Remembering the enigmatic Maroon, Peter ‘Jacko’ Jackson

Con Scortis Roar Guru

By Con Scortis, Con Scortis is a Roar Guru

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    Look up the word ‘enigmatic’ in the dictionary and you may well find a photograph of the great Queenslander, Peter Jackson.

    Peter ‘Jacko’ Jackson showed enormous promise as a teenager playing alongside Mal Meninga and Gary Belcher at the Souths Logan Magpies in the early 1980s.

    That side, which won the Brisbane comp in 1985 with Jackson as one of its best players, was coached by future super-coach Wayne Bennett.

    Jackson played his first State of Origin match in 1986 coming off the bench and would go on to represent the Maroons on 17 occasions – during this period he was both one of Queensland’s most dynamic players, but also one of their most popular, loved by Maroon and Blue fans alike.

    This was also Bennett’s first Origin series, however both Jacko and Bennett had less than auspicious starts to their Origin careers with the series won by the Blues in a 3-0 whitewash.

    The following year Jacko moved to the young Canberra Raiders. In only their sixth season in the top grade the Raiders were building a powerful team, mainly off the back of highly talented Queenslanders.

    This was a side that included current and future Maroons stars like Sam Backo, Belcher, Meninga, Kevin Walters, Steve Walters and Gary Coyne. It was also a side that included a young Laurie Daley, who made two appearances that year.

    Along with these champions, Jackson led Canberra to their first grand final appearance. They went down to Manly 18-8 in what ended up being the last grand final played at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

    In 1987 Jackson’s consistency saw him elevated from the Maroons bench to the centres in all three State of Origin matches, as well as the fourth exhibition match played at Long Beach, California.

    The ’87 series was the last to include players from both the Sydney and Brisbane competitions, with the introduction of Brisbane and the Gold Coast-Tweed Giants to the NSWRL the following year.

    Arguably Jackson’s finest State of Origin appearance was in the following year, when he replaced Wally Lewis at five-eighth in the opening Origin match of 1988 series. This was the first State of Origin match without Lewis, as the future Immortal had been ruled out with a shoulder injury.

    Up to that point Wally had played in all 20 Origin matches, so it was not surprising that the Blues were full of confidence facing the cane toads for the first time without the King.

    Although Jackson had never played five-eighth on such a big stage, he was developing a reputation at the Canberra Raiders for his organisational and kicking skills (as well as for his larrikin streak). While only 24 years of age, he also took on a leadership role in the team, along with stand-in captain Paul Vautin.

    The decision to move Jackson to five-eighth proved to be somewhat of a masterstroke, with Jackson one of the best on ground both in attack and defence, while also building a strong combination with new halfback Allan Langer, who created most of the attacking opportunities, and with his old mate Belcher chiming in at the back.

    Eighty-eight was also the year Jackson made his Test debut and he would go on to represent Australia nine times, scoring four tries. There’s no doubt he would have had more international appearances had it not been for injury.

    At the end of 1988 he returned to Brisbane, rejoining his first senior coach Wayne Bennett at the Broncos. It was a tough time as he only played 29 first grade matches for the Broncs in two seasons, struggling with form and consistency.

    A move to the North Sydney Bears in 1991 saw better times, as, along with veterans like Mario Fenech, he took the old club to within one game of their first grand final appearance since 1943.

    By the 1993 season Jackson was missing a lot of games due to illness and chose to retire after being a part of the North Sydney Bears reserve grade-winning side.

    My memory of Jacko is of an entertaining, mercurial player. While he may not have reached his full potential, his skills shone brightly (albeit briefly) on the field and he made a strong impression on a lot of league fans in the late eighties and nineties.

    That impression was not only due to the quality of his game, but also his infectious sense of humour. When journos and fans lament the lack of genuine personalities in the game today, I always think of Jacko.

    So, it was natural that Jacko would progress from the paddock to the media, where Jackson earnt a legion of new fans on Foxtel.

    Today one of the sadder side-stories within rugby league is the issue of depression, specifically the high rates of depression that have been documented among rugby league players. It’s an issue that the NRL has started to tackle only fairly recently, in some cases by engaging former players to talk to current players about the various issues relating to depression.

    It was only after his untimely death from a heroin overdose that the public became aware of Peter Jackson’s own struggle with depression, in his case precipitated by abuse he had suffered at the age of 14 at the hands of his high school rugby union coach (who thankfully subsequently served jail time for his offences).

    Jacko was a classic example of how a person’s public image – in his case, of a tough footballer, but also a much-admired humourist with a sharp wit – can hide demons within.

    I can’t help but think that in losing Jacko so young, rugby league not only lost a champion player and larrikin, but also lost a tremendous personality who would have been brilliant at helping the current crop of players who may also be suffering from the ‘black dog’.

    He would have been perfect in that role.

    So, regardless of which team wins State of Origin Game 3 next week, I’ll be raising a beer to one of the true Origin legends: Peter ‘Jacko’ Jackson.

    The New South Wales State of Origin team for the 2018 series remains a mystery, with new coach Brad Fittler facing plenty of selection headaches. So we want you to tell us - and all your mates - who should start for Blues in Game 1 with our team picker.

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    The Crowd Says (6)

    • July 1st 2015 @ 3:44am
      UncleRon said | July 1st 2015 @ 3:44am | ! Report

      I wouldn’t call Jacko an enigma. Very good footballer, funny man, but he couldn’t deal with his mental illness. Thanks for raising the memory of him, Con. Let’s hope there are no more sad stories.

      • Roar Rookie

        July 1st 2015 @ 4:26pm
        steveng said | July 1st 2015 @ 4:26pm | ! Report

        He was a larrikin that through his sadness was really out of control and on the path to self destruction. Jacko had allot of gremlins hidden inside him and eventually they took the better of him. A very sad case but a man who gave everything (under the circumstances) to his family and to RL, very sad to see him go and it was a shock when it happened. People should really study Jacko’s case as it is a typical and tragic case of depression and what depression can do to people, in a very tragic way.

    • Roar Guru

      July 1st 2015 @ 6:37am
      The Barry said | July 1st 2015 @ 6:37am | ! Report

      Nice article Con.

      Jackson was one of those footy players who always looked like things came so easily to him on the field. Absurdly good pieces of skill were done almost nonchalantly. That ties in with your enigma theme given how much he was struggling off the field.

      I met him once at a nightclub in Bondi Junction in the early 90s.

      We had put an ice bucket on a mates head and were smacking the bucket (mature I know). All of a sudden a stranger joined in. We bristled at first by cracked up when we realised it was jacko. He hung around with us for about half an hour or so for a couple of beers and a chat.

      He was such a casual, laid back, funny, easy going bloke. At the same time he had this energy about him like he was always looking for the next joke or drink or opportunity to be a pest. Again that fits your enigma theme.

      I was hit pretty hard when I heard he’d died and moreso when I learned how. All off the back of a 30 minute encounter.

      Great bloke and cracking footballer.

    • Columnist

      July 1st 2015 @ 7:25am
      Kris Swales said | July 1st 2015 @ 7:25am | ! Report

      I still remember being floored when the story of his death hit the front page of the Courier Mail. Footy legends aren’t supposed to die like that.

      Australian Story did an episode on Jacko earlier this year, but also on his wife Siobhan – an amazing woman doing great things at a school in a remote Aboriginal community. Well worth a watch if you can track it down.

    • July 1st 2015 @ 4:20pm
      Ron Jeremy said | July 1st 2015 @ 4:20pm | ! Report

      A talented player indeed, and thanks for the story Con.

      I remember Jacko well as a player when I was living in Canberra during the glory days of my beloved Raiders (as you say, at the time built largely on an amazing crop of players and coach from Souths Brizzy Magpies. He was by all accounts just a natural gun athlete. I remember seeing him interviewed late in his career and said he’d made the QLD schools 400m final, which would be no mean feat to make. I also saw Australian Story a few weeks back and yes, his wife and kids are all pretty amazing people.

      On the subject of depression and footy players, spare a thought also for Jacko’s former teammate Dave Woods who also died a similarly sad and tragic death at a young age. As I recall, and readers may remember him, Dave was a fringe first grader for the Raiders at about the same time as Jacko.

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