Hull KR’s Clint Newton – ‘My Life In Rugby League’, filed for League Express.
Was following your father, Jack, into a golfing career ever a serious consideration?
It kind of was but I got to the stage where I had to work out what I was most passionate about and I had more passion for Rugby League than golf. I first took up Rugby League through friends at school. I had played soccer beforehand because my dad thought I was too small to play League so it wasn’t until high school that he allowed me to play. I got sick of the fact that there was no contact in soccer. The only golf I play now is socially for enjoyment. I try and keep my handicap at a good mark where I can take some money off the boys!
Where are you originally from?
I was born in South Carolina and then after dad’s accident we moved back to Newcastle in Australia. When he was playing, we were based in England, America or Australia depending what tour he was on. From the age of three or four until last year, I lived in Newcastle.
How did your father’s accident happen?
One of his friends was about to fly in a six- or eight-seater airplane after they’d been in Sydney to watch a Swans game. Dad was in one of the hire cars waiting and having a chat to the driver. The blokes got on the ‘plane and dad realised that the ‘plane started veering off the tarmac. At that stage the airport had no fencing around it. So he got out of the car and ran towards the ‘plane, waving at them to stop but because it was pitch back and raining, he walked straight into the propeller. He lost his right eye, his right arm and sustained stomach injuries. It only just missed his brain and he was in a coma for a few weeks. Then he got pneumonia so it wasn’t real crash hot. I was just about to turn three when it happened so I don’t remember much from before it but I remember going to visit him in hospital, although not vividly.
Did you grow up a Rugby League supporter?
Dad was real passionate about his sport and Rugby League in particular outside of golf. He was a mad Parramatta supporter and we all followed them until Newcastle came into the competition in 1988. We very rarely missed a game, home or away. Then, luckily enough, I joined them in 1999.
You made your debut in the Premiership-winning season of 2001.
I played seven or eight games in 2001 but I injured my shoulder in the last game of the weekly rounds tackling Ben Galea, of all people. So that ruled me out of the finals and the Grand Final but it great to see them win the big one against Parramatta, who were raging-hot favourites. Everything happens for a reason I suppose but there was no sadness that I wasn’t playing. It was an opportunity lost but it just wasn’t meant to be.
Jamie Peacock said last season that the Knights didn’t take the 2002 World Club Challenge against Bradford seriously. Do you agree?
He’s right – we didn’t. We had no Ben Kennedy, no Adam MacDougall with a couple of other players from 2001 retired or moved on so we used it as a bonding trip more than anything else. We had a very young and inexperienced squad and might not have given it the respect it deserved although we went on to have a good season which could have been down to that bonding exercise but, looking back, I regret not going into it as professionally as we should have.
Was it frustrating not to win another NRL when you still had such a good team?
Yes. 2002 was the biggest disappointment because we were equal minor premiers but, in the last weekly round against St George, Luke Bailey dropped his knees into Andrew Johns and broke his back. In the semis, we went on to lost to Saints again and the Roosters where we were really unlucky. We were there or thereabouts again in 2003 before a terrible run of injuries over the next couple of years.
Andrew Johns describes you as a great friend in his recently published autobiography.
I’ve known Joey from when I was 12 or 13. He was always good to me and had a lot of respect for dad. We became close and I was lucky to play with him at the Knights.
Were you aware of the problems he had in his career which he revealed in his book – the drug taking and the drinking?
I’m not in a position to comment on his recreational pastimes but I will say that I knew he had issues off the field and that’s where my respect comes through for him. I knew how tough things were for him emotionally and mentally and he had to deal the with pressure of being the best player in the world and carrying the hopes and dreams of the whole of Newcastle. I developed a tremendous amount of respect for him. So for him to play at such a high level every week was a superb feat.
Were you aware he was Bipolar?
Again, I’m not going to comment on whether I knew about it. I knew he had difficulties off the field and I did my best to help him where I could and that’s maybe where our relationship developed.
What a player though!
Absolutely – a lot of the time he would do things in a game where I would shake my head in disbelief. Then a couple of seconds I’d have to remind myself how lucky I was to be playing with him. He was such a hard trainer though and a lot of people won’t have realised that. People thought he was just naturally talented and it all just fell in his lap but it wasn’t like that at all. He was probably the hardest trainer at Newcastle in my time there.
What happened with Newcastle when Brian Smith came in?
I don’t want to get into Brian Smith too much. All I want to say is I had no other option but to leave the club. At that stage I had no other club to go to. It was based on the face that I didn’t believe Brian Smith gave me any other option with a couple of comments he made to me in a conversation where he tried to force me to go to England when I didn’t want to. I wanted to stay loyal to my team for the 2007 season but, in his words, he didn’t see me as a valuable enough player to keep for the 2007 season. Then Craig Bellamy came along and I got the chance to play for the best coach in Rugby League.
Some people criticise Melbourne for their style of football. What do you think?
It’s hard to bag a team that keeps winning. Teams become frustrated with Melbourne because they can’t break them and they’re so well structured and well coached. Their support staff are fantastic and they’re a side with everything in place. It was wonderful to be able to fulfil some lifelong dreams by winning the Grand Final last year. They threw me a lifeline and it was great to play in a side with such a great culture.
Are you enjoying life at Hull KR?
Yes, definitely. It’s been a change although it’s been difficult at times to adapt to the new lifestyle and culture as well as playing against players I’ve never seen before. But I’m really enjoying it and it’s great to play with a team enriched in such history, passion and pride. It’s been good for me to play in front of the most passionate supporters I’ve ever seen as well. Hull KR are on the up and it’s great to be involved.