QUEENSLAND are on the ropes.
The Maroons’ grip on State of Origin’s title belt is weakened, and slipping after a period of remarkable success.
The Blues, emboldened under the unique philosophies of a new coach and the enthusiasm of some rookie players, can smell blood in the water.
With their leader missing, the Maroons are vulnerable in the first game of the series, and are beaten comprehensively by the new-look Blues.
There are calls for changes in Queensland, for fresh blood and more grunt in the forwards.
The Maroons look to be swaying, waiting for the knock-out blow that seems to be inevitable in Origin II as Blues fans cockily boast about the end of a Queensland era.
Sound familiar? It should.
The year is 2008, and the Maroons have just been found out by a Blues team given new energy by their first-time Origin coach, Craig Bellamy – beaten 18-10 in the first game of the series.
It seems, after back-to-back series victories in 2006 and 2007, Queensland’s run of series wins under coach Mal Meninga is in peril.
The Maroons need to find something special.
That special something comes in the shape of a frail, 76-year-old man.
But this was no ordinary man. It was the Godfather of Origin.
Dick “Tosser” Turner, the legendary Maroons team manager and passionate defender of the Queensland faith, was enduring a monumental battle of his own.
His long battle with cancer had left the much-loved Turner physically weak, unable even to endure the 45-minute road trips to Brisbane from his beloved bayside home.
But his heart, spirit and Queensland pride were as strong as ever.
Having been at the centre of Queensland’s success, and responsible for the Maroons’ family culture in the 1980s, Tosser knew what was needed.
The great man began dictating a letter to his wife Jan, addressed to the new batch of Queensland players, to be read to the squad before Origin II.
The letter was a reminder of what they were playing for, and what the Queensland jersey meant.
It was a reminder of their responsibility to carry on the legacy of the greats that had worn the jersey before them, and to keep those values, traditions and standards intact for the players that would follow them.
Team manager Steve Walters read the letter to the players, with tears streaming down his face.
On Wednesday June 11, 2008, the impact of Tosser’s words was there for all to see: Queensland won Origin II 30-0 at Suncorp Stadium.
At fulltime, Tosser was wheeled into the Maroons dressingroom and acclaimed by the players as a hero, as much as if he had won the game himself.
Like he had done during the 1980s, Tosser had inspired the Queensland team to heights they didn’t believe – but he never doubted – they could reach.
Five days later, the great Tosser Turner sadly lost his battle with cancer, passing away on Monday June 16, 2008.
But his last act as a Queenslander was to rescue the Maroons again in their time of need by reminding them that the jersey was always bigger than the man who was wearing it.
Queensland, inspired by Tosser, went on to win Origin III 16-10 to take home their third straight series win.
They would win another five in a row as part of an incredible eight-straight series victories, and a total of 11 out of 12 series between 2006 and 2017.
“The lasting image I have of Tosser is him being wheeled into that changeroom,” says FOGS Executive Chairman Gene Miles.
“He was so very proud of the boys, as he always was. And it was so special to have him as part of that victorious changeroom again.
“He would be very proud of what the boys have achieved over the past 10 years. To look back now and see what they have done, Tosser would not have hoped for that in his wildest dreams.”
Tosser’s name and legacy still echo loudly through Queensland Rugby League. The culture that he created in the 1980s was the blueprint that Meninga called upon when he overhauled the Maroons in 2006.
Those lessons are being passed onto the new generation in this year’s series under Kevin Walters.
“His name is mentioned in every pre-game that these guys go through, and his name lives on through the Tosser Turner Medal and the FOGS Statesman Award,” Gene says.
“So Tosser still remains a big part of what Queensland does, and what we are about.
“It is important that he has those lasting ties to the team, because it means that his legacy will continue on, no matter who is at the helm of the team.
“It is our duty to ensure that the culture and values that Tosser created around the Queensland team are passed on.
“When we hand the baton to whoever it may be, they will have the knowledge of what happened with the Queensland Origin team going back nearly 40 years now.
“Tosser helped to create what is special about playing for the Maroons. He helped turned it from a team into a family.
“When he was manager back in the early days, and the Queensland Rugby League didn’t have the budgets that they do today, Tosser would be the one putting his hand into his own pocket to make sure all the little special things were taken care of.
“Nothing was ever too much for his boys. If that meant going go-kart racing at Rocklea on a Monday night before we played on a Tuesday night, then he would make sure it happened.
“If there was anything he could do that would make a difference on the footy field, then he was prepared to fund whatever it was we wanted to do outside of the Queensland Rugby League budget.
“That has never been forgotten, and even that legacy carries on today with the 1980 Initiative, which is a group of successful Queenslanders who come into the inner sanctum to help fund all of those things that Tosser initiated back in the early 1980s.”
Gene said the unparalleled success of the Maroons in Origin since 2006, and the equally stratospheric rise of the FOGS – the organisation Tosser created – was a fitting tribute to the great man’s work.
“Where we are now, with the FOGS heavily involved in the on-going success of the Queensland State of Origin team, working together with the Queensland Rugby League, it was what Tosser had in mind from the outset,” Gene said.
“In the 10 years since his passing, all these things that he planned for and built for have taken shape, and left league in Queensland in the best condition it has ever been.
“Don’t forget, before Mal took over as coach in 2006, there was a very heavy push for a coach from NSW to be appointed as Queensland coach.
“Tosser was the one that stopped that. He fought hard for Mal to get the job, now history shows Mal as the most successful coach in Origin history.
“Tosser left behind a legacy to be proud of. We still miss him enormously, every day. But his influence on the game will last forever, and will never be forgotten.”