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Legend Q&A: Steve Simpson

Steve Simpson didn't play rugby league until he was in high school but the hardman went on to become one of Newcastle's most decorated forwards.

The 40-year-old was a big part of the club's 2001 premiership and racked up 216 games in red and blue over 12 seasons.

The second-rower represented NSW and Australia on several occasions before retiring from the NRL in 2010. He spoke with to reminisce about his playing days.

Legend Q&A: Steve Simpson

What was life like growing up in the Hunter Valley region?

It was really good. Obviously the Knights didn't come in until the late '80s ... I never played the game until I was sort of 13, but I always followed it and enjoyed it. When they came into the comp in '88, it was great to have a local team.

Did you play any other sports before you took up league?

I was pretty mad on cricket, I used to love playing a bit of junior cricket. Rugby league sort of came along when I went to high school.

Did you immediately know you had some talent for footy?

It took me a few games to find my feet ... My first year I did OK without setting the world alight. Probably the second year was when I probably knew that I really enjoyed the game and went OK.

How did your signing with the Knights come about?

I trialled a couple of years for the [under] 15s and missed out. And then I trialled a year young for the 17s and missed out for the first two years, which wasn't a bad thing.

Then I made the summer training squad for the 17s side and made the team, but I withdrew that year just because I started my [heavy vehicle mechanic] apprenticeship and it was just too much travelling to Newcastle three, four days a week to train.

I pulled out that year and went down the following year, the 18s. A year at home playing [local] first grade at Singleton was really good for me, toughened me up a little bit.

What do you remember about your NRL debut in 1999?

It went pretty fast because I'd come out of 19s the year before and I'd had a really big pre-season, actually. I'd worked my backside off in that 1999 pre-season and got a couple of trial games for first grade which was great.

I was playing reserve grade for the first eight rounds or whatever it was and got a crack against Parramatta down there. Once I got a taste of it, I certainly didn't want to go back and play reggies anymore.

Looking back at the 2001 Grand Final

What was it like to win the premiership in just your third year?

It was a really tight-knit squad. I was really lucky to come in at a time we had a really competitive side. It was just good to be part of it. We were playing a nice brand of footy, too. It was a really enjoyable time to be around the club. Obviously we had a lot of success as well around that time. A career highlight, definitely.

In the grand final against Parramatta you made a try-saving tackle on Andrew Ryan and scored one yourself. What do you remember?

It's a bit of a blur, really. It went so fast. A massive build-up during the week and Newcastle really got behind us with support in that whole month in the semi-finals and particularly that grand final. It was just unbelievable.

To be part of that was great and a couple of things in the game went my way which was good. But we sort of knew that week leading into the game that Parramatta were really nervous and we were more relaxed. We were ready to go on game night and really confident in our ability to get the job done.

Steve Simpson left nothing in the tank.
Steve Simpson left nothing in the tank.

The match finished 30-24 after you'd led 24-0. Did you feel threatened at all?

Not really. We were in control. We probably let them score a couple of soft, easy tries, but I don't think the result was ever in doubt, mate. I certainly think we were the better team that night and with a few late tries it looked a little bit closer than what it should've been.

You were part of a very formidable forward pack in that era. What was the best part of playing with guys like Ben Kennedy and Bill Peden?

It was good to be part of that gang. I just think that on our night we could've beaten any team. And once we decided to dig our heels in, there weren't too many packs that could put it over us.

To be part of that was certainly something I really enjoyed at the time. It was just a good all-round balanced team, I think, in the early 2000s. If we were on, I just think there weren't too many sides that could roll with us.

Steve Simpson played 13 Origins for the Blues.
Steve Simpson played 13 Origins for the Blues.

As a back-rower, what was it like playing outside Andrew Johns?

It was great. I had a pretty good combination with him and obviously Bedsy [hooker Danny Buderus] and Matt Gidley was outside me in the centres. It was a really great time to be coming through as a young back-rower. You just had to lob up and do your job. You just had to worry about where you had to be and do your part for the team. 

I suppose I didn't realise until later in my career that you take that for granted as a young person. With some of the sides with some younger members coming through, it was certainly a lot harder than just doing your job and worrying about yourself.

Thirteen State of Origins for NSW - what was the highlight?

I think the series decider win in Brisbane in 2005. I think we lost the first game in extra-time up there and came down and won pretty comfortably in the second game in Sydney.

To go up there, I think Queensland had all the ball that first 15 minutes or 20 minutes and couldn't score a try. Just to be part of that was something pretty special.

Did you have any inkling about the dynasty Queensland would enjoy for eight years after that series?

No [laughs]. They were a good side. They obviously had a really good spine. Cameron Smith is probably one of the best players to ever play the game and obviously [they had] Johnathan Thurston and Billy [Slater] and Cooper Cronk, although they were only young when I was going out of Origin.

They never got injured either which was a big thing. They were great players. Obviously 2006 still burns a little bit for me at the start of it all. We had that game [three] pretty well wrapped up with 10 to go and it was disappointing to lose a game like that. But credit where it's due, they just kept turning up.

Seven Tests for Australia as well - do you have something that stands out from your time in green and gold?

The first [Test] was good. And same with Origin, the first Origin is always special. To go over to England and be part of that Kangaroo tour in 2003, that was a bit of a highlight. To win all three games in the last sort of five minutes with your back against the wall, it was great to be part of that.

Knights fans are renowned for their passion. Can you give an insight into what it's like playing in a one-team town?

We were going through a really rough period, I think it was 2005, we hadn't won a game in I don't know how long. It took us [15] weeks to win a game. When we played the Broncos at home, and the Broncos were doing quite well at the time, I think 22,000 turned up ... We were doing our best but we just had a young squad and it wasn't happening for us at the time.

To have that support around the area - not only Newcastle, it went right up the Valley as well ... it was really special for me.

Steve Simpson says goodbye in 2010 after 216 games for the Knights.
Steve Simpson says goodbye in 2010 after 216 games for the Knights.

Did you ever consider leaving Newcastle?

I did. I think it might've been 2006 leading into 2007, I got some really strong offers to go to other clubs and seriously thought about it. I was fairly happy to stay loyal as well, but it did cross my mind. It was just one of those things that never eventuated, which was good. It was nice to play in the one spot for my home team.

You retired in 2010 with 216 matches. Was that the right time?

My body, probably the last three or four years I suppose, I just had to manage it. Slowly but surely I was getting sorer and sorer so it was harder and harder each week to get on the field.

I think my last game I was still sore from weeks before and I was starting to get niggling injuries and different things started to go wrong. I still think I was playing well, but it was just a matter of really struggling to get on the field every week.

It was probably the right time. It would've been nice to play a year or two longer, but in saying that I think if I didn't play to a certain standard I would've been pretty disappointed and I wanted to keep that standard up.

What's post-footy been like? Are you still closely connected to the club?

I do the odd thing for them every now and then, but not really. We've moved around a little bit the last few years but we're based back in Maitland now and my wife and I are getting a little business off the ground at the moment.

So we're busy with that and the kids keep us busy with their sports and different things ... We're flat-out mate, but enjoying ourselves.