The A-List: CHRIS McQUEEN (South Sydney & Queensland)

South Sydney - Chris McQueenBy STEVE MASCORD

FROM his tongue stud to his South Sydney playing number tattooed on his neck, Chris McQueen is the archetypal ‘Nu Skool’ rugby league player.

So when he talks about Facebook and ‘the biff’ in the same sentence, he bears listening to.

“I actually saw someone on Facebook last night say ‘bring back the biff’,” says McQueen, 26, perched the the Café On The Park in Redfern, “and I sort of thought to myself: ‘those days are gone’.

“We’re all professionals. No-one goes out on the field and says ‘I’m going to punch someone and hurt someone’. It’s not why we play the game.

“We play the game for success, we play the game for our brothers and for our mates. It’s not about fighting.

“I’m sorry, I know that might disappoint some of the old guys but that’s the way it is.”

For a man who eschews violence, loves Nu Metal and experiments with facial hair the way most of us change clothes, the South Sydney back rower’s football actually seems to have more in common with the past than the current age of hulking wrestlers.

South Sydney old timers see Ron Coote and Norm Proven in the uncompromising, upright running style and tough defence of this former winger.

Now a Queensland State of Originsback rower and set for a pay rise because of it, the Kingaroy product’s success has been a result of three transitions, two of them extremely difficult.

Here, for A-List, he outlines how each of the big moves transpired:

ONE: “The move to Brisbane, I found that pretty easy. My mum has been in Brisbane forever. Also, I did the move to Brisbane with my two best mates from school – Aaron and Ryan Brown, they’re twin brothers. They’re as close to me as my real brothers. I spent my whole life with them. I grew up with and worked with them. I played with them, got a job with them, we went to school together, we were in all the same classes.

“We all moved together to play with Wynumn Manly. I’ve got their names tattooed on my leg, that’s how close we all are.

“You go straight into the team environment and straight away you’re meeting guys, you’re making new friends. It’s not like just moving somewhere with no-one and not having the opportunity to meet people so I found that pretty easy.”

TWO: “When I moved to Sydney, that was a bit harder. Coming into a first grade squad, I didn’t know anyone. I was very shy around the boys. I’d never been to Sydney, just didn’t know my way around and I just felt lost. It took a while, it took a few months but once I got to know the boys and the season came around and we started playing and that sort of thing, it all just happened a lot easier.”

THREE: “Moving to being a winger and an outside back to back row … I played a bit of back row the year before last under (John Lang) but that was more just due to the fact we had so many injuries and a few suspensions throughout the year. That was never going to be a permanent move. When (Michael Maguire) gave me the tap on the shoulder and said ‘I want you to play back row’…. Yeah I was keen to give it ago but it wasn’t a smooth transition. It took a lot of hard work. I had to get my defence up to scratch, I wasn’t fit enough, I struggled with it. I got dropped for five weeks or so … going back to the Bears was a good opportunity to play long minutes and that helped.

“There was a game last year, it was the second time we played the Bulldogs … and I was 18th man and Eddy Pettybourne got hurt. He pulled out, I went into the team and I sat on the bench the whole game.

“Madge said … it was a tight game and he wasn’t sure if I’d have handled it out there. I sort of said ‘have you given any thought to putting me back on the wing? I think I could do a job on the wing for the team’. He dismissed it straight away, he wasn’t interested.

“If he had said (then) ‘yeah, I’ll give you a crack’, we wouldn’t have known what I could have done as a back rower. I guess none of this would have happened, I don’t know where I would have been as a winger.”

Sattler and Provan probably wouldn’t have talked about loneliness and their own failings as a footballer in an interview. But today’s kids have no such reticence.

Through it all, McQueen’s biggest supporter had been his father Kevin. Now a road worker in Cairns, Kevin was born in England – meaning his son is eligible for Steve McNamara’s men – and has 17 tattoos.

Kevin supports Manly, the only other NRL side to show interest in Chris and has already found space for a couple more tatts: one for a bunnies premiership, and one for his son’s (Australian!) World Cup selection.

“He was covered in tatts,” Chris jnr says of his dad, with visible fondness.

“I got my first one when I had just turned 17. The guy that’s done all my tattoos, I used to live with him. He used to live near my old man. He moved from Kingaroy to the Sunshine Coast so we spent a weekend down at his place and he gave me my first tattoo.

“Especially being from a country town, no-one really had tattoos. I was the first of my friends to get a tattoo. Now you look around, even look around our dressing room, more people have tattoos than don’t.

“The tattoos reflect your personality. You can sort of make that link: ‘oh, he’s a bit of a rocker and he has tatts’. But they’re completely separate. You see people from all walks of life with tattoos.

“I’ve seen my old man covered in tattoos. As long as I can remember in my life, he’s been covered so I never gave it a second thought. People might judge but as I say, nowdays everyone’s got tattoos.

“I think a bit of the stigma and the bad reputation has gone from people with tattoos. I wasn’t too worried about it.”

Nevertheless, one of the first pieces of ink Chris got in Sydney was something of a gamble. He smiles at the memory.

“I played four first grade games and got the (‘1070’) tattoo on my neck, which is something I’d never regret, no matter if I left the club or whatever had have happened,” he explains.

“It was always going to be my first club and it was always going to be my first NRL number so it’s always going to be special for me. A couple of weeks after I got the tattoo, I did my knee again – did my ACL – and that was the start of the 2010 season and I was off contract at the end of that year so I was a bit worried, only having four first grade games under my belt and missing the whole second season of that contract, that I was just going to be let go.

“But they came to me pretty quick, the club. Russell (Crowe) actually spoke to me and said they were going to give me another shot, give me another one-year contract which is what happened.

“I feel like I’m a part of the club now.”

Aside from decrying the biff, McQueen is careful what he says on social media and has so far managed to stay away from the front of the paper. But after his debut Origin season this year, there were reports he – to put it bluntly – wanted more money.

“Madge actually came to me after that Origin period and he’s big on player welfare and that sort of thing,” McQueen recounts.

“… and (he) said he would have a look at that. He’s big on paying players what they’re worth. For an Origin starting back rower, Madge – I guess – has an idea in his head about how much he should be paid. We’re going to look at it during the off-season. I know that Madge and the club will do the right thing by me so I’m not pressing the issue. I know we’ll get it sorted out.

“We’re all working really hard. We all love it bit it is really tough so for a club to look after the player and approach them before the player has to approach the club, I think that’s a really good sign.”

There are good signs everywhere for Chris McQueen. Just ask him to show you.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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