Former Broncos and Rabbitohs hooker Shane Walker grew up with no TV but he was soon to feature on it as an NRL player.
One of four footballing brothers who enjoyed success on the field and had some great times off it, Shane debuted at the Broncos in 1996 and would go on to play 150 first-grade games in a decade-long career.
In this Legend Q&A first published in Rugby League Week in 2011, Walker talks Bunnies and Bennett, Broncos and brothers.
Shane Walker, Q&A
Tell us about that memorable speech after you were made 'Baby Broncos' captain for one game in 2002?
I had a dirty big moustache on me at the time – with big handlebars. They were firing a few questions at me in the press conference and then one of them said, 'You must be happy to be Broncos captain?' They were being a bit too serious and I had to lighten the mood. So I said, 'Mate, I haven’t been this happy since I came home and my missus was dressed in a French maid’s outfit'. They laughed their heads off. I was at a luncheon the other day and Pat Welsh from Channel Seven was the host and they played some clips. It was Origin time and they had debutants like PJ Marsh and Chris Flannery. They were interviewing them but it was boring, boring… the usual clichés like, 'I’ll do my best' and 'I’ll try hard'. Right at the end they showed my clip and Pat said 'and this is how a news conference should be run'. We were big underdogs too against the Wests Tigers at Campbelltown on a cold Friday night… and we won (28-14). I used to tell everyone that I was the only Broncos captain with a 100 per cent winning record.
Anything stand out in your memory from the night?
We had six debutants and quite a few of the guys had to ask their bosses for the day off work to go down. It was the only game of first grade some of them ever played for the Broncos. There is a funny story from all this... about Robert Tanielu and a bloke by the name of Steve Lacaze. Tanielu was a big Polynesian front rower and he had a great game that night. This other kid, Lacaze, was a snowy haired white farmer from Innisfail but he only played five minutes. His manager rang Souths and said, 'Listen, I’ve got this guy off contract. He played in the Baby Broncos game. He was the big front-rower.' Souths, none the wiser, thought they had signed Tanielu – but they hadn’t done their homework. Lacaze turned up the Rabbitohs and they said, 'Who are you?' The penny finally dropped that they hadn’t signed the Polynesian front-rower.
You grew up without a TV. How important was that in developing your footy?
It definitely had an affect on all our football careers that is for sure. I was five when we were watching 'Skippy' and the TV blew up. Dad said, 'We’ll get it fixed next week'. But he didn’t get it fixed and it ended up in the cupboard for 16 years. We’d get home from school and all we’d do is play football in the yard and when we did go inside – because we didn’t have TV – we’d have passing comps. Everything we did was a competition.
Your dad Garry was a player and a coach. Did he have a big influence on you?
Dad was a massive influence on all our careers. He was always encouraging you. Even if you didn’t play well he’d find a positive… and in your formative years that is what you need. Wayne Bennett coached him at Brothers and impressed upon dad how important the fundamentals of the game are. There are two years between Ben and me and Chris and then four years down to Luke – our younger brother. Dad would coach Ben in 10s and 11s and then come back and coach me… and so on. Wayne talks about how a lot of his players who are sons of footballers have got football ingrained in them. We’d watch dad on the weekend – and as soon as the hooter went you’d race onto the field and get what you could – a shoe or a can… or you’d pinch a ball off a ball-boy and imitate what you’d just seen.
Your first club was the Broncos. What did you get out of playing under Wayne Bennett?
Once I started training with Wayne at the Broncos I learned the importance of competing hard. You could drop a ball at training or miss a tackle – but if you didn’t compete hard when the ball went away from you or if you didn’t work hard to get into position for a kick-chase, he’d bomb you for that. To be able to compete like that you had to be fit. We used to do an 8km run at The Gap reservoir and it had three massive hills in it. Wayne would run it with us and he’d be right up in the top four every year. For the first couple of years I’d come in one spot behind him .and he’d taunt me about it. I don’t know whether it was because he coached dad and had known us for so long– but there was something there with me, Ben and Chris that he wanted to draw the best out of us.
A look back at the 2000 Grand Final
Tell us ‘the peephole story’ and how you were 18th man for the 2000 grand final. What happened?
When Wayne knocked on my door on grand final morning in 2000 I looked in the peephole and I could see that it was him, but I went and sat back down on my bed… because I knew what was coming. We’d trained Saturday morning not far from Bondi’s Swiss Grand, where we were staying. I walked in to the foyer with my training gear and Darren Lockyer's old man was there. He said, 'bad luck, mate, for not making the team'. So after we went for a walk on grand final morning I skipped 20 lengths clear as we crossed the road to go into the team hotel so Wayne wasn’t in earshot. Then he came to my door. He knocked once. I went and sat back down. He knocks twice. I see him through the peephole again… and back I go to the bed. Then the phone rings and it is the team manager saying the coach wants to speak to me. Wayne goes, 'Shane, bring your gear to the game but we are not going to go with you today'.
Why did you go to Souths?
I went to Souths because Chris was going there. I’d heard how easy it was to get mixed up with the wrong crowd in Sydney. I thought there was a fair chance he could go off the rails… so I went down to help him out. I wasted my time, didn’t I? Ten weeks later he went to the Roosters.
Tell us about Souths. You had a quite a few coaches – Paul Langmack, Arthur Katinas and Shaun McRae?
You forgot a couple. When I went to Souths I remember thinking, 'What the hell have I done?' Craig Coleman was coach for two trials and then CEO David Tapp came and told us that Phil Blake was now our coach. There was a bit of in-fighting and skulduggery going on behind the scenes… so 24 hours later Tappy came to see us again and said 'sorry boys there has been a mistake. Paul Langmack is going to be your coach'. So within 24 hours we had three coaches.
But you grew very fond of South Sydney - to such an extent that you and your brother Ben want to coach there.
I understood the significance of playing at Souths and the history. I recognised that I was lucky to wear the red and green play for the Rabbitohs. You’d win a game, come up the escalators into the leagues club at Redfern and the place would be packed. The supporters would be in the auditorium and different guys would get up and talk and they’d be whipped into a frenzy. It was wonderful because in that Redfern area there are a lot of battlers. On top of that they fought like hell to get their team back in the comp. There was a lingering memory of that and the thought that perhaps their team might be taken away from them if they didn’t start winning. They were always proud of you – but they wanted a winning team to be happy about. I went through some tough times at Souths, but Ben and I have ambitions to coach there.
How big an influence was Russell Crowe?
Here is this Hollywood actor with a great knowledge of football. I was blown away. Russell would have been a good appointment as a coach at the Rabbits. I’ve never played Origin – but in the same way that Mal Meninga is passionate about Queensland, Russell is for Souths. He’s got an incredible grasp of team dynamics and what makes guys tick. Because he had that right, he could have employed someone to help with the fundamentals. He had some great ideas about the game and he was obviously well enough educated at some stage as a footballer to realise what it took to beat different teams.
Did you have any fun times with Russell?
I remember in 2003 we were in the doldrums and we needed a bit of a lift so Russell hired out this room at a hotel in Wolloomooloo and flew Shane Warne and Merv Hughes up for the night to talk to us. We had a great night on the drink. It was like winding back the clock. Because I had no TV as a kid I had no clue about movies so I couldn’t talk to Russell about that – but I spoke to him about his cattle and his farm. We got on great. I was there drinking rum and smoking these big Cuban cigars. It was a Thursday night and we went out and flogged Melbourne on the Sunday. After the game we went back down to the hotel and had some more drinks. I remember his personal assistant went out and came back with 24 Cuban cigars in a box… and Russell gave it to me. When my brothers have had babies we’ve smoked a few and I’ve still got the box and a couple in there.
You experienced some interesting motivational techniques at Souths?
We were playing Cronulla and it was the coach’s last throw of the dice, so he got this local real estate agent to come in off the street to motivate us. He had this thing that we weren’t using our sub-conscious minds enough. So we had to sit in the sheds at Redfern, look at our fullback and envisage him catching a high ball and doing good things… then we’d go around each player. Then he got this half-full cup of liniment and we had to hand it around, look at the players and take a big sniff. Then on game day, because you’d smell the liniment when the boys were getting a rubdown, all these good thoughts would come flooding back. But we got smashed (54-34)… and to make matters worse it was a Fox game and before the game we were in a huddle passing the liniment around with all of the cameras on us.
You coach the Ipswich Jets in the Queensland Cup with Ben. Any other ambitions?
I’d love to be back in the NRL coaching. Thee is nothing more rewarding then helping young blokes believe in themselves and seeing the results when they do. You actually can help guys to become better at their craft but a lot of it is upstairs. If they believe in themselves and know that you believe in them… then they can do anything.
What did you get from Wayne that you bring to your coaching?
He knows what works and even if you are not winning he doesn’t get sidetracked and try and find a new way. The other thing he does is he pushes you physically to somewhere you’ve never been… and keeps pushing that envelope. Then you are not feeling apprehensive about it when you are in a game because you know that you can go that extra mile.
You were at the Broncos in a golden era. What was it like playing with Alfie and those guys?
Alf was the best player I ever played with and he had a massive standing in the game... but the thing that impressed me most about him was that you could go anywhere and he would include everyone. It could be the bloke with his change on the bar drinking his way through it as he would every other day – and Alf would somehow make him part of the group. I think when you first start playing NRL or for the Broncos – it would be easy to get ahead of yourself. But Alf was a great leveller in that regard. I thought he was the funniest bloke I’d met – until I met his brother Kevin.