Shane Richardson would have been the man who tipped off Russell about Sam. Richo would have done his homework on him.
They knew he had something to offer but, in saying that, he still had plenty more to show. He was probably not in the top 10 players in England at that time.
He was a good young player coming through, sure, but in Australia we’ve always got a heap of those.
But when you met Sam, heard about his dreams, saw his personality and what drove him, he was extra special. That’s before you saw him play. There was a lot you could tell from the passion in his eyes and his leadership qualities.
You could see on meeting him that he was a strong kid, strong on his beliefs and his goals and really driven. You sensed straightaway, ‘this kid’s going to be something special’.
Then you saw him go on the footy field and it reinforced everything you’d thought initially.
That sums him up
Over the years, getting to know him, I think Sam’s been even more impressive off the field than on it. He’s definitely up there as one of the top players in the world but his personality, leadership and how friendly he is – for a club that can be just as important.
When I was living on the Gold Coast and working at the Titans, we had a group of kids come over from England from my old hometown of Castleford.
Souths came up for a game and afterwards I told Sam about the kids being there in the crowd and how excited they’d been to see him play.
He said, ‘Where are they? I want to go meet them tomorrow’.
He wanted to get picked up at 6.30 the next morning so he could see them before going back to the hotel for breakfast and to get ready for the flight home. He took that little time he had to go over and meet the kids and chat to them.
They would have been happy just to have seen him play but he did everything possible to make it even more special. That for me sums him up. A compassionate person, and a real good bloke.
My uncles’ wishes
My uncles were mad Souths supporters, all through the lean times. They always used to ride the team’s fortunes, wanting them to win a comp. One would say, ‘If I could see Souths win another premiership, I’d die a happy man’.
Both my uncles, those crazy Souths fans, passed away just after the victory in 2014. They were always happy they stuck around to see that premiership.
When my uncle Bimbo was really sick I took him up to meet Russell and he told him, ‘Thanks, you’ve given me one of my life’s greatest moments. I never thought I’d get to see that happen. When it did it was the greatest feeling.’
Introducing Sam and Russell, I guess I played my own small part in making my uncles’ wishes come true.
I mean no disrespect to the other great players in that team but Souths would never have won that premiership, or been the club they are today, without Sam.
He’s the man who made it happen. The man who drove them and took them to that level.