As the rugby league world counts down to the start of the 2021 State of Origin series, TWL looks back at the unluckiest Warriors to miss out on a start in the interstate arena.
10. Tony Martin
Gladstone product Martin was talked about as a potential Queensland bolter during his three seasons as a foundation Melbourne Storm player, which included scoring a try in the club’s stunning 1999 grand final victory over St George Illawarra.
The classy centre heading to London Broncos for a three-year stint in 2001 but returned to the NRL with the Warriors in ’04.
A reliable backline performer and quality goalkicker, Martin never really entered the Maroons conversation again with the likes of Paul Bowman, Willie Tonga, Brent Tate, Steve Bell, Justin Hodges, Shaun Berrigan and Josh Hannay at their disposal, but he wouldn’t have let anyone down on the Origin stage.
After scoring 270 points in 53 games for the Warriors, Martin played out his career in Super League with Wakefield Trinity, Celtic Crusaders and Hull FC.
9. Robbie Mears
Never a realistic chance of getting picked, but there were no NSW hookers playing better football in 1999-2000 than Warriors livewire Mears.
The former Roosters and Bulldogs rake was a low-key signing for Auckland midway through 1999 but he provided outstanding return on the Warriors’ minimal investment, going on to win the club’s Player of the Year gong in 2000.
Converted halfbacks Craig Gower and Geoff Toovey were the Blues’ hookers during those seasons’ Origin campaigns, while Mears was controversially released by the Warriors following the sale of the club at the end of 2000.
After a year at Leeds, Mears returned to the NRL with Wests Tigers.
8. Wade McKinnon
An electrifying ball-runner not dissimilar to James Tedesco in style, former Souths and Parramatta fullback Wade McKinnon was an instant sensation after joining the Warriors in 2007.
McKinnon chalked up seven Dally M votes in his first six games for his new club, but the fiery custodian’s two-match ban for contact with a referee ruled him out of a potential City Origin call-up and crucial opportunities to impress the NSW selectors.
Anthony Minichiello and debutant Brett Stewart wore the Blues’ No.1 jersey in 2007, while injury wrecked McKinnon’s 2008 campaign.
McKinnon represented City in 2009 but versatile NSW captain Kurt Gidley was picked as the Blues’ fullback. The St Clair Comets junior linked with Wests Tigers midway through 2010 before finishing his professional career at Hull FC.
7. Nathan Fien
The only player on this list who reached State of Origin level during their career, Mount Isa product Fien was North Queensland’s halfback when he was named as a shock selection at hooker for the Maroons during the 2001 series.
The 21-year-old ultimately came off the bench in a forgettable 26-8 loss in Sydney and made way for the stunning return of Allan Langer in the decider, destined to go down as an Origin ‘one-game wonder’.
After helping the Cowboys to a maiden finals appearance in 2004, Fien joined the Warriors and racked up 105 appearances for the club. He was part of QAS Emerging Origin squads from 2004-06 but Scott Prince and Johnathan Thurston occupied the Maroons’ No.7 jumper, while the likes of Matt Bowen and Shaun Berrigan were preferred as versatile bench options.
Fien instead threw his lot in with New Zealand, erroneously allowed to make his Test debut in 2006 in what infamously became known as ‘Grandma-gate’. But he qualified on residential grounds two years later and went on to play 22 Tests for the Kiwis, including a World Cup triumph in 2008 and a Four Nations success in 2010 in which he scored the winning try – ironically with both finals played at Suncorp Stadium, Queensland’s Origin headquarters.
He left the Warriors midway through 2009 and won a premiership with the Dragons the following season.
6. James Maloney
Maloney made his NRL debut with Melbourne but was relatively unknown until becoming the Warriors’ linchpin in 2010.
The game-breaking five-eighth steered the Warriors to back-to-back finals series in his first two years in Auckland, but Jamie Soward (2011) and Todd Carney (2012) were subsequently preferred as Mitchell Pearce’s NSW halves partners. Both were discarded after one series and never picked again.
After an unhappy 2012 Warriors campaign, Maloney returned home to Sydney and made his Origin debut in 2013 a few months prior to guiding the Roosters to a premiership. Maloney was recalled by the Blues for their unsuccessful 2016 campaign but helped Cronulla to a maiden Grand Final triumph later that year.
The 2016-17 Kangaroos rep joined Penrith in 2018 and played a key role in NSW’s 2018-19 series triumphs, heading for Super League with 14 Origins to his credit.
5. Richard Villasanti
The Warriors’ first Australian international rep and the only player to make their debut for the Kangaroos from the club, ‘Villa the Gorilla’ is among a select band of players – including the likes of Chris Lawrence, Daniel Gartner, Darren Britt, Nathan Blacklock and Joel Clinton – to wear the green and gold but fail to win Origin selection.
Canberra-born Villasanti cut his teeth with Balmain and Wests Tigers before rising to prominence at the Warriors in 2001. He is perhaps best remembered for an ugly head clash with Brad Fittler that proved a turning point in the 2002 grand final loss to the Roosters, but the front-row hitman’s form the following season saw him play against several clubmates in Australia’s loss to New Zealand at the end of 2003.
Villasanti missed out on a NSW call-up the following season, with rival props Ryan O’Hara and Brent Kite handed debuts instead. His club form deteriorated and he switched to Cronulla midway through 2006.
4. Ivan Cleary
A top-shelf centre, Cleary’s preferred position was fullback but the presence of Matthew Ridge at Manly, Matt Seers and Norths and Andrew Walker at Sydney City saw him play the bulk of his football at those three clubs in the three-quarter line.
The sharpshooter, who set a new premiership record with 284 points for the Roosters in 1998, arrived in Auckland in 2000 – seemingly as a replacement for Ridge, but he started the year at centre before suffering a season-ending injury in Round 6. Cleary belatedly received the opportunity to lock down the Warriors’ No.1 jumper in 2001 under Daniel Anderson.
With David Peachey, Robbie Ross and Tim Brasher (who between them had filled the fullback role for NSW in the previous eight series) on the injured list, the Blues were on the hunt for a new custodian.
Cleary could have been an option but being shuffled to centre then five-eighth prior to game one selection did the 30-year-old’s prospects few favours. Newcastle fullback fill-in Mark Hughes got the nod for the ’01 series loss. Brett Hodgson emerged in 2002, the year the ultra-consistent Cleary hung up the boots after the Warriors’ historic grand final appearance.
3. Mark Tookey
A Queensland Under-19s rep, the burly Tookey was an instant first-grade cult hero for the South Queensland Crushers and Parramatta Eels, but he played the best footy of his career after joining the Warriors in 2000.
With his trademark flat-top haircut, goatee and generous mid-section, ‘Tooks’ was just as popular with the Ericsson Stadium faithful. He was included in the Emerging Maroons camp in early-2002, which spurred him on to his best season, playing 24 games in the Warriors’ charge to the grand final.
But Queensland’s selectors preferred 2001 debutants Petero Civoniceva, Chris Beattie, John Buttigieg and Carl Webb, and recalled stalwarts Steve Price and Andrew Gee as front-row sidekicks for the game’s No.1 prop, Shane Webcke.
Tookey, whose weight and ability to play big minutes was a perpetual concern, headed to Super League midway through 2004.
How are the beards going? Here's one to remember from @NZWarriors #76 Mark Tookey #2003 #BeardUp @PhotosportNZ pic.twitter.com/5rCNV10RAB
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) August 11, 2014
2. Brent Webb
Cairns product Webb caught the eye during a stellar Queensland Cup campaign for Brisbane Wests in 2001 but was still relatively unknown when he became one of the Warriors’ most inspired signings the following season.
Selected in the Emerging Maroons squad at the start of 2002, Webb was a Mr. Fix-it at five-eighth, hooker, centre, fullback and off the bench that season but was left out of the Warriors’ squad for their finals campaign.
Webb, of Torres Strait Islander descent, developed into one of the NRL’s most exciting No.1s following the retirement of Ivan Cleary. The emergence of an incredible crop of Maroons fullbacks – Matt Bowen, Rhys Wesser, Billy Slater and Clinton Schifcofske – meant he was always behind the eight-ball for an Origin call-up, though his versatility would have rendered him an ideal bench option.
The instinctive ball-player instead pledged his allegiance to New Zealand, playing the first of 17 Tests during the 2004 Tri-Nations. After 103 games for the Warriors, Webb joined Leeds Rhinos in 2007 and won three grand finals during an eight-season stay.
1. Micheal Luck
North Queensland rookie Luck was one of just two players (with Brisbane’s Michael Ryan) selected in the inaugural Queensland Emerging Origin squad in 2001 that did not go on to represent the Maroons – but he went desperately close during a seven-season tenure in Auckland.
The industrious back-rower joined the Warriors in 2006, was a regular fill-in captain and played a vital role in the club’s charge to the 2011 grand final. Luck was the Warriors’ Player of the Year in 2009 after returning to the Emerging Maroons camp at the start of that year.
Exactly the type of wholehearted, punch-above-their-weight forward Queensland has built its success on – think Paul Vautin, Gary Larson, Billy Moore, Dallas Johnson and Ashley Harrison – Luck was 18th man for game three of the 2007 series but was consistently and frustratingly on the fringe of selection thereafter.
Luck retired at the end of 2012 after becoming the eighth player to bring up 150 first-grade appearances for the club.
Categories: FEATURES, Top 10s + Lists
Leave a Reply