Rugby League Heroes: Shane Webcke

Arguably the greatest prop forward of the last 40 years, Shane Webcke won the lot with Brisbane Broncos, Queensland and Australia. His incredible consistency led to him being named in the annual World XIII seven times in a row from 1998 to 2004. He retired in 2006 after his fourth Grand Final win and currently works for Channel Seven in Brisbane.

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

Gee that’s a tough question without notice. I’d probably go to my last game which was the 2006 Grand Final against Melbourne Storm. To end my career with a Grand Final win was perfect. I’d like to do it again because I’d absorb so much more of it. It went in a blur, so I’d like to have that again and relive it for the right reasons. We had struggled against the Storm, we were light on backs and Shane Perry, our halfback, had come in from the Queensland Cup. Melbourne had been dominant all year. This is very un-Craig Bellamy like, but they decided to play us up the middle which was a big mistake, and I still don’t understand why they did it.

Wayne Bennett scouted you at 19. Is it true he went to watch Steve Price? 

That’s right, and it’s a story I love to tell because Steve Price desperately wanted to play for Brisbane Broncos. The fact he came to watch us and picked me is a miracle. Steve and I are good friends, but I love the story. I had no desire to be a professional footballer. I never made rep sides – in fact, the first Queensland side I made was State of Origin. When you don’t make rep sides as a youngster in Australia, you think you don’t cut the mustard. I had an agricultural background and wanted to work with sheep. I loved to play, but I didn’t think it would go further. I knew Wayne was there to watch Steve. It was a Grand Final. Pricey was in the opposition side, and we hadn’t beaten them all year, but we did that day.

What were your early impressions of Bennett?

He scared the shit of me. I first met him at 15 at a camp in Warwick in south-east Queensland, and I was petrified. I was a shy kid and was there on my own. Wayne called me over, and I didn’t know where to look because I was so frightened of him. He said, “How’s the farm going?” He caught me by surprise, so I just blurted out “Why?”. He’d had a life-long interest in farming. That’s when I realised he was just a normal fella, and it began an affinity because at least we had that one thing in common. He’s such a close friend of mine now. 

You returned to the family farm in Leyburn at 19 when your father died. Did you consider giving up your Rugby League career?

Yes. Pricey was ready for a Winfield Cup career. He went to the Bulldogs and had a great career because he’d studied it and prepared for it. Me, on the other hand, I’d spent my life chasing sheep around. I was a fish out of water in Brisbane. I’d started to look at football differently, and I was no longer just turning up and playing. I got too serious, and the opportunity was slipping through my fingers. I was struggling, and I wasn’t reproducing what they’d seen in me. When my dad was killed in mid-1994, I went home. It was a really tough time. My mother was fighting for her future, my brother had gone back to work, and I formulated a plan to stay and run the farm. 

It was rather arrogant to think I could do it, but that’s youth for you. My mother is a real hero and such a tough and uncompromising person. She just refused. She said, “You can do what you want to do, but you’re not doing it here.” Rather immaturely, I took great offence. We had the conversation years later, and she admitted she’d been desperate for me to stay, but she knew I might one day regret not having a crack at the Broncos. And that remains the reason I ever became a footballer. When I went back, I realised footy was just footy, and I became the player they wanted. 

Your debut came in 1995. Bennett told you, “You’re in first grade this weekend. Don’t f*ck it up.” Did you follow his instructions?

Funnily enough, no. I only lasted a minute and 28 seconds! It was against Illawarra Steelers at ANZ in front of 52,000. I got a high ankle sprain in the first two minutes. For the time I was on, I was petrified, thinking it would be the hardest thing I would ever do, but I got the ball from the kick-off, drove it in and realised it didn’t hurt when I got tackled. From that moment, I was so confident. I pushed a senior pro out of the way for the next drive. Then I spotted a small halfback and decided I was going to run over the top of him and score. He grabbed my ankle and that’s how I got the injury. I was confident I would come back. That minute and a half made me realise I could do it.

What are your memories of the extended 1997 World Club Challenge?

Forget about the games. It introduced me to England and started my lifelong love affair with your country. I grew up watching British TV programmes, and I was a big fan of ‘All Creatures Great and Small’. I was captivated by it! That tour was great. We stayed in Leeds, and I hired a car because I wanted to go to where they filmed the programme in the Yorkshire Dales. I went there on my own. I’m from Leyburn and there’s a Leyburn integral to the storytelling of the programme. It was a great day. I love all the history in England.

Were you ever tempted to sign for an English club? 

Yes. I received an approach from Salford while I was touring in 2004. I said to Wayne who was Australia coach, “You know I’ve always wanted to play in England. Can I go and talk to these guys?” They offered good money and the pound was much stronger then. I was a very serious footballer, so I was never going to go and embarrass myself, but I’d always had a crook knee, and that’s why I was ending my rep career. Me being me, when I talked to the Salford people, I wanted to be up front about my knee. We almost shook hands [on the deal]. Wayne had alluded he would let me go if I really wanted it. My wife was up for it. But I told Salford I had a crook knee. I said I knew it would stand up, and it did turn out to be ok in my last two years with the Broncos, but it was only fair to tell them, and that was the end of it.

How do you look back at the Super League War?

It was a bad time for the game, but it ushered in most of the things we have today. They had the right idea and a wonderful vision. It just got buggered up with the politics. The World Club Championship wasn’t a success, but it let the English game know where it was at. After that, the Great Britain team was always tough, apart from one Test in Sydney in 2002. When people ask me for my favourite rep moments, they want me to say Origin, but it was always playing the English because of the history.

Who were the best British players you faced?

I got to play against some tough Englishmen, and Stuart Fielden was as hard a man as you could run into. 

Who else?

Oh, I’m terrible with names. Andy, the tall guy. He was wonderful. 


Yes. And the blond scrum-half was excellent.

Sean Long? 

Yeah. He was very tough too. And that mad bastard prop. 

I’m guessing that’s Barrie McDermott.

Ha – yep! I loved him. Such a tough player. And then there’s the great Harvey Howard, an all-time champion bloke and a legend. I loved him. You know what we Australians love about Englishmen? You are blokes’ blokes. You love a beer, and you love the pub. Harvey was a great guy.

Was there a time when you thought Great Britain might just win a series?

Yeah, in 2003 when we won the first game right at the end. After that, I thought we could lose the series. I also thought it halfway into the second game. There were a few years when it was very close. We knew it would never be easy. Great Britain had a formidable pack, and it took a remarkable Australian side to beat them.

Should Adrian Morley have been sent off in that 2003 opener?

Adrian Morley – now there’s a bloke who could football. I forgot to mention him earlier. Wonderful fella too. The hit on Robbie Kearns? Nah, he shouldn’t have been sent off for that, not that early in the game. I was due to take in the next drive. I’d just seen my mate having his head taken off, and I had to charge into these mad bastards next!

Part 2 of this interview will feature in next week’s edition of League Express.

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