Where are they now? Darren Junee
Photo: SPA Images
“I remember the forwards practicing lineouts under street lamps.” That’s former Waratah Darren Junee’s romantic recollection of his days with New South Wales.
“It was very, very amateurish back then,” said Junee of his career that started in 1988.
Now a teacher by trade, Junee is Head of Year 8 at St. Joseph’s College, the school he himself attended from 1982-1987. Much like his rugby career, looking after day boarders, weekly boarders and the full boarders is no nine-to-five job. “It’s seven days a week with a few nights thrown in as well,” he says.
His academic field is science but he has also been keeping his eye in rugby-wise, coaching numerous teams at Joey’s during his tenure and gaining notable success, leading the 15As to the GPS Premiership in both 2010 and 2013.
The professional rugby career that many players aspire to is a far cry from his playing days. “We worked during the day and trained at night and often, we trained in the dark and under street lights.
“We weren’t allowed to train on Concord Oval so we used the council pitches out the back but as soon as it rained they would stop us training on them,” he explains. “It was ridiculous but I look back now and think ‘how good was that?’”
The son of former Kangaroo Kevin Junee, Darren sandwiched a four year spell in rugby league at the Sydney Roosters with two stints in the famous Cambridge Blue from 1988-94 and 1999-2001. A versatile backline player, he racked up 56 caps for his state and played 28 times for the Wallabies – including four tests – signing off with a Bledisloe Cup win in 1994.
Ranking favourably on his career highlights reel was being a part of the Wallaby tour of South Africa in 1992, the first in 23 years by an Australian side to the Republic. He admits that the brevity of the visit didn’t hit home until much later. “I was a bit young at the time and you didn’t realise the significance of it. We were having a yarn with De Klerk and Mandela and they’re thanking us for coming over to play football. Now you realise what a significant moment that was.”
Back to his current role and his stewardship has seen some notable current Waratahs pass through the school’s ranks. “We’ve had Pat McCutcheon, Paddy Ryan and Peter Betham go through in my time. Kurtley Beale was also here but he was too good for us so he went straight through to the firsts!”
Junee admits that since hanging up the boots, his passion for the Waratahs waned for many years. “I lost confidence with the establishment at the time because there were a lot of people in there for the wrong reasons,” he reveals. But the new regime at Moore Park – on and off the field – including many former team mates, has brought about a revival in his interest, so much so that he took his son to his first game last season and thoroughly enjoyed it.
“I actually went back for a couple of games last year because of guys like Michael Cheika, Nick Farr-Jones and Tim Gavin. They are all passionate rugby people and passionate New South Welshman and I think things are going in the right direction now.
“I played with and against Cheika and he’s just an absolute competitor. He’s also old school and he knows that, in this era of professional football, it’s very easy for players to get comfortable because what they do isn’t real life. It can finish at the drop of a hat. He’s trying to re-instill those values.
“Old school never hurt anyone.”
Original version published in the NSW Waratahs v Bulls match program on March 1st, 2014
(courtesy of Steve Johnson)