Queensland boy Gary Belcher will never forget his introduction to Sydney rugby league. Growing up, he knew nothing about how they did things footy-wise in the harbour city. He did, however, receive a very quick education upon arrival into the NSWRL.
After playing 148 games for his beloved Canberra Raiders between 1986 and 1993, as well as 16 State of Origins for the Maroons and 15 games for Australia, Belcher became a rugby league television commentator, giving him more than enough time to get his head around the comings and goings of the Sydney league scene.
As Belcher recalled for Inside Sport back in 2014, before there was wall to wall television coverage of rugby league, the New South Wales and Queensland sides of the game may as well have been on different planets.
“Back then in my playing days, while being interviewed for magazine profiles and stuff, people would ask me, ‘Who are your favourite players?’ I’d rattle off blokes like Bruce Astill and John Grant. Granty played for Souths Brisbane, and then of course went on to become the ARLC chairman.
“And the interviewer would say, ‘No, no, IN SYDNEY.’ And I’d say, ‘I don’t have any favourite players in Sydney.’
“I knew guys from afar ‒ you know, internationals, so I’d just say Bob Fulton and Graeme Langlands … My impression was that it was a good comp … not that far ahead of what we had in Brisbane, but certainly it got more intense in the bigger matches.
“In my first few games back in 1986, the Raiders weren’t winning, but we were competitive. I remember we went to Belmore to play against Canterbury, and Chris Mortimer and Andrew Farrar and their outside backs jammed up and absolutely smashed us with that umbrella defense they had. I remember thinking, shit, this is a bit different down here. These blokes, they’re full on. I realised then that there WAS a gap."
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