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Legend Q&A: Tony Priddle

Tony Priddle didn't win a premiership, but he was part of a St George team that reached back-to-back grand finals.

The hard-working prop then lived through the upheaval - both good and bad - that was caused by the Super League war.

In this Legend Q & A, which first appeared in Rugby League Week in 2013, Priddle discusses his career.

Tony Priddle - Q&A

You come from an area that has been good to the Dragons?

Yes, I'm from Maclean in Northern NSW - where the club got both Brian and Tony Smith. And Nathan Brown was just a couple of years younger than me. From there, I won selection in NSW under 19s in 1989 and we played at Lang Park.

The crowd just gave it to us - I felt like they were blowing us off the park. It was an amazing experience in the effect of negative energy on me - remember I was a kid from a town of 3000 people. It was daunting. Despite that, we won and I played okay, and had four or five Sydney clubs chasing me as a result.

Why did you choose the Dragons?

I was going to study sports science at NSW University's Oatley campus and that was just a short drive from the Dragons' base at Kogarah so it was convenience more than anything. I was a Penrith fan as a kid and used to absolutely hate the Dragons, but I got over it.

I know a lot of bush kids tell you they feel lost when they come to the city but for me, it was the opposite. I felt I never fit in back home, whereas the city was where I belonged. But to be honest, I was shocked and disappointed at the standard of training when I got to the Dragons.

I expected it to be super professional and it was really like country footy but on a larger scale. The game wasn't very professional still at that time.

Tony Priddle takes on the Eels defence.
Tony Priddle takes on the Eels defence. ©NRL Photos

Did it take you long to break into first grade?

I got a lucky break - two props didn't turn up to training and I got straight into the team. I thought 'How good is this?'. But the feeling didn't last long. I was only 19, playing against a fair Parramatta team.

They beat us, this Parra fan just abused me as I walked off the field - I'll never forget it - and the next week I was back in the under 21s ... not the ideal start to first grade and it took me a while to get over it.

Tony Priddle carts the ball up against Western Suburbs.
Tony Priddle carts the ball up against Western Suburbs. ©NRL Photos

But you found your feet the next couple of years?

Brian Smith came to the club in 1991 and I found him an awesome coach. I played 21 games that year and really felt a part of the team. The next year we shocked everyone by making the grand final against the Broncos.

They were too good for us on the day and I only wish I knew then what I know now. We just scraped through and there was a perception that we were just happy to be there.

I was full of nerves and self-doubt in the build-up - part of me thought I wasn't good enough. I didn't sleep all week and that sapped my energy - I was spent before I even got onto the field. I couldn't conquer my inner demons and let it all get the better of me.

And the next year, you met the Broncos in the grand final again?

Yes, by 1993, we were a different side, more confident, and I really felt we could have won it that year. We pushed them, but in the end the Broncos had just too many big guns.

We were solid across the park, but when they were in trouble, guys like Allan Langer, Glenn Lazarus and Steve Renouf could just kick up a gear. It hurts playing two grand finals and losing them both, even more than 20 years later, but you learn to live with it - life goes on.

Manly's Nik Kosef tackles Tony Priddle.
Manly's Nik Kosef tackles Tony Priddle. ©NRL Photos

Speaking of Langer, how real was the feud between the two clubs over his now infamous 'St George can't play' ditty?

We were made aware of it and it didn't worry me one way or another, but some of the boys definitely took it personally. It really hyped us up when we played them in that era - we wanted to beat them more and we had some great battles.

But I've played some charity matches with Alf since retiring and got to know him a bit - that's just the way he is. He loves taking the piss out of blokes and if anything, when he does that, you know you are his mate. At the time, people probably tried to make more of it than it was.

Two Canterbury players wrap up Tony Priddle.
Two Canterbury players wrap up Tony Priddle. ©NRL Photos

Then along came Super League?

Yes, the Dragons went with the ARL but I had a meeting with Lachlan Murdoch and he explained his 'vision' for the game ... and offered to triple my salary. About that time I was having arguments with Smithy - my form was poor and I wasn't doing what he wanted out there - so with all that, it made signing with Super League an easy decision.

I copped some flak but not from the players - they understood. We would play ARL v Super League touch footy games at training - and we had 'Choc' (Anthony Mundine) and Gorden Tallis, so we often won!

Where did Super League place you?

Not many people would ever know it, but I went to the Bulldogs. I played three reserve grade games in 1997, then did my knee and was out for the year. The next year they sent me to play for Paris, which was a great experience, but we got relegated and I didn't have a club anymore.

For the final year of my Super League deal, Super League let me play for the Burleigh Bears. I was on $200,000 ... I think that made me the highest-paid player in the Queensland Cup by a fair way (laughs).

I stayed another two years after that before hanging up the boots and getting a real job. My wage went from $200K to $32K, so it was a reality check to say the least ... I can see why a lot of players struggle post-football.

Acknowledgement of Country

St George Illawarra Dragons respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples, where our games are played, our programs are conducted and in the communities we support.

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