Origin memory?
Probably 1985. The second game at the Sydney Cricket Ground. I scored late on and it helped seal the game and the series. It was the one when Steve Mortimer sank to his knees in joy. It looked like he was praying!
Was it a little bit difficult at first to adapt to playing outside Mortimer when you’d played alongside Peter Sterling all your career?
Yeah I guess it was. He was a completely different half back to Sterling but he was a great player and he played for Australia. He was very quick and elusive but it didn’t take long to get used to him and it wasn’t hard. He was a very passionate man. He’d get up and talk to us on the bus on the way to the ground to gee everyone up. He’d have tears running out of his eyes and I’d have a bit of a chuckle. He’d have a shot at me for that with him trying to be serious! But that was just me and he appreciated my way of preparing for a game and we got on well. Great bloke, Turvey.
Talking of being on the bus, what about the infamous drives past the Caxton Hotel in Queensland?
Oh mate it was great! They’ve gone back to doing that because they stopped it and that was unfortunate because it’s something the New South Wales players need to experience. At first, it’s very daunting but once you’ve experienced it you get used to it and you look forward to it. There’s Queenslanders on the street throwing beer cans at the bus and carrying on! You knew then you were there for a State of Origin game. It was just part of State of Origin folklore though and you just wanted to experience it. It’s good they’ve gone back to doing it.
Did they stop doing it to protect the players?
I wasn’t sure if it was that or because games weren’t at Lang Park for a while.
What do you think is the best State of Origin try?
From all time, then Billy Slater’s last year when he kicked over the top for himself. From my playing days then a Michael O’Connor try from game three in 1986 to complete a whitewash. Mark Murray kicked over the top, he got hit as he regathered and lost the ball. Garry Jack picked it up and offloaded. It went through Sterlo and me to O’Connor who ran it in from 50 metres.
Moving away from Origin…do you watch the 1985 Challenge Cup final much?
Yeah I’ve got a tape of it. I don’t watch it that often but every now and again I do. I’ve got great memories of playing at Wembley Stadium. I’d watch the F A Cup final on television and to get to play there was a dream come true.
You’re at Penrith Panthers now aren’t you? Isn’t Nigel Wright out there at the club as well? He was a great player but so unlucky with injuries…
Yeah I’m at the Panthers coaching the Jersey Flegg side and Nigel’s my assistant coach. I never saw him play but people have said how good he was.