Names like Wally Lewis, Allan Langer, Darren Lockyer and in more recent times, Cameron Smith, rightly reign in “best of State of Origin” lists as their exploits donning the Queensland Maroons jersey are undeniable.
However, while Queensland has been blessed to field some of the game’s most outstanding players and once-in-a-generation talents, it is also equally true that you don’t have to be an Immortal-in-waiting to produce a star performance for Queensland.
With 'the best Queensland players of all time' and 'the best team of the past decade' lists already looked after, it seemed a good time to reflect on some of the whole-hearted Maroons performers who were great rugby league players in their own right, but whose contributions have been overshadowed by the sheer dominance of the game’s biggest stars.
Presenting the Queensland Maroons: Unsung 17 - a team built on effort, heart and an unshakeable passion for Queensland.
Queensland Maroons: Unsung 17
1. Robbie O’Davis
What to say about Robbie O’Davis? If you watched him play, you’ll understand that he gave so much more than what the statistics (12 games spanning the whitewash year of 1995 into 2002 - one try, one goal, four wins and two draws) might say. While modern fans have experienced the pure brilliance of Billy Slater to redefine what a fullback should be, when given his opportunity, the former Newtown, Easts Brisbane and Newcastle great served Queensland well.
2. Mat Rogers
Remember that time when Mat Rogers scored all the points for Queensland - four goals and one field goal, which gave the Maroons a 9-8 win and kept them in the contest to retain the shield after the series decider was a 10-10 draw? He scored all the points in Game II loss in that 1999 series as well, courtesy of one try and two goals. In his five games for Queensland, the dual international scored a total of three tries, 12 goals and that famous field goal and could always be counted on.
3. Mark Coyne
It may seem strange to consider him to be an underrated Maroon, given his name is synonymous with one of the most memorable moments in Origin history – ‘That’s not a try, that’s a miracle!’ – but the former St George Illawarra great contributed so much more and that fateful run to line to clinch Game I in 1994. A Queensland vice captain and noted leader, he finished his Maroons career with 19 matches, one game short of attaining a FOGS Dick ‘Tosser’ Turner Medal.
4. Willie Tonga
Plenty of players are plenty tough, but are they Willie Tonga tough? While he may never get the accolades of some of the superstars he played with, they were drawing on his example for inspiration. When he was coaching Queensland, Mal Meninga coined ‘Tonga!’ as a war cry for his side to call out when they were under pressure, after the former North Queensland Cowboys centre played on for more than 60 minutes of Game I in 2011 in year with a dislocated shoulder - a game the Maroons won 16-12 to open the series.
5. Matt Sing
One of the owners of a rare State of Origin hat-trick (Game III, 2003), the Cowboys great was a fan favourite for his wholehearted approach to the game. Matt Sing may have scored only five tries in total in a 21-game career, but he also never shied away from his work in defence, and made the vital tackle on Terry Hill - in Game I of that famous 1995 series - to hold him up and prevent a try, to help Queensland to their 2-0 win and put them on the path to a whitewash.
6. Ben Ikin
A position that saw both Wally ‘the King’ Lewis and then Darren Lockyer hold court for many years before a certain Johnathan Thurston made the jersey his own, it can be hard to remember who else played their part in this playmaking role. While current coach Kevin Walters played there with skill and composure, which helped earn him a Hall of Fame nomination this year, much like his entry to Origin (where coach Paul Vautin allegedly mistook him for an autograph hunter when he tried to enter the team room), Ben Ikin’s service in that position can be overlooked. He played in a total of 17 games for Queensland, including some off the bench and at centre.
7. Adrian Lam
Queensland needed someone to steer them around on the field and Adrian Lam answered the call after he was given special dispensation to play for Queensland in 1995 despite him being the captain the PNG Kumuls. The international eligibility rules are different now, and while some south of the border may want to continue to find fault with his inclusion, Queenslanders were grateful to have him in the team for 14 games to provide guidance (he captained the side eight times) and four tries.
8. Steve Price
A genuine gentleman of the game on and off the field, the leadership Steve Price provided to the teams he played with, and in particular to the forwards, is unquestionable. Although it was an ugly end, not just for Price but for all involved, in the final minutes of Game III 2009, in his total of 28 games for Queensland, he served with great distinction. Fun fact, he is also in the top five for oldest players to play men’s Origin, representing at the age of 35 years and 125 days in 2009.
9. Wayne Bartrim
The 1995 series – it’s been a theme of this story, but was the year of the whitewash, when the so-called ‘no-names and nobodies’ catapulted into being somebodies. And it all began with a Bartrim goal, the only points of that first game that set the tone for the series. Beyond that moment, the former Dragon was a key contributor to that series win overall. He played nine games for Queensland from that year into 1998.
10. Martin Bella
To sum up Martin Bella – get your head down low and go, go, go! Once he went so hard he infamously played the ball towards the opposition’s try line. But he was quickly forgiven for that error, as when it came to the Maroons, you knew what you were going to get from him and he provided a solid prop’s outing in 21 games for Queensland overall.
11. Matt Gillett
The only representative in the team still active in the NRL, if his current form holds and injuries let him be, Matt Gillett still has plenty more to give in the Maroons jersey. However, what he has done already can often be overlooked. Never one to cause a fuss, he does a lot of work that goes unseen, and is only noticed when he is not there. He has also fought hard to continue to play the game he loves, returning to Origin in Game I this year after breaking his neck last year.
12. Dallas Johnson
While he may not have possessed the most skill or finesse compared to others when it came to attack, in that typical Queensland way, Dallas Johnson wasn’t ever going to let any of his team mates down. A player who famously held no regard for his personal safety, he was a modern version of Gary Larson (see below), known for tackling himself to a standstill. For a time, he held the record for most tackles in an Origin game after making 62 in Game II in 2007.
13. Gary Larson
Predominately a second rower or a lock, Gary Larson was also picked for a time as prop for Queensland, but if he were to hypothetically have been selected at fullback, would anyone hold any doubt about his commitment to fulfilling his role? Known as a tackling machine, he set the record for most consecutive games played for Queensland with 24 (Game I, 1991 to Game III, 1998) - a run which was only passed by Johnathan Thurston in 2012.
14. Paul Bowman
The advancements made to ensure player wellbeing have been immense, and you hope you never actually get to see some the extremes some players endured to play for Queensland again. Take for example Paul Bowman, who was your classic ‘Mr Dependable’, someone you could rely on to get the job done. And if that meant staying on and making three tackles in a row after suffering medial ligament and cartilage damage to your left knee in a tackle, that would sideline you for four weeks, as well as getting a knee to the head for your troubles, well, so be it.
15. Mick Crocker
Every team needs a firebrand – a hot head that will help fire up their team and refuses to take a backward step. Mick Crocker locked into fights with Justin Poore, Mark O’Meley and the rugby league ball, and through it all he played with undeniable passion for the jersey and for his team mates, and was able to get under the skin of the Blues with his aggression, which helped lift those around him.
16. Dale Shearer
Before there was Greg Inglis terrorising opposition defenders on his way to the try line to either to score himself or set up the play for his winger, Darius Boyd, there was Dale ‘Rowdy’ Shearer. When the Sarina product retired from Origin in 1996, he was the (then) highest try scorer with 12, and it took until 2012 for current record holder Inglis, who finished his career with 18, to go past him.
17. Brent Tate
In his rugby league career, each time Brent Tate set off on a comeback from a seemingly insurmountable injury setback, fans’ admiration for him grew. While all the players on this list demonstrate the sheer power of simply having a go, Tate epitomises this perfectly. He would put his body on the line and go above and beyond and his love for Queensland was unquestioned. It is something he continues to share now as a mentor of junior teams.
Mic'd up: Brent Tate