‘It was head-spinning money’
I was playing in England right as the Super League exploded in Australia. I was out on a golf course when I got a call. I was told to head to a lawyer’s office in Bradford. They said, ‘The ARL guys are in town’, I thought, ‘Who are the ARL guys?’, but I turned up anyway.
I walked into this office thinking I’d be the only one there and there were about 15 guys from different clubs around England standing in the waiting room, looking confused.
One by one we went into the boardroom and we were told, ‘sign with ARL and this will be in your bank account within the next 10 days. This will be your minimum, then you’ll negotiate with one of the clubs and they’ll top that up.’
It was head-spinning stuff. And head-spinning money.
I’d spent a bit of time up in Perth with the Western Reds in the first year, just during an English off-season. I loved playing in the Australian competitions, so I was pretty happy to get back over there.
I feel lucky that I arrived at Manly at a good time for the club. They had missed out in the 1995 Grand Final and then we won in 1996 and played in it again in 1997.
I was playing with a lot of great players and Bob Fulton was a great coach. I don’t want to be disrespectful to what I was doing in England, but I just think I learnt more those first four or five weeks in Manly than I probably did in four years playing in the UK.
The NRL, or the ARL it was in those days, is an uncompromising but very skilful competition. And the guys were hard arsed but extremely talented. We did some really cool things together and ended up winning the Grand Final, which was awesome.
I scored the first try of that game in 1996. Matt Ridge had gone off so they threw me the ball, said, ‘You’re a rugby union player, you can have a crack at it.’ It’s one of my greatest memories. A fantastic experience.
People accuse me of sitting on the fence, but I love both codes. You get some really shitty union games and some shitty league games and you can get some belters in both. I just enjoy watching real competition with great athletes, with plenty of skill and drama. Whether it’s rugby union, rugby league, or tennis or whatever. I don’t really care.
I saw a potential gap
After Manly, I came back to New Zealand and I played three more years of rugby union with the Blues. When I’d had enough and decided it was time to do something different, this career is what I chose.
I’d always had a bit of an interest in it. I saw with a potential gap, especially in the rugby union market in New Zealand as the game embraced professionalism, so my business partner Bruce Sharrock and I got things going straight after I’d finished playing.
I recruited a couple of past teammates and Bruce came with a few clients himself. Along with partners, we’ve grown this into an international business, Esportif, and represent hundreds of athletes in league and union, including 71 clients (players and coaches) at the World Cup.
It’s been great, an interesting occupation. We’ve had some clients who have been with us since day dot and you see them progress through the grades, from juniors through to being All Blacks. And then they’re going off to play overseas, and during that time they get girlfriends, and then they’re getting married, and they’re having kids, and they’re buying houses and they’re doing different things, and it’s pretty cool.
And the I guess the opposite to that is seeing some of these kids who’ve got all the ability in the world, and throw it away. Those who just don’t realise what the opportunities are for them. That’s the sad part of it.
The other concern is the expectation on these young guys these days. There is mounting pressure for them to succeed. Here in New Zealand we have all the provincial unions and the Super Rugby franchises and the NRL clubs all chasing the same pool of players. You can imagine for the parents it gets confusing and stressful. So even at that age, there’s a role for us to play.
If you’ve got a reputation for being upfront and honest, and having the client’s livelihoods at the forefront of your thinking, I think that’s the most important thing.
We’re dealing with human beings, young human beings, on a daily basis. And they come with all sorts of different issues and dramas. So, the fact that they can play a bit of footy, is just part of the equation.