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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.