Clubmen: Scott Podmore – Pt 2… A Red & Black life

“He is a true club man. I know during his time at Parra that not only did he give his all on the paddock, but he would regularly put his hand into his pocket to look after other Parra players so that they would stay at the club. Parra’s loss has been Norths’ gain. From the moment he came to the club he made Norths his home, be it travelling from Winston Hills four nights a week for training, to coaching Norths’ Under 15 representative side and also being one of the members of the club’s leadership group.

“On the field he is an attacking footballer with a tremendous set of hands, an excellent understanding of the game, and is really what club rugby is all about. Training week-in, week-out, playing against rock stars and enjoying a beer and a sausage with your mates afterwards. He once told me that the day the first grade coach doesn’t make that phone call at the end of the year to see if he’ll be back next season is the day that he retires. May that day never come and he gets to retire on his own terms.”

Nick Lah (Northern Suburbs prop & best mate)

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In Part One, we tracked the early rugby career of popular Norths hooker Scott Podmore at Parramatta.
In Part Two, we cover his move to North Sydney Oval, and his selfless efforts to help others off the field. He’s also got a few points to make on the state of the game along the way…

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Given those last few years at Granville, it must have been a bit of a culture shock to turn up at Norths, a seemingly stable club that was moving forward?

“It is. Norths reminds me a lot of my time in the UK, which is hard to achieve in the Sydney rugby market where kids are trying to get EPS contracts and stepping-stoning themselves to greater things. Those types are weeded out pretty fast at Norths and funnily enough, lots of our talent does move on to greater things. Funny how that works.”

From Death Valley to North Sydney Oval – a beautiful old ground with bags of history, but not nearly as intimidating?

“My fellow front-rower and best mate Nick Lah made a good joke early on when I arrived at Norths. I kept tripping and stumbling at a team run at the Oval, and he said ‘You must still be used to the potholes at Death Valley!’ Now that I am accustomed to the flat surface, I’m happy! Death Valley is a great place and I’ll always have good memories there, even some bad ones after losing there with Norths earlier this year.”

Was NSO one of your favourite grounds to play at before you joined the Shoremen?

“Yes. North Sydney Oval has so much history, it’s a good surface, and being a cricket tragic as well, I get a kick out of it. I’ve always had good results at Coogee Oval too – well, I’ve had some bad results there – but I usually play well and enjoy playing there.”

While we’re talking grounds, what about your least favourite in club rugby?

“The Western Weekender Stadium (now St Marys Leagues Stadium), which was Penrith’s temporary ground for a while. Parra had an embarrassing loss there in 2008 that wrecked the campaign.”

What was the transition like playing-wise from Parra to Norths, because you were now part of a more talented bunch of players with higher expectations. Was that a difficult adjustment?

“It wasn’t tough. I’ve always been more critical of myself than others could be, so I didn’t feel any pressure.”

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Wrapped up by a couple of Rats – Photo: Karen Watson

The last two years have seen Norths’ star rise with successive finals appearances. Is this team capable of winning a Premiership yet, or how far away is that holy grail?

“This team is good and can go far, and I also think last year’s team was something special. This season is a funny one, and all teams are in with a chance looking at the way everyone has performed against each other so far.”

Aside from your club duties, you’ve taken part in the restored Sydney v NSW Country clashes in the last couple of years – a good experience?

“Yeah, Mark Giacheri is a really outstanding coach and I learned a lot from the short time I spent with him. And it was just an honour to be coached by Bob Dwyer last year, I’m just not convinced he knew who I was. Long story!”

Was that experience, and your time with the Australian Barbarians, the highest levels of the game you’ve reached?

“Yeah, and I’m very proud of having been a part of the Baa Baa’s. I’ve played a few games now and really enjoy everything about the tradition, and I think younger players could learn a lot from those sort of teams and that environment. I also got to play for Western Force against the Waratahs in a pre-season trial down at Nowra last year. The Force were stricken with injuries so myself, Ben Matwijow, and Steve Evans from Norths went down and filled in for them.”

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Throwing in for the Aussie Baa Baa’s against the Junior Waratahs in 2009 – Photo: SPA Images

Does that count as a representative game for the Western Force then??

“I’m trying to count it. I’ll leave it out of my resume for now but I’ll just hold onto it in case. I’ve got a pair of shorts to prove it anyway, just don’t tell Mitch Hardy we stole them!”

You’ve experienced life at both ends of the table in the Shute Shield over the last decade. What changes have you noticed in club rugby over that time?

“Attitude. I think they’ve got to get away from the Academies because they’re doing something – which I’m not sure is a good or bad thing – to first grade. These young players that are coming through – and I agree that they’re talented – they’re in that professional environment and then they’re coming back to a club environment, and they’re a bit rock star for first grade but they’re actually not a good first grader. It’s a case sometimes of ‘So and so said I shouldn’t train because I’ve got this injury’ whereas, yes, I’ve been pretty lucky with injuries but there’s been some real painful weeks there.

“I talk about it with boys that have been playing grade for years and it’s just a first grade toughness. You hurt your hand or you’ve got a broken finger? Well, tape it up and get on with it, whereas those guys – I wouldn’t say break a nail – but they do something along those lines and they’re out for six weeks because a doctor doesn’t think they should play. I don’t think we’re breeding too many good rugby players, and you’re seeing more Academy boys coming into first grade now that I think should be playing second grade, because I’d rather that 27-year-old halfback was playing than the 21-year-old.”

Are you saying that we’re in danger of overprotecting young players, and neutralising the raw aggression and hardness needed to play elite level rugby?

“Exactly. An example of that would be Steve Evans. We’ve had other halfbacks at Norths over the last couple of years that are younger and maybe athletically superior to Stevie Evans, but he’s hands down a better player. He’s older, his pass may not even be as strong as some, but he’s played a hundred first grade games, and he knows where the ball’s got to go and he gets the job done. He played in the Western Force trial game at TG Millner before the start of last season and he was one of the best players on the field, and the reason is you’ve got to play rugby to be good at rugby, not do star jumps and squats and shit like that. You’ve got to play rugby to get good at it, and I think he’s an example of that.

“Likewise, all these props coming out of academies that get thrown into first grade – none of them are Nick Lah, whereas Nick Lah never gets a chance to play professional footy. I don’t put that on club rugby, I put that on the attitude of professional rugby trying to get these kids in at 18 and getting a professional life out of them for 12 years, rather than saying ‘This guys done his apprenticeship, he’s 26-years old, now let’s make him a professional.’”

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Packing down in 2010, with best mate Nick Lah on one side, and Wallaby Al Baxter on the other – Photo: SPA Images

Talking of players coming in from another environment into club rugby, there’s obviously a large contingent of Super Rugby players filtering back into the Shute Shield every year, which inevitably forces a few regulars onto the sidelines as a result.  Knowing it’s a situation you’ve faced at both your clubs, how do you handle it?

“That’s life, that’s the nature of the beast, and that’s the nature of the Shute Shield. Having Tatafu come back for those random two weeks every year probably got me ready for it if it happens now. You just get over it and get on with it. I think once you start bitching and moaning it ripples its way through the side. It’s a good problem to have talent coming back, you’re not going to complain about people like Al Baxter and Ben Whittaker coming back.”

You’ve told us the best players you’ve played with, what about the best players you’ve faced?

“I mentioned the game in 2008 against a Wallaby-stacked Randwick and that day, Mark Chisholm and Stephen Hoiles were among those running out for the Wicks, Throwing lineout’s over those two was a great challenge, and the idea that I could match it with them was pretty cool.”

Was that your best moment in rugby?

“I’ve had a few. Beating Randwick in ‘08 is up there, but the Aussie Baa Baa’s games and tours in general have been the peak. Touring with such talented players and winning against those Academies full of kids proves the point that professional rugby hasn’t quite understood yet. I love the Baa Baa’s and they need more hype.”

Do you know exactly how many grade games you’ve played now?

“I know I was up to 130 or more at Parra when I left, and I’ve just clicked 50 at Norths. So at a guess, 180.”

You must have racked up 100 1st Grade games then?

“My 100th first grade game was earlier this season for Norths against – who else? – Parramatta. We lost 13-10 and I broke my wrist in the first five minutes. I’m very glad to see Parra traditions haven’t changed – always belt the turncoat!”

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Diving in for a try against Gordon in 2011 – Photo: SPA Images

Longevity is obviously helped by a lack of injuries. Have you had many bad ones?

“I had a real bad one – a grade 3 or 4 AC – in the last game of 2010, which was good because I had the whole off-season to recover from it. There’s been a few running repairs – the broken wrist, a few broken fingers and that sort of stuff. But other than that, I’ve been pretty lucky – touch wood!”

Away from the game, what do you do for a living?

“I work for my Uncle’s engineering company, and I’ve just finished an Advanced Diploma of Engineering. We do height safety of structural steelwork all around Australia.”

Do you enjoy it?

“It’s a great job with nice people, and I get to see some obscure parts of the world and do some pretty cool things like flying off to an oil rig somewhere, or out to a mine in far off WA.”

How do you work the rugby career around the full-time job?

“I’m sure I’ll turn 35 and realise how much money I haven’t made by missing out on all those extra opportunities like overtime and not working Saturdays to be at footy, but it’s enjoyable. It’s probably the best hobby anyone can have. I’m lucky in the sense that my Uncle/boss played rugby league for Canterbury in his younger days, and he understands what rugby is all about and sometimes encourages us to get out of work and off to footy. So I’m very lucky to have him behind me.”

Deadwood Rugby Club. How did that come about?

“It started in late 2009 and was made up of players from all over the Sydney scene, including guys I’d played with and more importantly, toured with. At first I didn’t expect it to grow, but it just shows how much players like playing with their mates, and we now have over sixty playing members that fly in from all over the world. We raise money for the Westmead Children’s Hospital by doing our best in Sevens and Tens tournaments around the traps, and so far we have raised around $17,000 for the kids. But with more sponsorship we could do more. We have won a few events over the last few years, my favourite being the Hawaiian international rugby Sevens, and we will defend our title this December in Waikiki.” (For more information on Deadwood RC, check out www.deadwoodrugby.com or follow DeadwoodRC on Facebook)

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Ripping into Sydney Uni with a little help from Seti Tafua – Photo: SPA Images

One of Deadwood’s most popular sons is Seti Tafua, who recently suffered a potentially life-changing injury in a game for Norths. As a friend and team mate, it must have hit hard?

“I was there on the ground when it happened. When one of the toughest guys you know can’t move his legs, you can’t help but wonder about yourself. But a speech by Seti’s Mum turned myself and many others around fast. It did galvanise the group, and I hope we will be able to look back on how we handled it as a club and know we did ok.”

The game the week after Seti’s injury was honourably postponed by your opponents Eastern Suburbs, giving everyone at the club some much needed time to take stock. I would imagine your perspective on rugby changed dramatically in that period?

“It would be scary if no-one worried about their own safety after something like that, and wives, girlfriends and kids obviously add to that equation. My wife is a spinal injury physio, which has been helpful in us understanding what Seti’s rehab may involve. But none of us could just walk away from something that we love, especially when Seti loved rugby more than anyone.

“I must just mention Eastern Suburbs and especially Anton La Vin for their great support in the early days of the injury. They went above and beyond while fighting their own battles too.”

The response from the rugby community to Seti’s plight has been overwhelming, and I know you won’t want to be acknowledged for being a major driving force behind that but you have. What else is planned?

“We have a big dinner coming up on October 12th at the Convention Centre, with a variety of top class entertainment and all funds going towards Seti’s appeal. It will be a cracking night so get on to setitafua.com.au and book your table now! You can also follow Seti on Facebook at ‘Seti Tafua – Stay Strong Brother’.”

You recently turned 30 and you’re about to play your second finals series in a row for Norths, so we wish you luck. But whether you get to lift the Shute Shield Premiership or not this year, will you be back for more in 2013?

“I’m not done yet, not for a while. My attitude to rugby has always been ‘will over skill’. This year my fitness was down, not because of old age but a lazy training program as we got away from the old school floggings. I’ll be doing my own fitness come next season and I plan to be fitter, faster and hopefully better!”

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First published by clubrugby.com.au on August 31st, 2012

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