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Legend Q&A: Paul Harragon

Paul Harragon is Newcastle through and through and will forever hold a special place in the hearts of Knights fans.

Famous for his clashes with Manly enforcer Mark Carroll, the man affectionately dubbed "Chief" would have the ultimate last laugh on his great rival when the Knights upset the Sea Eagles in the 1997 decider - one of the greatest grand finals of the modern era.

Harragon played in a golden era at Newcastle alongside the Johns brothers, Tony Butterfield and Robbie O'Davis and also shone for NSW and Australia in star-studded teams. has delved into the Rugby League Week vault to dust off this chat with The Chief, which first appeared on May 14, 2008.

Legend Q&A: Paul Harragon

You had some great battles with Mark Carroll - do you remember the first?

I remember everyone talking about this bloke nicknamed "Spudd" from Manly who could bench press a small car. He had a reputation and, being his rival prop, he went out of his way to give me a hard time. We got to a point where it was just full-on sledging matches and it was pretty low-grade dialogue. This went on all match and from there our rivalry just blossomed.

Did he ever intimidate you?

No, I loved the challenge. I do remember one game he dominated me and I had no answers, though. It was in 1995 and Marathon Stadium was packed to the rafters for our clash with Manly. There was high expectation of confrontation because of our immense hatred for each other. I actually tore a gut muscle but I didn't want to go off because I hadn't put a good shot on him yet. So from the kick-off I launched myself at the big fella and ended up knocking myself out, and he gave it to me!

I wanted that Aussie jumper so bad it burnt me every day until I got it

Knights great Paul Harragon

Speaking about playing with injury, you made your Test debut in 1992 despite suffering a serious knee problem in the Origin series that year. How did you overcome that?

I was ready to give in with my injury and not play in the final game until I had an inspiring chat with Phil Gould on the team bus. I couldn't train all week and I was only a young bloke so I was ready to throw in the towel. I recall Gus approaching me and saying, 'Mate, I know you're struggling, but if you play this game you'll play for Australia'. I didn't know what to say, so I asked him to repeat it. He said, 'Mate, I'm telling you: play, and the green and gold jersey is yours'. I just remember being pumped up and announcing, 'OK, I'm there, let's go'.

Do you remember the moment when you were selected in the Test team?

I can still see Ken Arthurson walking across the carpet up to a little podium in front of a packed room at the SCG Members' bar. He read all the names and mine actually came out last and it was like a massive weight off my shoulders. I wanted that Aussie jumper so bad it burnt me every day until I got it and I embraced Dad with the biggest hug ever.

Paul Harragon celebrates the Knights' emotional '97 triumph with the fans.
Paul Harragon celebrates the Knights' emotional '97 triumph with the fans.

You're as proud a Novocastrian as they come. Did you ever consider leaving the Knights?

I got offers from Penrith after the 1993 season and also the Broncos in 1990. I was closer to signing with the Panthers after Gus Gould tried to lure me to the club. I was ready to jump in the car but Gus said, 'If you're not prepared to leave Newcastle then don't bother coming down to Sydney. We'll offer you whatever it takes to get you but if your heart is with the Knights and that is your home, then you have to remain loyal to that'. I'm so glad I made that decision because I went on to achieve so much in the game from my own backyard wearing the red-and-blue.

You suffered blinding headaches and seizures for much of the 1997 season. How bad did they get?

I remember we were doing a pre-season camp with our coach Mal Reilly in Coffs Harbour. I got struck down with a massive headache and I couldn't stand up. The team doctor didn't know what was wrong with me, but I sucked it up and ended up playing in a trial match against Manly. From that point on I started getting reguar tickling sensations where I couldn't see, so I went to a specialist. He gave me some medication but I still wanted to play in the opening round against St George.

Was that a mistake?

Well, I ended up copping a knock to the head in that game and it really scared me. I started getting this numbness all over my body and I couldn't talk. My thought process was OK but the words just wouldn't come out. I quickly escaped for the sanctuary of the dressing sheds because I didn't want the fans to see me stumbling all over the place. I ended up seeing another specialist and he recommended some medication and five weeks off football. He then said if I had another episode in the next five weeks I'd have to retire.

How did that go down?

I was shattered because there was no way I wanted to hang up the boots when I still had so much to offer. I remember leaving the surgery and catching up with my wife at a nearby cafe for some lunch. Within 30 minutes I had another episode and it was the scariest moment of my life because there's no way I wanted to go back to the doctor and have him tell me I had to retire. I ended up just getting on my medication and within months the episodes started to disappear, and by season's end, I'd won the premiership.

Harragon tries to steamroll Ben Ikin during an Origin clash in 1997.
Harragon tries to steamroll Ben Ikin during an Origin clash in 1997.

Speaking of that memorable grand final win, what's something you've never told anyone about that day?

One memory was tossing the coin before the match and feeling really relaxed and confident we'd get the job done. I remember watching Terry Lamb only two years earlier with the Dogs being very calm during the formalities and that's something I wanted to replicate. Heading back to the sheds, though, I was worried the boys would be nervous, given Manly had beaten us 11 times in a row. To my surprise, they were playing loud disco music while Joey Johns was dancing in the middle of the room.

Is it true as a youngster you almost pursued a career in music?

Yeah, I lost a grand final with Lakes United in under 16s and I was pretty disillusioned with footy. My older brother Mark was into music so I decided to start learning bass guitar. We started going to local clubs and playing and it became something we seriously wanted to pursue.

What convinced you to stick with footy?

I actually got selected for a senior Newcastle rep team on the wing when I was still only a junior. That was an amazing achievement and I thought, 'Well, maybe I still do have something to offer in league'. I ended up giving up the bass and it was the best decision I've ever made.