Tony Durkin and Sam Thaiday at the 2006 NRL grand final.
Tony Durkin and Sam Thaiday at the 2006 NRL grand final.

Sam jokes his way to major landmark

SAM Thaiday this week said what many probably thought but - for fear of being hit with a lawsuit - were afraid to say publicly.

For those who missed it, Big Sam was talking about his arrival at the Broncos 14 years ago. "When I came to the club I was a fat 17 year-old. Now, 250 games later, I'm a fat 31 year-old," was his reflection on an NRL career that has been anything but dull.

While the quote says much about the man, it says more about his temperament. In an era when players fear to venture an opinion that could be construed as controversial, Sam is Mr Personality.

And that was the case right from his arrival at Red Hill. I was Communications Manager at the Broncos when this chubby - not fat - young bloke arrived from Townsville. Although he played lower grades in his first season, everyone around the club knew of Sammy.

Being one of the most successful sporting organisations in the country and the only NRL club in town, the media demands on the players was massive. And, as is no doubt still the case today, few put up their hands to carry that burden.

But Sam did. He had a voracious appetite for the media and rarely knocked back an opportunity to have his dial on TV.

Interestingly, others who were similarly media savvy during my stint with the Broncos included Shane Webcke, Michael Ennis and Corey Parker, each of whom are now enjoying the spoils of successful media careers.

But back to Thaiday. His other endearing trait was that he never took himself seriously. In an era where racism in sport had raised its ugly head, Sam took pot shots at the colour of his skin, often when tension needed to be eased.

He was a pleasure to be around. And, he was always respectful.

But Sam could also play footy, despite the fact he didn't carry the build of an elite athlete. He was blessed with outstanding skills, a big motor and a degree of toughness that took him all the way to the very top of his game.

That he is making his 250th NRL appearance tomorrow night is a landmark of which he, his family and all who admire him will be especially proud. He is on the way to passing fellow one-club players Shane Webcke, Andrew Gee and Michael Hancock, and that is a reflection of his work ethic, and his perseverance.

And when those of the stature of Webcke and Gorden Tallis, both multiple-premiership winners with the Broncos, laud Thaiday as the man who can make a difference in the club's quest for a seventh premiership, the joker in the pack has become the ace.

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