Ask any codger hunched over at your local RSL nursing a schooey of Toohey’s Old and they’ll tell you the exact same thing — the NRL simply isn’t what it used to be. At least not in the sense of 90s-style belligerence and on-field aggression. Not that we’re exactly promoting unnecessary violence or anything, but you know… One such legendary incident that perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the old guard occurred during the third game of the 1997 State of Origin. An incident that would infamously go down in history as the ‘cattledog’ brawl.
Back then, NSW coach, Tommy Raudonikis had a certain code word. Like Soviet sleeper agents, this was intended to “activate” key players. And by that I mean the lads were prompted to start a fight. The first person to spring into action this time around was NSW’s enforcer, Mark “Spud” Carroll, who drew first blood.
The donnybrook, however, didn’t just end there. As any NRL armchair historian will tell you, a fresh-faced Andrew Johns would soon cop the belting of a lifetime – a wound salted by national broadcast, since immortalised within the annals of the sport and talked about to this day.
Johns famously threw hands with Queensland’s Jamie Goddard, only to be knocked down in spectacular fashion. To his credit, Johns didn’t just stay down and take it. But to Goddard’s credit, he teed off like there was no tomorrow, beating the shit out of Johns without any substantial contest. So when you really think about it, yes, Johns’ poor stand-up game meant he essentially did just stand there taking his lumps. Twenty-seven stitches were required for that hiding shortly thereafter.
“[Johns] got hammered by Tommy, saying ‘you’re a such and such’, but he loved me,” says Carroll.
“Every State of Origin, I still ring Tommy up and down the phone… I go ‘Cattledog’. He always goes ‘I love you Spud’.”
You can review the full brawl in the video linked below (the ‘cattledog’ call occurs around 2:06).