Rugby League: Gill to give Broncos final crack of the whip

London's embattled Queenslander hopes to crown a varied career at Wembley today. By Dave Hadfield
Click to follow
The Independent Online
WHAT WAS that one about a prophet in his own country?

When an Australian fanzine published a "worst-ever" team selected from players who had represented the Sydney club St George, Peter Gill was in it.

Since he came to Britain, the London Broncos' back-row forward, such an important part of their plans at Wembley this afternoon, has been a regular selection in "best of" sides, be they selected by coaches, journalists or fans.

"I wish I'd come here a few years earlier, because I've really enjoyed the style of play," he says. "It took a bit of getting used to, because when I first came here in 1995, it was `attack, attack, attack'.

"I remember one match where I made 40 tackles. I thought I'd had a pretty good match and the coach thought so too, but I didn't rate a mention. But if you make a couple of breaks, you're all over the papers."

Although much of the attention this week has inevitably been focused on whether Shaun Edwards would take his place in the Wembley side, the availability of Gill, who, by his own admission has been struggling through this season with injuries, has been of equal importance to his coach.

"He's the `Rock of Gibraltar' on which our forward pack is built," Dan Stains said. "He's one of the smartest footballers I've ever been associated with, in attack or defence. He just has that good feel for the game. There have been times this season, like in in the Cup match at Hull KR, where we were winning 2-0 with 15 minutes to go, where I could see he was struggling, but I couldn't afford to take him off. I could see he was injured, but I knew he would find the way of winning it for us."

Now 34, Gill is adamant that the wear and tear of a long career will force him into retirement at the end of this season. Apart from the chest injury that kept him out of London's last two games, he has a persistent back problem that keeps reminding him that it is time to take a rest.

On Thursday, for instance, he did the rounds of a reflexologist, a chiropractor and an osteopath. He is adamant that he will be all right on the day, but won't vouch for how he might feel tomorrow.

Whatever happens this afternoon, it is a fair bet that his final season will turn out to be his most memorable. Originally from Toowoomba in deepest Queensland - he still has the sinewy look of an itinerant horse-breaker - he played alongside Stains there as a 16-year-old and for the Brothers club in Brisbane before heading south to Sydney in 1988.

That year, he was player of the tournament in Australia's midweek cup competition, but that is small beer compared to the Challenge Cup's status in Britain and his career at St George saw him in and out of the first team.

In 1992, he went to play for Wally Lewis at the now defunct Gold Coast club. "It probably wasn't the best thing for my football, although it was a good thing financially."

The best thing for his football was his move, after four seasons, to the other side of the world, where he immediately looked at home.

Today will be the culmination of five seasons in which his quality has shone through and it brings him neatly into collision with a near contemporary at St George. The Leeds loose forward, Marc Glanville, left for Newcastle as Gill arrived and, like him, is to retire at the end of this season.

There is an obvious contrast in style between the two. "He's a very strong defensive player," says Gill of his opposite number. "I'd call him the backbone of the Leeds side - the bloke who does all the dirty work. You can tell I used to be a stand-off. I still like a bit of a go on the blind side; it's just that I'm a bit slower."

Slower or not, Gill can still startle a defence with his eye for a gap, while his use of the ball is a manifestation of what makes rugby league what it is; hard, tough men, going from high-speed collision to high-speed collision and imposing a shape on it all through the skill at their fingertips, like potters at a wheel.

The respect that these skills earn him is illustrated by an offer that Edwards made in the run-up to this final. Although he is captain, he wants Gill to lead the Broncos out of the tunnel - after Richard Branson and Stains, that is. Gill is not sure whether to take him up on the offer.

"I was disappointed not to be captain this year, but for a fellow who has been to Wembley 10 times to say a thing like that is really something."

And, for a natural leader like Gill, watched by his relatives flying in from Australia as well as his wife and three children, the whole experience will be really something. It has been a long time coming, but his big day has been well earned.