STATE VS STATE WITH NATHAN HINDMARSH AND SAM THAIDAY
The doe-eyed, dopey calf never really stood a chance. How was it to know that the big, burly human shouting at it across a rugged field was one of the greatest rugby league players of all time, and one of the world’s most tenacious tacklers?
I wouldn’t suggest for one moment that Nathan Hindmarsh - the now retired Parramatta and NSW legend - looks any larger than he did while playing, partly because he still has mitts like muscular baseball gloves and he nearly broke two of my fingers just shaking my hand.
But I would have to say it was a genuine shock to see that he could still cover ground at such speed. We were shooting the fishing challenge in the NSW vs Queensland Mazda BT-50 challenge - The Amazing Place - challenge on his picturesque property outside his home town of Robertson, and one moment he was standing next to me, calling to the recalcitrant calf, which had wandered off from its mother, and the next he was gone.
The sight of this huge human, pelting across the grass at super-human pace, was something to behold, and something the calf wasn’t expecting. It had barely thought about leaping away when Hindmarsh hurled himself, horizontal to the ground and seemingly floating through space, to wrap up his littlest livestock in a big bear hug, before standing aloft, grinning like he’d just scored a State of Origin-winning try, and carrying it gently back to its very confused-looking, cud-chewing mother.
Myself and the rest of the video crew stood in some awe, mouths open, not sure what we’d just seen, yet Hindmarsh’s two young boys, Dodge and Rowdie, looked both unsurprised and unimpressed.
It must be quite weird to have a Dad like Hindmarsh, of course. Normally you worship your own father as some kind of deity, but everywhere those boys (and their two siblings, he has four kids) go they see strangers wanting to shake his hand, and take selfies with him. They seem to have developed a healthy scepticism about his fame.
“Never meet your heroes” is sound advice, and meeting famous sportsmen can often be intimidating, because you never really know what’s behind the public persona, but Hindmarsh turned out to be genuinely fantastic company.
He’s humble, generous with his time and absolutely up for anything. On the day we shot with him in the NSW highlands it started off cold and foggy before warming to a blazing temperature, but for the sake of continuity, he simply refused to take off his cardigan - which was big enough for a family of four to sleep inside as a tent - no matter how hot he got.
Professional, polite and hugely passionate about beating his old mate Sam Thaiday at absolutely anything and everything is the best way to describe him.
Hindmarsh is also what you would call an “enthusiastic” driver, ripping into the twist and turns of the Jamberoo Mountain Road where we shot the driving sequences, and attacking the off-road sections with just as much vigour. He’s the kind of man the BT-50 was built for, rugged, outdoorsy and hard core.
From a distance, he even looks a bit like a twin-cab ute, to be honest.
A week later, the setting was ever so slightly more paradisical as we joined one of Queensland’s favourite sons, Sam Thaiday - a kind of half-man, half-maroon - on a stunning beach for some sand-driving in his beloved BT-50, fishing and firing up Nathan Hindmarsh from a distance.
Once again, we weren’t quite sure what to expect from “Slammin’” Sam, but we got some hints when we wrote to ask him before the shoot whether he and his mate who was joining him for the day had any dietary requirements. “Not really, we just both eat a LOT of everything,” was his reply.
Even when, in what seemed like a disaster at the time, our food supplies didn’t arrive at Noosa’s North Shore, he was relaxed about it, and didn’t shout once.
The fact is, Thaiday is one of those blokes who just always seems to be smiling. That might be because he just seems to take so much joy in things, from fishing, to kissing his championship ring, to sitting in the blazing sun while the rest of us wilted in the heat.
He’s also got a bit of a soft side for a bloke who used to tackle people, very hard, for a living. At one stage he went to a lot of trouble to rescue a small crab that got tangled in his fishing line. It turns out, he’s also a dab hand when it comes to slicing and dicing veggies, and cooking in general.
His greatest love, however, seems to be beating Hindmarsh at things. What they do share (apart from the incredible fact that they each played more than 300 NRL games, which shows they are as tough and reliable as their BT-50s) is a love for driving as if there’s no tomorrow. He ploughed through the soft sands the way he used to plough through Blues players in State of Origin.
Much like Hindmarsh, it is an intimidating experience to stand next to Thaiday, even when he’s being gentle and jocular, because he has lower legs that look like they could hold up the Harbour Bridge, if necessary. Not that he would do NSW any favours like that.
At the end of the day, he climbed into his clearly lived-in and well-loved and BT-50 with yet another huge smile, but not before checking if there was anything else he could possibly help us with.
While they might look like imposing man mountains on television, it turns out that rugby league players are top blokes in the flesh. Just don’t mention the (State v State) war.
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