The pain of being a top dog – Tony Currie

From Men of League Magazine – December 2016

Tony Currie, devoted Men of League Foundation supporter, still looks fit enough to play. He talks about his experiences in Brisbane, Sydney and England.
By Steve Ricketts

By his own admission, Tony Currie became something of a gym junkie when he joined the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs from Wests in Brisbane in midway through the 1986 season.

Even now, Currie’s build exudes fitness and strength as he goes about his work at his Tyres & More Service Centre at Morningside in Brisbane’s east.

The former Test centre, who turns 54 on Christmas Day, is a staunch supporter of Men of League and has the utmost respect for the history of the game.

Currie paid his own way to England in September to attend the memorial service of legendary administrator Harry Jepson who was instrumental in Currie signing for Leeds in 1985.

Just a few days after returning from England, Currie travelled to Sydney for the Bulldogs’ reunion, catching up with old mates and reminiscing about the 1988 grand final win over Balmain.

“I had already played State of Origin for Queensland, and plenty of tough club footy for Leeds in England and Wests and Redcliffe in Brisbane, but nothing prepared me for what was to come at Canterbury, under (coach) Warren Ryan,” Currie recalls.

“We used to train until our eyes bled. I would be at work with Bankstown Council, thinking all day, ‘I have to train from 6 o’clock to 8 o’clock and go through all manner of pain’. It was scary.

“Canterbury were big on the weights, and they had a hell of a pack. They were known as the dogs of war. It was great to play behind them. I discovered I was a bit of a gym junkie. I was only 89kg, but I could out lift a lot of the forwards.”

Currie attended Kelvin Grove High in Brisbane’s inner north and started his senior football with Wests, returning for a final season in 1993, after a career which included seven Tests, 13 State of Origin games for Queensland and premierships with Canterbury (1988) and the Brisbane Broncos (1992).

In 1982 Currie won the Rothmans Gold Medal as Brisbane’s best and fairest player, replicating the effort of his uncle Alan Currie who won the medal from Easts in 1977.

“Alan was my hero,” Currie says. “He was such a hard man, who played well above his weight. When Easts won the 1972 grand final and Uncle Alan was helping to hold up the trophy, I climbed onto his shoulders and got in the team photograph which is on display at Easts Leagues Club.”

Currie’s first trophy was the 1984 National Panasonic Cup, as a member of the Combined Brisbane side, coached by legendary former South Sydney forward Bob McCarthy. Brisbane beat Sydney Easts 12-11 in a pulsating final at Leichhardt Oval.

But it was his time with Leeds in England which took Currie’s play to the next level.

“In Brisbane things came too easy,” he recalls. “I would party with my mates and all that stuff. But when I went to Leeds I had to knuckle down. I was on match payments only and I had two good seasons with them.

“They wanted to sign me long term, but I still wanted to play for Queensland and Australia, so I came home.”

Currie effectively had five seasons back-to-back, given league in England was a winter sport at the time. He played for Wests in ‘84, Leeds in ‘84-85, Redcliffe in ‘85, Leeds in ‘85-86, Wests in ‘86 and went to Canterbury mid-season when fullback Mick Potter broke his leg.

Leeds’ Australian coach Mal Clift had recommended Currie to Canterbury, the club he had coached to the 1974 Sydney grand final.

Currie started his career as a fullback, but played most of his career in the centres, including the 1988 grand final win. The Bulldogs were keen to keep Currie but he wanted to return to Brisbane and, fortuitously for him, Broncos coach, Wayne Bennett was looking to beef up his backline.

From the Broncos, Currie played all three matches for Queensland in their ’88 whitewash of the Blues and toured New Zealand with the Bob Fulton-coached Australian side that beat the Kiwis in all three Tests.

But for a snapped Achilles early in 1990, he undoubtedly would have toured England and France with the Kangaroos at the end of the season. He also missed much of the ‘91 season following shoulder surgery and had come to the end of his Broncos’ contract.

Currie thought that was it, but Broncos chief executive John Ribot offered him a one-year extension, with the proviso he retired at the end of the year.

“I was a broken-down hack, and I got my biggest pay day ever,” Currie said. “I think it was $75,000. ‘Ribes’ said it was because I had been good for the club and Wayne wanted to reward me.’’

Currie came off the bench in the grand final victory against St George. As it transpired, he had one more season – with his beloved Wests and he played in the 1993 BRL grand final, an 18-12 win over Easts. That Wests side featured future Queensland Origin skipper Adrian Lam at halfback and future dual international Brad Thorn in the forwards.

Currie has little memory of the match.

“I took out Easts’ centre Geoff Bell early in the contest,” Currie said. “I was old and grumpy, I suppose, and reacted to a tackle by rolling over and elbowing him.

“Later in the match, after I passed the ball, (Easts halfback) Paul Green got me with a classic stiff arm, as a square off. They tell me I was snoring when they carried me off. I probably had it coming to me, and Greeny and I still laugh about it now.”

Currie gave his heart and soul to Wests, first as secretary manager of the leagues club at Bardon in 1994 and then as president and benefactor from 2007 to 2012.

He had a successful stint as coach of London Broncos from 1996 to ‘98. With the money he earned there he was able to buy the tyre business.

In his first season with London, the side reached the semi-finals of the new Super League summer competition in 1996, only to be bundled out by St Helens 25-14.

The penalty count was heavily in Saints’ favour, the British media blaming the spoiling tactics of the Broncos side that was dominated by Australian players.

Currie had suspicions that there may have been more to it.

“We had a team made up almost entirely of Australians, players like Gavin Allen, Peter Gill, Terry Matterson, Tony Rea and Kevin Langer,” Currie said. “And it mightn’t have looked good if we had made the inaugural grand final.”

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