As London Broncos return to Super League in 2024, we catch up with one of their greatest past players, Steele Retchless, for a trip down memory lane.
HE may be long retired and these days looking more like an outlaw biker with his long flowing beard, but the legacy that former London Broncos legend Steele Retchless has left behind (particularly in British rugby league circles) is second to none.
Having played in 201 games for the London Broncos (a club record) and with a combined total of over 340 games throughout his career, Retchless was simply a workaholic at every club he played for.
Whilst the Brisbane-born warhorse second rower reflects on his past achievements as a player, it’s his family name that he is most proud of when it comes to his involvement in rugby league.
“This generation might not know who my dad Mick is, but he was a legend with Brisbane based club Valley’s Diehards in the ‘70s.
“Not only did he captain his side to Grand Final success, but dad’s side was one of the most talented if not feared clubs in the old Brisbane rugby league competition.
“Anybody that grew up watching the old Brisbane League, will automatically know who he is and to this day, he is still fondly talked about by rugby league tragics.
“Truth be told, he is my ultimate hero.”
Whilst a young Steele cut his teeth in Brisbane with the Wests Panthers and Valley’s Diehards himself, little did he know that he would carve out a stellar career that has seen him become a cult hero on both sides of the world.
“I started my senior career in Brisbane with Wests Panthers and Valleys in the early 1990s and won a premiership with the Panthers in1993 in the Queensland Cup.
“I was playing some good football that year and was offered a contract with the Brisbane Broncos to join them in season 1995.
“Back in those days, spots were competitive though, so you had to be on your game.
“One wrong mistake, one small lapse in training, then you were at risk of losing your position in the team.
“I spent two years with the Brisbane Broncos before I was released and signed with the South Queensland Crushers who ended up folding at the end of the 1997 season.
“I was left in limbo there for a bit, but little did I know that I would be packing my bags and heading to the other side of the globe to continue my career in England.”
Enter the London Broncos.
“I thought it may be a good chance to revitalise my career and with limited opportunities in Australia because of the Super League war, the allure of travelling and playing football at the same time interested me, so I signed on at London and the rest is history.
“I needed a fresh start after the collapse of the Crushers and even if it was on the other side of the world, it was the best move I ever made spending seven wonderful years in the nation’s capital.”
The tearaway back rower’s break out season would be in 1998, having smashed many records at London.
“1998 was a great season for me.
“I made a then world record 66 tackles in a game versus Bradford (which has since been broken) and made the 1998 Super League Dream team.
“Everything that could go right, did go right that year for me and we just had a really tough side that made my game easier.”
Whilst Retchless may look back on 1998 with glowing memories, the following year really put the London club on the map with a maiden Challenge Cup Final appearance on the hallowed turf of Wembley Stadium.
“I’ve played at some terrific grounds during my career but running out with London against Leeds Rhinos at Wembley, is right up there.
“I will give it to the English fans, the supporters are fanatical and there’s nothing better than playing in front of such parochial crowds.
“I remember scoring the winning try against Castleford to book our spot in the final, something I get asked about all the time.
“I just hit the ball at the right time off a great pass by Robbie Beazley and saw the line wide open that sealed the win.
“The players were exhausted but ecstatic and the London supporters went nuts, I’ve never forgotten it.”
The Broncos may have been thrashed by a red-hot Leeds side 52-16, however London did well considering the horrendous injury toll that mounted in the lead up to Wembley.
In 2000, the Broncos legend’s American bloodlines came into play when he was selected to play for the Tomahawks, representing the USA on three occasions.
“My Grandfather was born in Iowa, and I qualify on the grandparents’ rule.
“His name was Stuart Beck and he was a gun baseball player who actually captained the American Baseball team when he was playing in Queensland.
“Pulling on the USA jersey was a bit emotional for me because that’s where some of my history lies and I jumped at the chance of representing my family.
“I hope rugby league takes off in the USA.
“They just need that someone to reignite the flame and have proper pathways in place for young aspiring Americans to pick up the sport properly, it’s got loads of potential.”
Retchless’ memorable stint with London Broncos came to an end in 2004 and on his return to Australia, the hard working forward went full circle, finishing off his career in the Queensland Cup.
Now happily retired from rugby league, he has swapped the jersey and boots for a suit and tie becoming state manager for well-known Australian beer company, Brick Lane.
“I had a great time playing rugby league and met some lifelong friends, what a ride it’s been.
“Rugby league really is the greatest game of all.”
First published in Rugby League World magazine, Issue 492 (January 2024)