Ten years ago, on a wild night at Suncorp Stadium, State of Origin witnessed one of its last moments of unbridled chaos when a fight near the end of the match between NSW prop Brett White and his Maroons counterpart Steve Price turned The Cauldron into a tinderbox.
Bringing together the major characters, complete with fresh details and new revelations, we piece together the unforgettable sequence of events that left a lasting impression on everyone involved.
Among seven in-depth interviews, we speak to Brett White and Steve Price, who traded the punches that sparked three minutes of madness.
A distant rumbling… The prelude
Brett White: «I remember coming into camp on the first day when the team assembled. We went into the first meeting and had a look at some vision from the first two games of the series. Some of the grubby tactics that were used, or we believed were used … there was a real sense of ‘this game, we stand up for ourselves’.
«Right from the very first team meeting before game three, it was identified that this was the game we had to stop being pushed around. We had to stand up for ourselves and not put up with it. That was the mentality we had through the week. And that set the scene for the week.»
Justin Poore: «Going two-down into game three, the coaches said: ‘You can make your mark in Origin history. What are you going to do tonight to stop them from winning? It comes down to pride. Are you going to let them run over you or have that line in the sand?’
«In the position I played – I’m not the toughest bloke – but you have to act tough, to take on a different persona, become a different person. I loved it. I was a bit of an old-school footballer.»
Johnathan Thurston: «We had wrapped the series up already. We were heading back to Queensland. I wouldn’t say we were cocky or arrogant but we did have a fair confidence about us. It was an opportunity for us to do a whitewash, which hadn’t been done by a Queensland team since 1995. There was a lot at stake for us.»
Darren Lockyer: «I don’t remember there being any more tension than other games. The series was over, we were playing at home and going for a whitewash, which we hadn’t done for a while. I don’t think there was any more tension than any other match.»
Kurt Gidley: «We thought there was an air of arrogance at different times. It felt like it was a ticking time bomb waiting to go off and it’s fair to say that it did. Whether it was lack of respect or humility in their wins or their tries, whatever it may be, it was a time bomb. We were like: ‘Alright, we have a game to beat them up there in Brisbane.’ They had already won the series and they weren’t going to be happy with us winning a game at that stage.»
Trent Waterhouse: «I didn’t play the first two games. I had an eye injury that put me out of action. But you could feel there was some frustration around the whole thing. We just wanted to go up there and prove a point. Pride had been dented a fair bit. I think there was always a massive chance of it boiling over at some stage. We were desperate to get one back, even if it was a dead rubber. We didn’t care. We wanted to beat them in front of their home crowd.»
White: «I remember the Captain’s Run at Suncorp and walking over on my own to do a warm down. Blocker Roach and Freddy (Fittler) were there and the conversation started to go that way, about standing up for ourselves. I felt a bit of pressure from those guys … I felt like I was one of the guys that was supposed to stand up. I guess when that moment happened (the fight), I guess I felt that was what everyone had been talking about, the moment you stand up for yourself.
«But before the match, there was never any talking of fights or punching or anything like that. Not once. We meant physical presence and intimidation, we needed to be the ones winning that side of things.»
Steve Price: «I wasn’t sure about the attitude of the boys. Leading into the game, it wasn’t the ideal preparation. Some of the boys hadn’t prepared as well as the other games perhaps. I was a bit crook so I didn’t really know how the boys had been training but there was that feeling.»
And so it begins … The match
Poore: «To tell you the truth, that was an easy game leading up to it (the fight). There was no pressure on us, we knew we were going to win. From the first 10 minutes, we starting to roll really well, we were getting in their faces … we could see them getting frustrated because they knew we were there to play.
«You can’t even hear the crowd. You block it out. It was like playing park footy, us verses them, we knew we were going to win. I was quite excited as well, because game one and two were pretty full on, there were a few fights. As a player, you have to prove yourself on the field. I wanted a few get-squares. I loved it.»
Waterhouse: «There were little spot fires breaking out. It (White-Price) wasn’t the first one during the match. It was on again and off again.»
Thurston: «It was played extremely tough. You could see things were going to boil over. There was a lot of push and shove from the two sides in the previous two games and certainly that night. You could sense something was brewing.»
White: «It probably didn’t feel like it throughout the game. There was nothing really outside a normal Origin. I didn’t get the feeling it was going to go that way or something was going to happen. It was a standard, physical Origin without there being too much niggle. I didn’t have that feeling leading up to that. It was just that when it did, there was the sense that ‘this is it, this is the moment we have been talking about’.
Gidley «The more the game went on, we had it in the bag. Things were getting heated. And then it all blew up.»
… there was the sense that ‘this is it, this is the moment we have been talking about’.
All guns blazing … The fight
White: «I didn’t even know who it was. I felt a knee in the head and thought ‘this is what it’s about’. Having that build-up and talk to Blocker and Freddy, it felt like the time to stand up for the jumper and NSW. I wasn’t thinking at the time it was a punch-up situation, it was more an intimidation factor.
«I wasn’t going to take a backward step. It wasn’t a moment where I lost my head and started swinging. But that was where it ended up.»
Price: «What happened at the end of the game was something that never happened in my career. It’s a bit of a disappointment for me, not because of what happened but because that was never a part of my game. At the time, it could have been viewed as me being dirty because we were being beaten. That wasn’t the case at all.
«I just got up from the tackle and Brett punched me in the mouth. I asked him what he did that for and he said I had kneed him in the head. I told him I didn’t. It was on and I ended up being carried off. You have to make a decision; do you try to stick up for yourself or just cop it like I always had done? At that moment, I decided to stick up for myself. And that was it.»
White: «It’s funny. It all really slowed down. I remember thinking at the time: ‘This is it, don’t take a backward step.’ Pricey threw a punch and it got me on the lip. I thought ‘right, this has gone a step further’. It caught me a bit by surprise but you get into a fight-or-flight mode. That’s where it went next.
«I probably got lucky and got a clean hit. It was like he got washed away as it landed. I felt it land and the next minute he was gone. You look back and see Trent (Waterhouse) come flying in to protect me and get him (Price). He was there one second and gone the next.»
Waterhouse: «I must have been the first one to see it. All I saw was Pricey throwing a million punches and I thought ‘I’ve got to get in here’. I went over to grab him, I wasn’t meaning to hurt him or anything. As I got there, he just copped one and he was gone. He was out and I sort of tripped over him.
«They (the referees) must have thought I’d slammed him but I more or less fell on top of him. Then I remember GI (Maroons centre Greg Inglis) grabbed me in a stranglehold and I nearly went out. He had me from behind, like a rear-naked choke. I was about to pass out.
«He’s a big strong thing as well. He had it locked in. Then all hell broke loose.»
Poore: «I was right behind them. There are always words exchanged in games. There are obviously blokes that don’t get along that well but that’s just normal in football. Pricey mouthed off a bit, Whitey has given him one.»
Price: «The disappointing part is that was my last Origin. I played 28 games so for that to be my last moment in State of Origin is pretty disappointing. Not because I got knocked out; it just wasn’t the way I played footy.
«Whether that was Brett, Trent or my head hitting the ground or all three … if Brett claims it, that doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, I was knocked out. That just wasn’t something that I do … I was a footy player. If you want to be a boxer, go and get in a boxing ring. That was how I lived my footy career.
«It was nothing to do with being knocked out … I had been knocked out a lot in my career. Brett White is just another added to that list. He was the only one to knock me out with a fist. Look at the footage. My head hit the ground really hard, Trent hit me on the side when I wasn’t looking. You could count three different ways as to how I got knocked out. Either way, when you combine them it’s not an ideal way to remain standing up.»
Thurston: «I remember being on the field and it looked like Trent Waterhouse came from the side and collected Steve from the side. It wasn’t until after the game or maybe the big screen that we saw Brett White had got him fair on the chin and knocked him out.
«From the players’ perspective it looked like Trent had got Steve from the side flush so I think that’s what really riled the boys up and we took exception to that. It wasn’t until after the game that we realised Pricey was none-from-one. He got one right on the chin and it dropped him. It wasn’t nice to see one of your teammates go down like that. The ensuing play was one that sticks out in my mind.»
Lockyer: «Towards the end of the game, when NSW had it in the bag, the fans here were getting restless. There was the moment late in the game where Steve Price got knocked out by Brett White. One of the other NSW players (Justin Poore) came over to see if he was alright, lifted his head up and then dropped it on the ground.
«That pretty much sparked all of the boys, they didn’t like what they saw.»
Price: «There’s no grudge against Brett. He’s a big boy and he was doing what he does. I just found it quite funny that he would do what he did for me supposedly kneeing him in the head, when he was at the Storm and they did so much more than that. Seriously? You’re going to punch me in the mouth for that? They were winning the game easily.
«We were never close before that. I caught up a week or so after that, I said g’day. I either rang him or messaged him. The only one I was disappointed with was the boy that when I was on the ground motionless looked at me then picked me up and dropped me. Justin Poore … that was poor, pardon the pun.»
Poore: «I’ve seen Whitey hit Pricey – Pricey didn’t put up a very good fight because he can’t fight. He hit the ground and I’ve lived with this for a while… when I went over to him, he spoke to me. He called me ‘f—ing this’ or that. I went over there to tell him to stay there and he told me to ‘f— off’. I grabbed him, said something back and dropped him back on the ground.
«He’s told everyone he was knocked out, that he didn’t know what was going on. Between me and him, he knew exactly what was going on and I copped the brunt of things for a long time after that situation. From a player’s point of view, it’s been 10 years now, going through that at the time it was very hard.
«I was depicted as this absolute dog, Petero wrote in his book that it was the biggest dog act he’d ever seen in his life. I know deep down that Pricey knows what happened.»
Up and under … the kick (that was supposed to be a pass)
White: «I presumed I was going to be sent off. I just thought that’s what was going to happen. I’d been in a similar situation before with the Ben Ross one (fight in 2008). It was a one-on-one fight and you both go to the bin. That’s what I assumed would happen. So I was surprised when they left me on. Nothing happened – except Trent got sent off, he was the third man in. He was just making a tackle.
«I could hear them (Queensland) talking, talking about how they were going to come down and come after us. You could just see them … you could feel it coming. I thought ‘this is getting out of hand now’. Normally after a punch-up on the field, you get back to playing footy. This was about to keep going. It’s going to erupt again. When it went up, I remember thinking ‘wow, anything could happen here’.
Waterhouse: «I got sent off for it. They thought I had knocked him (Price) out. I don’t know if they didn’t watch it, I was surprised to get sent off. I didn’t throw a punch.
«I reckon I copped about four beers over my head as I walked up the tunnel. I was waiting for someone to leap down and try to kill me. It was intense. I remember vividly how much tension there was there. They (the crowd) were going crazy.
«The tunnel was probably the best place to be as it turned out. They put the bomb up. I was just ‘What the f— is happening here?’ This is supposed to be State of Origin. It was like an A Grade game, put the bomb up and it’s on again. I remember Hodgo (Justin Hodges) doing the knife to the throat thing. It was unbelievable.»
Lockyer: «The big screen showed it, the crowd was fired up and I remember thinking ‘what’s going to happen here? Is he (White/Waterhouse) going to get sent off?’ While that was all happening and the referees were trying settle things down, the boys said to me: ‘We don’t want the football, we want them to have it. We want to tackle.’
«After that, there was a bit of a breakdown in communication. I said to Cameron Smith: ‘Just tap it and throw it to them.’ He tapped and kicked it down the field. It didn’t go to script, put it that way. It went to Kurt Gidley, who was probably the smallest guy on the team when it should have gone to one of the big boys.
«Our guys were pretty fired up. They wanted to finish the game tackling. That’s what the boys wanted. The game was over, we had the series in the bag. They were angry.»
Thurston: «I think it was Locky that came up with the call to put the kick up. Cam just tapped the ball and it put it up in the air. Poor Kurt Gidley, who is a cracker of a bloke, got absolutely jammed by a few of the boys. It was all push-and shove again.»
Gidley: «I could see what they were doing. I knew what was coming. I could see they were all talking to Cameron Smith who was told to put the bomb up. I was like: ‘Alright, let’s go.’ I’m the captain of the team, it’s my responsibility to, first, catch the ball. I didn’t want to be embarrassed by dropping it. The next job was to return the ball.
«I thought it was a pretty ordinary (tactic), to be honest. I’ve seen some comments from those guys since that said it was probably out of line. That was years later. Probably because it was me at fullback and I had nothing to do with the actual fight.
«But that’s what they wanted to do. In the heat of the moment, they wanted some sort of revenge.»
Thurston: «When we got the boys in the huddle, we all knew what was going to happen. We just needed it to come from the captain and once it did, you can see the scenes where everyone came flying down the ground. Poor Kurt Gidley copped the full brunt of it but he’s a tough man.»
Poore: «I thought ‘she’s on here’. They knew they had lost and the only thing was to have a good punch-up. We were ready for it … we knew it was coming. That sums it up … poor old Gids gets it, the smallest bloke on the team. That summed them up that night.
«It was just us verse them and everyone just went hammer and tongs at each other. Back in 2009, you could still shoulder charge and fight. That’s what people paid for back then.»
Gidley: «I returned the ball, there were high shots coming from everywhere. I had no choice but to cover up and protect myself from what is going to happen. In the end, I ended up in the bottom of a big pile of stacks on. All the chaos was above me.
«I just had to worry about my job, which was catching the ball. I couldn’t worry about what was going to happen on the back of that. I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of knocking me out. I just wanted to be able to get up at the end of it. I knew there wasn’t going to be a play-the-ball. It was going to be on again.
«I thought: ‘What’s the worst thing they can do to me?’ Knock me out I suppose. I was determined for them not to hurt me. And I didn’t want to give them or the crowd the satisfaction of me dropping the ball or being knocked out at the end of it all. I was pretty determined to get up after it all ended. I wanted to stand up for my teammates.»
‘It was bad that night’ … The aftermath
Price: «I was out for a long time. I woke up in the dressing-room and the first person I saw was (then Prime Minister) Kevin Rudd. It took five minutes for me to get looked after on the field and driven off in the medicab and I wasn’t awake then. I woke up on the bed in the room.
«My wife and my mum were at the game as well and that’s another reason I was disappointed. I didn’t play that way. I saw the footage after and I wasn’t really looking at what happened in the game; they showed vision of my mum and wife and kids and they were horrified. It’s not a great vision you want your family to see.
«The boys (Queensland players) didn’t say much after the game, not too many of them were happy, but they didn’t really say much to me. They just wanted to make sure I was alright.»
White: «I remember walking off the field and having beer tipped all over us, things were getting thrown at us. But all that ignites that hate and rivalry with Queensland … all their fans are in on this. It wasn’t something that was left on the field, the verbals, the beer cups, getting soaked with beer … it just fuelled that rivalry even further.»
Poore: «It was bad that night, there was beer getting thrown. They are a different sort of fan; if someone offered me a free trip to Queensland, I probably wouldn’t go. But the rivalry we have with each other is just incredible. You look back now, you think that is amazing, people are so passionate that people are willing to throw a full beer at you. That’s $8 each. I must be worth about four or five beers at least.»
If someone offered me a free trip to Queensland, I probably wouldn’t go
White: «I had never had an issue with Pricey, he had been a wonderful face for the game … so having nothing against him at all, I did hope he was OK. I grabbed a couple of beers and started to walk down to their sheds, a bit of that old-school idea of having a beer and a laugh about it afterwards.
«I was walking down the corridor and when the door to their sheds opened, I saw his wife in there. I was like a ballerina … I did a little twist and was out of there as quick as possible. I saw the look on her face … I was more worried about Mrs Price and the reaction if she didn’t want me in there. I thought it would have been a great moment, a punch-up then a beer and a laugh. It didn’t happen that way.»
Thurston: «It was a bit of a weird feeling. There was an opportunity to have a whitewash in front of our home crowd, which would have been huge. It was a sombre mood in the sheds afterwards, although we won the series.»
Poore: «Neville Costigan was playing for Queensland at the time. Loved Neville … good mate, still talk to him to this day. He goes: ‘Poorey, let’s go for a couple of beers. There’s a place we can get free beers all night, just kick back and enjoy it.’
«We walked into this hotel and he had taken me back to the Queensland players function. Everyone has gone quiet; I’ve got Mal Meninga, Locky, everyone looking at me and I’m just going: ‘Neville, why are we here?’ He said ‘it will be right mate’ but I was pretty much straight out of there.
«Mal was asking: ‘What the f— are you doing here? Who do you think you are?’ My poor mate Mark (Thompson, Poore’s first coach and guest at the game) was worried we were going to get bashed. I got a taxi and left.»
White: «I got held back for a drug test after the game, so I missed the bus back to the hotel. A little van drove us instead. Going up Caxton Street, there was a set of lights outside of a big pub. (Blues winger) David Williams thought it would be funny to open the van door and let all these Queensland fans know that I was in there.
«That was one of the most nervous moments of the entire night. I had just knocked out one of Queensland’s pride and joys and here was David offering me up to the crowd at the Caxton.»
Waterhouse «I remember we went out after the game for a couple of beers at The Normanby. I thought I might get a glass to the head. I had my hat pulled right down, hoping nobody would recognise me. The next day I had to go back, get my suit and go to the judiciary. I ended up playing on the weekend.
«It was a big week.»
- We thank Brett White (NSW), Steve Price (Qld), Trent Waterhouse (NSW), Justin Poore (NSW), Darren Lockyer (Qld captain), Kurt Gidley (NSW captain) and Johnathan Thurston (Qld) for sharing their recollections of an iconic Origin tale.