Clubmen: Scott Podmore – Pt 1… Two Blues & Tatafu

Photos: SPA Images

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“As a player, he’s a workhorse. He gets through a lot but he’s also quick with a great attacking ability, and when he opens up he does some great things. As a clubman he’s awesome, he really gels the guys. He’s always there and gives his time freely whenever you need things done. Whenever there’s a function, whether it be the Bon Andrews lunch or a golf day, ‘Pods’ always puts his hand up and leads the charge.”

Scott Fava (Northern Suburbs head coach)

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One of the most enjoyable parts of my club rugby reportage is having the opportunity to meet so many passionate club rugby people, and so many characters within the game. People who make club rugby tick by selflessly putting in one hundred percent on and off the field, week-in, week-out. People that give back to the game and adhere to the traditional values of what it means to represent a club and its badge. People that prioritise the health, wellbeing and happiness of others before any individual gain. And if you’re talking about actual players that may tick all those boxes, there’s one guy who seems to be pretty near the front of the queue.

Scott Podmore is certainly one of the more interesting characters I’ve encountered on my travels around the Sydney grassroots scene. He’s played at both ends of the league ladder, experiencing the highs and lows of Shute Shield football with both Parramatta and Northern Suburbs, and proven to be one of the most consistent and reliable performers in the competition. He’s done the hard yards at hooker with his trademark socks around his ankles, but his no-frills approach has only seen him enjoy the briefest of flirtations with representative rugby. And yet, his name remains a regular fixture on the Norths team sheet as they head into this year’s finals series.

He is one of the most popular guys in the dressing sheds, the de facto social secretary, club captain and all round good bloke, and his efforts in recent weeks to help drive fundraising for his stricken team mate Seti Tafua are admirable. He is also the mainstay of Deadwood Rugby Club, an invitational side that plays tournaments in the off-season to raise money for sick children.

But he’d be the last person to tell you any of that. One of club rugby’s straightest talkers, I sat down with ‘Pods’ recently for a Q&A about his life as a clubman. It was an entertaining afternoon…

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First things first, why the socks around the ankles?

“In 2001 when I joined the Two Blues, my father watched me play a Sevens tournament in late September and we played with ankle socks. Sadly, Dad passed away not long after on October 2nd, and I remember him making a comment about the short socks. Since then I’ve never pulled them up.”

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Running out against Manly in 2007 – Photos: SPA Images

So, how and where did you get started in rugby?

“I played no rugby as a kid but in Year 11 at high school, the Westfield Sports High team was short of players up on the back oval. I was doing woodwork at the time and Gareth Adamson – who was the rugby coach and a halfback for Eastwood – said ‘You look like you could do something, come up here’. That was half way through Year 11, and the following year I made the Combined High Schools side. Just after high school I played six months of rugby league for Wests, didn’t enjoy it at all, and went to the Two Blues from there.”

How did you end up playing for Parramatta?

“I was living in Smithfield and Gordon Allen, who was the General Manager of Parra at the time, and players like Jarred Hodges, were recruiting lots of kids from South West Sydney schools. They just rang me a lot while I was at Wests.”

Were you a hooker from day one?

“No, I was a number six/inside centre at times in 3rd Grade and 1st Colts. But in 2003 former Wallaby Andrew Leeds gave me a great bit of advice, and I owe him a lot. He said ‘You’re an average backrower, if you learn how to scrum, you could be a good hooker’ and I stuck with it.”

What was it like the first time you stuck your head in a scrum?

“It was Round One in 2003, and I wanted to get out of there as quickly as I could! I still have that approach actually.”

The front-rowers club is a unique environment isn’t it?

“It is, but I think the props have got it a lot harder and I’ll put my hand up, I don’t push at the best of times. Hookers have it a lot easier, don’t be confused.”

It was the start of a long association with the famous foundation club, how long were you actually there for?

“I was at Parra from 2001-2009, but I had a couple of years in between (2004-2006) playing in England for Preston Grasshoppers.”

How did that come about?

“I got a call one day from an old friend who said Preston were looking for a hooker. I had nothing better going for me so away I went. I lived there from October 2004- Xmas 2006.”

What league/division were Preston in at that time?

“They were in National Three when I joined (two divisions below the Aviva Premiership), but then we won promotion to National Two. I think they are still there now but may have bounced around a bit.”

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Carrying hard in the derby against Penrith in 2009 – Photos: SPA Images

Was that an enjoyable experience?

“I loved it. I met my darling wife Victoria there while I was playing, and I would have loved to stay if I could. But she insisted on moving here!”

Sydney or Preston? Tough choice!

“Yeah, I know. Preston is a great town though, and pretty central to get to a lot of cool places with the number of airports near by. You can get anywhere in Europe in a few hours, so it was great in that sense, and a couple of times I would fly to somewhere cool after a game. That sort of stuff made Preston a perfect spot. I did drive to London from Preston one day and everyone in my team thought I was mad. But it was shorter than the drive from Sydney to Tamworth so it didn’t bother me!”

You played all those years for Parra, some of them the toughest in the club’s history. But what were the best times out at Granville Oval?

“Performance-wise, the best years were definitely under Gary Ella from 2006-08. They had a split competition back then and we made the semi’s in both comps. 2008 was a great year because we ran high on the ladder for most of the season and had lots of big wins – the biggest against a Wallaby stacked Randwick side, where virtually every player was Super Rugby contracted and we beat them 17-10. That Parra side was very talented, but we stumbled out of the top six by a few points to finish only 7th. Shortly after that, the board changed, financial support dried up, and understandably, players that relied on payments left us to play elsewhere in 2009.”

You were also on hand to witness Tatafu Polota-Nau’s first steps into the club rugby arena. How many times did you actually get to pack down with ‘Taaf’?

“I got to play a handful of colts games with him and from there, he spent a lot of time training with grade, because he was playing tighthead prop for the Brumbies Academy. When he wasn’t with them, he was training with us. I remember playing on Parramatta’s New Zealand tour with him in ’04 and also a few games in ‘08.”

I remember a game against Southern Districts down at Forshaw Park in 2008 where you both chopped and changed positions. Refresh my memory of how that played out?

“It was funny because that was the week after we’d beaten Randwick. ‘Taaf’ hadn’t played in that one but I was Man of the Match, and I arrived at training on the Tuesday knowing he was available for the Souths game. Gary Ella had this cheeky little grin on his face when I arrived and said ‘Well done on the weekend, I hope you really enjoy playing two’s!’ So ‘Taaf’ started at hooker, and at half-time I came on and he went to loosehead. That’s how we did it, and the same in 2009 when we had a game up at Manly. I threw at the lineouts while ‘Taaf’ stood at inside centre, and at scrum time I’d pack in and he’d play at no.8, so we bounced around a bit.”

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Forcing Tatafu Polota-Nau to loosehead against Souths in 2008! – Photos: SPA Images

He’d naturally be one of the best players you’ve played with?

“Yes, but Steve Mafi, who I also played with at Parramatta, is the best. He played a few different positions as well, but if there was ever a rugby player that could do so it’s him. I saw him out-jump the best in the lineout and then stand at inside centre and make Tom Carter look like an under 7’s player. He basically did whatever suited him, much the same as Tatafu, and in 2008 – his first year in grade at the age of 18 – he played second row and six. Mafi could do it all and do it well. I’m so glad to see him doing well for Leicester Tigers in the UK.”

He was on the Junior Waratahs books for a while but they passed him up didn’t they?

“They sure did, and these are the questions that should be being asked now given the Tahs recent form. There has to be accountability for coaches and selectors as there is for players. He was let go after being told he needed to put on fifteen kilos to be better – never mind the fact that he was one of the best players going around with more ability in his left foot than I’ll ever have. A year or so later, he was regularly being named player of the week in the Heineken Cup and the English Premiership – a competition equal to, if not better than Super Rugby.”

What about the dark days at Parramatta. You copped a lot of heavy defeats in 2009, which must have been hard to deal with. Was that the low point for you?

“No, it wasn’t the worst time. Matthew Campton, Ian Hollins and Andrew Leeds coached a side that was made up of a few experienced first graders – Winnie Paulo, Aaron Mattin, Steve Mafi, Ben Borg, Andrew Cox and Josh Weeks – while the rest were – and I hope they don’t mind me saying this – lower graders. These coaches took a side that on paper wasn’t pretty, and avoided the wooden spoon by a few points.

“Yes there were some bad weeks against great opposition, which ‘Campo’ still reminds us of to this day. But when you consider those three guys were not only coaching but spending a lot of their own money to keep the club together, it was an uphill battle. Combine that with the efforts of Parra’s greatest supporters – Lorraine Holman in the canteen, ‘Muncher’ Garlick on the water bottle, and ‘Block’ on the BBQ – and you find yourself frustratingly proud of the season. I’d like to see every other coach do what those three did, and I’m forever grateful to them. Matthew Campton made me the player I am today – not a good one – and I am very grateful to still have them around.”

Despite the losses, you still seemed to keep a fairly good spirit within that team?

“It obviously wasn’t – in the scheme of first grade – a good situation. But there was more to it than that. It was a team of mates that were thrown together in desperate times, that still managed to win a couple of games, and of all the doom and gloom that followed that year, there were some small victories. Players like Ryan Aniseko and Matt Borg remain first graders even now, and if it wasn’t for what happened in 2009, they may never have played higher than three’s. I’m happy to see those sort of things come out of that situation. 2009 wasn’t the worst year but it was very odd, I’ll give it that much.”

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Packing down against Gordon in 2009 – Photos: SPA Images

So, what topped it?

“The worst years would have been the Brad Royall era from 2002-2004. It was the complete reverse of ’09, with a large playing budget and endless amounts of money, but only the same number of wins. If you look at that as a business, that’s pretty bad in anyone’s books.

“During that time players like Dave Harvey, Stuart Geard, Gordon Colme, and many others left to join other clubs. Geard – who was a really talented hooker – was told that he’d never play higher than third grade. He left and won a grand final with Easts that year in first grade. There was lots of that that went on so yeah, those would have been the worst years. Just think of the side that would have been if they’d all stayed together.”

I reported on Parramatta defeats of 64-0 and 66-0 at Granville Oval in 2008/09, and it was tough to witness let alone be a part of. How did you blokes keep turning up – it must have been hard?

“Yeah, it is. I suppose as a player, you’ve got to turn up and take your medicine and get back to work. We struggled in ‘09 because realistically, we were a team that had very few genuine first graders. Outside them you were pulling guys in who – two or three years prior – were third or fourth graders and proud of it. So it was a real sink or swim environment, and I don’t think many players swam too well! It happened and we got through it.”

You made the decision to leave at the end of that season – why?

“With all the bad things that went on at the end with Parra, I’d given up on playing rugby. But Stevie Evans and Nick Lah gave me a call about joining Norths. I’d played Aussie Baa Baa’s with them and they were great mates, and I think that’s what most boys in club footy respond to. That’s the main reason why I left, and in the back of my mind, the dream of playing semi-finals was there as well.”

Even so, you must be happy to see the turnaround that has taken place at Granville in the last two years. It’s a real ‘Lazarus’ type story isn’t it?

“I’m pleased for the club. There’s a lot of boys there that are loyal to Granville, and the majority of them were Islanders that couldn’t afford to get to Castle Hill every week. Thankfully, from all the good work Tatafu did, they stayed at Granville and those guys got to play rugby. I’m happy for their success and that they never left Death Valley, but we’ll never fully know how much Tatafu did to save that club. What a top bloke.”

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CLICK HERE FOR PART 2, where ‘Pods’ talks about his new adventure at Northern Suburbs, and two causes very close to his heart

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First published by clubrugby.com.au on August 25th, 2012

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