Rugby League Heroes: Shane Millard

HAVING played for Sydney Roosters, Western Suburbs and South Sydney, Shane Millard signed for London Broncos in 1998. Within a season, he was playing at Wembley, although the Broncos lost to Leeds. After two more seasons in the south, he signed for St George-Illawarra before coming back to England to play for Widnes, Leeds and Wigan.

If you could relive one day from your career, which would it be? 

I’ve got two. My NRL debut, which was enormous. Growing up in Australia, all you want to do is play NRL, even if it’s just one game. And then the 1999 Challenge Cup Final at Wembley.

In your career, you were coached by Phil Gould, Tommy Raudonikis, John Monie, Andrew Farrar, Frank Endacott, Tony Smith and Brian Noble. Which made the biggest impression on you?

The best was Gus. He debuted me in 1996 at the Roosters. From a football-brain point of view, he was the best. When he spoke to the group, it felt like he was just speaking to you. He was a great motivator. At the Dragons, I was coached by Andrew Farrar. I had my best year under him. He was a great coach. Character wise, Tommy was amazing. I went to Western Suburbs in 1997, and we were odds-on favourites to make the semi-finals, but we lost our first three games. Our next game was Parramatta on Easter Thursday. We turned up to train on the Tuesday, but he cancelled it and put us on a minibus. There were garbage bins full of beer. We went to one of John Singleton’s restaurants. We were full of drink. The bus got us back to the ground at 2am and we had a light captain’s run on the Wednesday. Before the game, Tommy gave us a great team talk about how everyone was tipping us for the wooden spoon. He said, “They can all go and get f***ed!” He had this massive wooden-spoon ornament in his hand and smashed it against the wall. There was timber everywhere. “Get out there!” he shouted. We were up against a really good Parra team with Jarrad McCracken, Jim Dymock and Jason Smith, and we beat them 25-14.

Why did you only play one game for Souths in 1998?

I missed the first ten games with injury. I came back in reserve grave but injured my thumb. I eventually got into first grade and we got beaten by Adelaide Rams. Steve Martin then got the sack. I got put back into reserve grade and was then picked up by London Broncos, who were looking for a backrower because Roger Best was coming home. Back then, you only had to play ten NRL games the year before to qualify for a work permit. I figured I’d go back to Souths, but London offered me a two-year deal. I was on $50,000 a year at Souths, but with the exchange rate as it was, the London deal was three times more.

Was $50,000 enough to be full-time? 

No, I also worked in a tyre factory for six hours a day for Arthur Kitinas, the former coach. First grade was full time in 1997 with weights in the morning and a field session in the afternoon, but a lot of us also had to have a job. Genuine full time probably didn’t happen until about 1999 or 2000. I didn’t know any different than working and playing. We were just used to it. Training is what retires players now because it’s so demanding, especially pre-season. 

What are your early memories of London? 

London was one of the best times of my life. Everyone was from Australia or the north of England, and we were one big family. We played out of The Stoop at first and the Twickenham-Richmond area was unreal to live in. Then we went to Charlton Athletic, which was closer to London, so I spent more time in town. Glen Air lives 100 metres from me now, and Justin Dooley is godfather to my eldest daughter. When we get together, we always talk of our bus trips back from the north of England – plenty of beer and singing. We could celebrate a loss better than anyone! The club really looked after us.

What do you remember of Steele Retchless’s try at Headingley?

It was a crazy semi-final. We won it twice. I can still see the Steelo try unfolding from the other side of the ruck. I’d always been a hooker or backrower. We had Darren Bradstreet and Grant Young in the front row with me and Steelo in the back row. But Darren and Grant got injured, so Steelo and I moved to the front row. It was an amazing effort to get to Wembley, given our injuries and how good Castleford were. 

With so many absentees and Shaun Edwards playing with a hand injury, did you really believe you could beat Leeds at Wembley?

You always believe, but I knew we were big underdogs who needed to start well. We did that and were 16-14 ahead in the second half, but they took off Darren Fleary and Anthony Farrell and brought back Adrian Morley and Barrie McDermott for their second spells. We couldn’t cope with their size. I was in the front row at 90 kilos. Barrie was 115. Karle Hammond threw a cut-out pass, Leroy Rivett intercepted it and scored, and then the floodgates opened. Giz [Edwards] shouldn’t have played with his busted thumb. Glen Air was playing exceptionally well. He should have started with Giz on the bench.

The Broncos recruited aggressively in 2001 by signing Jason Hetherington, Jim Dymock and Richie Barnett. What were they like?

Great players! Me and Jimmy are still great mates and I still speak to Jason. I was the only one who would put up with his smoking, so I roomed with him. He’s a very funny man. I’ve coached his son, who I used to babysit in London. We played at Halifax soon after he signed, and it started snowing – flakes the size of dollar bills. He was from Queensland, where it’s always a million degrees. He’d start at nine, go off and I would move to hooker. Then he’d come back on, and I’d return to the back row. Anyway, after 25 minutes, I moved to hooker and stayed there till the end of the game. Tony Rae had tried to put him back on, but he’d told the trainer to tell Tony to go and get f***ed because he had hypothermia. And there was no hot water after the game because Halifax didn’t have the best facilities!

You went back to Australia with St George-Illawarra in 2002. Could you see that your team-mate Willie Peters would become such a good coach?

It doesn’t surprise me he’s doing well. He cares about his players. He has great emotional intelligence. He knows when a player needs a hug or a kick in the arse. He’s worked under great coaches like Trent Barrett, Anthony Seibold, Wayne Bennett and Adam O’Brien. He’s hardworking and knows his footy. 

What are your memories of another Dragons team-mate, Lance Thompson, who passed away in 2018?

Thommo was a good player. He was one of the toughest men I played with. He trained super hard. He was a man’s man. He got us into trouble one day. We had a red-hot team with Trent Barrett, Shaun Timmins, Luke Bailey, Jason Ryles, Matt Cooper and Mark Gasnier, but we had to play without them all when it was Origin time. We went to play the Warriors in New Zealand and were $6.50 with the bookies to win. I started lock. We had a bits-and-pieces team. We all put in $100 and backed ourselves to win. We ended up winning and we all won $650 which the CEO said he’d double because he was so happy. Back in those days, the media would travel with the away team. We met for the plane at 4am still full of drink, laughing and talking about our winnings, but the media picked it up, and we got fined. We lost all our money, and that’s when they started cracking down on betting. I played in a great era, real fun and no phones or social media to get you in trouble. 

Why did you sign for Widnes?

I agreed to sign at the Dragons for two more years, but the salary cap changed. I played 24 games and got a bonus of $100,000 on top of the $100,000 signing on and money for the 24 games, so it was decent money, but they could no longer fit me under the cap. Neil Kelly rang me to go to Widnes and I went over for 2003. I had the time of my life. Widnes was very close to Wigan, St Helens and Warrington, and I spent a lot of time with the Aussies at those clubs. 

Your next English club was Leeds in 2006. 

I knew Tony Smith from Australia and he wanted me for 2005 to cover Matty Diskin, who had done his ACL. Widnes wouldn’t sell me for 2005, but I went in 2006. We underachieved though. We got beaten by bloody Huddersfield in the Challenge Cup semi-final at Odsal and then Warrington in the play-offs at Headingley. My knee was shot, but Brian Noble came in for me. He’d previously tried to get me to Bradford. Bryan Fletcher, who I started with at the Roosters, Scotty Logan, Trent and Phil Bailey were at Wigan, so I went for it. We should have beaten Catalans in the cup semi-final, but Stacey Jones had a great game. We went on a great run after that. We were losing 30-6 at Bradford in the play-offs, and we won 31-30. We won at Hull the next week. Then we had Leeds at Headingley to make the Grand Final, but they were too good. We’d have beaten Saints, but Leeds were too good. 

And that was the final game of your career.

It was my final professional game, but when I came home my old man had secretly registered me to play for his Bush team, Port City Breakers in Port Macquarie. I played a handful of games, but we won the Grand Final, which my dad had never experienced before. It was a real career highlight. I played for two years and retired at 38.

Did you ever come across your namesake, Shane Millard?

I did. He was a lot older. There was always a lot of confusion, and not just because of our name. We also had the same birthday and were both involved with America. He coached them and I played for them twice in 2003 with Steele Retchless and the Kiwi Jules O’Neill. My great-grandfather was from New Jersey, but I signed an affidavit to say it was grandfather, and no one checked!