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Legend Q&A: Shaun Timmins

Shaun Timmins is fondly remembered by Steelers and Dragons fans, plus anyone who supported the Blues or Kangaroos in the early 2000s.

Despite his career being heavily restricted by injury, "Timmo" provided some highlights that are still played to this day, winning nine out of nine Tests, six of nine Origins (with one draw) but zero-from-one grand finals.

Timmins spoke to NRL.com about the highs and lows of a memorable career.

Legend Q&A: Shaun Timmins

You came through and debuted at a very young age, was that daunting at all?

I was just a kid enjoying the ride. I was only 17 when I made my debut. I wasn't at school, I was doing a labouring job. Being a local boy, playing for the Steelers was what I always wanted to do. I was playing 21s that year, just came out of SG Ball.

For a while back then it used to be I'd play 21s then sit on the bench for reserve grade then at times Graham Murray would sit me on the bench for first grade. As a young kid I was happy just sitting on the bench for first grade because I thought that was huge, running up and down the sideline for a warm-up every 20 minutes was good. The day I finally got the call-up it was at WIN Stadium in Wollongong in front of family and friends.

Got on for a little 20-minute stint or something like that against the Sharks. I look back now I was like a little schoolboy playing first grade but to get a taste, you never really want to go back, you want to get back out there and play in front of a big crowd with great players. Very fond memories of my Steelers days and my debut.

You played six years at the Steelers before the merger with St George Illawarra and making rep teams, what stands out from that phase of your career?

I loved it. I got to play with some great players, the Steelers guys I looked up to like Paul McGregor and Rod Wishart, John Simon, John Cross, played with all them for a few years then a young guy named Trent Barrett came on the year after me and we became good mates.

A lot of guys I played SG Ball with like Andrew Hart. We had some great years at the Steelers, we weren't overly successful, we were all local boys living our dream and playing footy. It wasn't until we merged in '99 and had that first year where we made the grand final where I started getting noticed.

Illawarra Steeler Shaun Timmins.
Illawarra Steeler Shaun Timmins. ©NRL History

What were your recollections of the merger? You were going from, like you said, a group of local boys and then suddenly there were these big personalities coming together and obviously not everyone was offered a spot in the new team.

It was a challenging time, we were all very close at Illawarra then we had a meeting and all got told "these are the guys they want, these are the guys they don't" so some guys were getting moved on, some were getting to start. I was actually off contract so I was close to leaving.

I had guys like Paul McGregor, Mark Coyne, Jamie Ainscough, all representative centres in front of me and I was still pretty young.

I wasn't sure what I was going to do, I spoke to a couple of other clubs then went and had a meeting with Andrew Farrar and David Waite who were our coaches and they said they were really keen to keep me and I never really wanted to leave so I was happy to stay.

There were a lot of personalities coming together like you said but it doesn't take long for footballers to come together and mix and start getting on well.

We seemed to come together pretty good because we made the grand final in our first year but just couldn't get the trophy.

Were you genuinely close to leaving at any point?

There were some clubs I had discussions with. I never wanted to leave but I knew it was a possibility. It never got really deep.

Newcastle was one which I thought would be all right because it was similar to Wollongong but once I knew the club were keen to keep me I was happy to stay.

St George Illawarra lock Shaun Timmins in 2004.
St George Illawarra lock Shaun Timmins in 2004. ©NRL Photos

That 1999 season must have been a helluva ride after just one finals game in six years at Illawarra.

It was a helluva ride, to get there and play in front of 110,000 people in our first year was huge but it's also probably one of the biggest disappointments. To this day, people say you get over it but I don't reckon there's a day goes by I don't think about not winning the grand final and playing in one where we nearly had it won.

It was a career highlight and a career lowlight all in the one game. It still eats away at me every day, not winning one, especially at a club I played for my whole career. At least I did play in one but we didn't get the ring.

One upside of that season was it seemed to pave the way for you to get into the Test team at the end of the year, and Origin the year after.

Obviously with the success we had that year they always pick a few but I was the bolter, I wasn't really spoken about to be picked then we were all on Mad Monday the next day and the news had turned up because there was talk Choc Mundine and maybe Nathan Brown and a few others [might be picked] but they turned up and when they announced the side I'd been picked which was a huge shock to me.

I had a fair few beers under my belt, I didn't know what was going on. It was a pleasant surprise and a bit of a shock.

Centre and five-eighth Shaun Timmins had a perfect record with the Kangaroos.
Centre and five-eighth Shaun Timmins had a perfect record with the Kangaroos. ©NRL Photos

Once you got into camp did it feel a bit more real?

I was nervous, going in with all those elite players I was – not intimidated, but I was pretty shy. But I loved it, loved being around them. I roomed with Darren Lockyer my first series, we both came through the same age group.

It was the Tri-Nations and I got to make my debut against Great Britain at the old Lang Park, my family flew up, some friends, Trent Barrett and Andrew Farrar, my old coach all flew up so it was pretty special.

You made your Origin debut the next year and produced one of your most memorable career highlights – and suffered a serious injury in the process.

2000 was the first year I got picked. The first game I thought I was pretty ordinary, it was my first game. I didn't do much, the game went that quick, maybe I was a bit overawed.  Game two was in Queensland and I felt a lot more comfortable in camp and was actually playing okay I thought.

I was starting to have a few knee dramas, scored that try and the knee went on me and I missed a year-and-a-half of footy with it. That hurt, I missed club footy, I missed rep footy having just broken into the rep scene. That was disappointing but I fought my way back in 2002 and got back into the rep footy which was great.

NSW lock Shaun Timmins in the 2004 decider
NSW lock Shaun Timmins in the 2004 decider ©NRL Photos

I know you've spoken about it plenty of times but I can't not ask you about the field goal in 2004.

Obviously we won in '03, I played five-eighth in '03 and Joey playing in the halves was outstanding. '04 game one we had a heap of Dragons, eight or nine Dragons got selected which was a record number of players so that was huge.

When I was in camp a couple of guys got suspended from one of our bonding sessions so camp was quite hectic game one. Then it was the first game they introduced golden point. It was a tight game, 8-8, I scored our only try. Lo and behold it went to golden point, I finished on the bench because Craig Wing came on, Gus Gould said to me he wanted me on which gave me confidence.

Craig Gower had had a couple of shots at goal and sprayed them so I thought "I've got nothing to lose here" so I called for it off Danny Buderus and it came off nice.

With respect, you weren't a renowned field-goal kicker, at least at the top level.

I grew up playing five-eighth my whole life and as most footballers do I'd muck around training and kick a few. I wasn't expecting to be the one that kicked it so it was probably a shock to everyone.

Origin 2000: Timmins turns the tide

It was probably a shock to me how it came off too! Just to go out on that series, that was my last one because I was struggling with my knee so I wanted to retire from rep footy and give everything I had to the Dragons for the next few years. Game three we wrapped up the series so to go out that way in Origin was pretty cool.

Were those Origin moments as significant highlights for you as they were for the fans?

The field goal everyone talks about and it was a career highlight but there's a lot of other things that stand out as well. Probably my proudest achievement was getting the Dragons Player of the Year in 2002 after I missed a year-and-a-half of footy and got told I'd never play again.

There's achievements like that that mean a lot to me. Playing for Australia was great, I was lucky enough to play nine Tests and we won every one so there are some special moments.

We had some great wins at the Dragons, I remember one up at Brisbane when "Piggy" Riddell kicked the goal after the siren (in round 26, 2003). I was captain, we had a heap of players out, an almost reserve grade team up against a star-studded Broncos, there are a few wins like that that stand out.

Dragons utility Shaun Timmins.
Dragons utility Shaun Timmins. ©NRL Photos

You effectively played your whole career at one club but that nearly wasn't the case.

Yeah I signed a two-year deal to go to the Castleford Tigers but then the year I signed they ended up coming last and getting relegated so that was null and void then the Gold Coast came into the comp in '07. I had a meeting, Michael Searle (the inaugural Titans CEO) flew down to Wollongong to meet me to go to the Gold Coast which quite excited me, living up in Burleigh.

Loving the water I was quite keen but I had to be pretty honest with them and just say, my knees are absolutely shot and I had to knock it back which was how it finished.

You're still at the Dragons now, you must love the club.

Footy's been my whole life, I owe everything to footy. I wasn't the best at school, everything I've got has come from footy and I'm pretty passionate about it. I'm fortunate enough to still be working at the club. I've had a few different positions from working in sponsorship to now working in recruitment, I just love being involved with rugby league.