Good genes and upbringing or just plain luck? The NRL’s best father-son combos

Jimmy Smith Columnist

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    It didn’t quite break the internet but there was a quiet murmur that recently went around the rugby league social media swirl.

    It came when Eden Cartwright, daughter of John and sister of new Panthers recruit Jed, posted online a letter from her father to her brother.

    I am not sure if a breach of privacy was considered before doing it – understandably Eden is very proud of her father and brother. And it is understandable that something as heartfelt as this letter is worthy of wider exposure.

    As I mentioned at the time, this type of thing gives all of us fathers a roadmap about how to go about raising our children. Penning a note using positive reinforcement, while managing expectations with an undercurrent of love is a very powerful way to speak to our children. Not the only way, but one with enormous cut through.

    Having called Jed in the Holden Cup on Fox Sports, I know he is a player of promise. His performances at the Nines in the young Panthers squad suggested that promise may be about to be fulfilled. We don’t know if Jed will ‘make it’ or not, and both outcomes were mentioned by John in the letter, but I will take an even greater interest in his progress in 2017.

    It got me thinking about the prevalence of second and third-generation elite level rugby league players that we have seen over the years. Aside from the physical benefits of coming from a gene pool that history has shown has the capacity for elite-level sport, there must be more to it than that. And maybe for every son of a former player that makes it, there might be two, five, even ten, that don’t.

    I really think there is a conditioning of what is ‘normal’ for that child.

    “My dad played for the Tigers, so that is something that I could do when I grow up,” must go through the head of these youngsters. I’m sure careers advisers around the country rail against that thought, but many times it works out.

    My dad was a cow cocky and wheat farmer from the Riverina. I had no doubt that I could have done that for the rest of my life. Farming is a profession where generational succession is legendary, but for some reason I didn’t do it (that might be a birth order thing, being the youngest of four).

    What if you were Jed Cartwright, though, and even if you didn’t see your dad play live (Jed was born in 1996, John’s last year in the NRL), you have been around him in his various coaching capacities and would have seen the old tapes of him? Would you just think “that is what Dad did, so I’ll do it too”?

    I’ll never forget a quote I heard from Mat Rogers saying that when he was five he went to the footy with his dad, a universally accepted and encouraged pastime. The thing is, it was 1981 and his dad, the legendary Steve Rogers, was playing in the centres for Australia against the touring French at the SCG, a game the Kangaroos won 43-3 with one S Rogers scoring a try.

    That, to him, was normal.

    I am sure things like environment, birth order, family expectation and a thousand other factors also come into play when it comes to playing elite level rugby league. But having a significant figure in your life tread the path previously must make things that little more likely.

    What’s that you say? You want to know who I think are the top five father and son combinations in rugby league history? (Well maybe not history, let’s go with since 1960.)

    Before getting to the list, special mention to the Hughes family of Canterbury fame, and Garry in particular. One of three brothers to play in a premiership winning team, he is also the father of three sons who played NRL for the Bulldogs. His sons Glen, Steven and Corey, played over 450 games for the club and won two premierships with Canterbury between them.

    Also keep an eye on Max King this year. Max plays for the Gold Coast in the Holden Cup. If he was to make it to NRL level at some stage of his career, he would be the fourth generation of his family to play elite rugby league after great grandfather Cec King (Rabbitohs, 1945-46), grandfather the legendary Johnny King (St George, 1960-71), and father David King (Gold Coast, 1991-92).

    5. Wayne Pearce and son Mitchell
    The face of the game throughout the 80s, Wayne brought new levels of professionalism to rugby league in representing Australia and captaining NSW and Balmain. His son Mitchell played NRL at 17 and State of Origin for NSW at 19 and has presently played over 200 matches at just 27 years of age.

    Mitchell was also able to achieve something his father couldn’t – winning a premiership with the Roosters in 2013.

    Mitchell Pearce. (Action Photographics, Renee McKay)

    4. Craig Young and son Dean
    Craig Young was a fearsome prop for St George, NSW and Australia, playing 20 Tests and captaining the Dragons to premiership success in 1979. Craig’s father Bob played football for Australia and Craig had to choose between football and rugby league as a junior.

    Dean always had the underrated tag in his ten seasons with St George Illawarra and despite injuries throughout his career, played for NSW and Australia and won a premiership in 2010.

    3. Bill Mullins and son Brett
    Injuries robbed Bill Mullins the chance of playing for Australia but in 11 seasons with the Roosters, he scored 104 tries and won premierships in 1974 and 1975. Son Brett was an absolute excitement machine for a decade, also scoring over 100 NRL tries, playing for NSW and Australia and winning premierships with Canberra (1994) and Sydney (2002).

    2. Steve Morris and sons Brett and Josh
    Steve Morris was the last player to represent Australia from a country-based team, playing in a Test in 1978 while turning out for the Dapto Canaries. Across 12 seasons in the NSWRL, Steve scored 122 tries.

    Brett Morris has scored 131 tries for the Dragons and Bulldogs, won a premiership with St George Illawarra in 2010 and has represented NSW on 12 occasions and Australia on 18.

    Twin Josh has scored 105 tries for the same two clubs and has represented Australia (six caps) and NSW (14) regularly, including in the winning 2014 series.

    Brett Morris scoring for the Bulldogs

    1. Steve Rogers and son Mat
    Arguably Cronulla’s greatest player, Steve Rogers had 13 seasons in top grade rugby league, played for Australia in 24 games and represented NSW multiple times, including in the very first State of Origin game. He was a Rothmans Medal and Dally M winner.

    Son Mat played 12 years in elite rugby league with perhaps his best years spent in rugby union between 2002-06. Mat played for Australia and Queensland and scored 1360 points for the Cronulla Sharks and Gold Coast Titans.

    Jimmy Smith
    Jimmy Smith

    A well-known and respected NRL commentator, Jimmy Smith played professional rugby league in an 11-year career that included stints in both the NRL with the Roosters, Western Suburbs and South Sydney, and England's Super League with Salford. He earned over 150 first grade caps before hanging up the boots and switching to the commentary box. You can find him on Twitter @ThatJimmySmith.

    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 (69)

    • February 15th 2017 @ 10:56am
      Johnno said | February 15th 2017 @ 10:56am | ! Report

      Good list, a few others.

      Paul Sirronen and Curtis sironen, and Crusher and Kane Cleal. And John Hopoate and will hopoate.
      Having someone related to you like a parent is a big help to get in an industry or same job. Endless people follow in the same line of work one of there parents did.

      • Roar Guru

        February 15th 2017 @ 11:18am
        Will Sinclair said | February 15th 2017 @ 11:18am | ! Report

        We could be putting Paul Sironen and young Bayley Sironen on the list in a few years.

        The kid’s got some talent.

        • February 15th 2017 @ 11:23am
          DOUBLES said | February 15th 2017 @ 11:23am | ! Report

          Curtis is not a backrower and never was, and he played like it.. That`s why the TIGES punted him…

        • Columnist

          February 15th 2017 @ 11:48am
          Jimmy Smith said | February 15th 2017 @ 11:48am | ! Report

          I have heard the same Will – that Bailey Sironen is a serious talent.

          The next article could be Younger brothers dominance over older brothers….Sironen, Johns, Smith (Darren and Jason)….

          • February 15th 2017 @ 1:52pm
            spruce moose said | February 15th 2017 @ 1:52pm | ! Report

            If the young Cleary clone at Penrith keeps up his ridiculous form, then the Cleary father and son combo will make the list too.

    • Roar Guru

      February 15th 2017 @ 10:59am
      Hoy said | February 15th 2017 @ 10:59am | ! Report

      I think it is a bit of both, genes, and luck.

      Some are lucky with the name to carry them to selection. Some aren’t so great… I don’t think young Siro will reach the hieghts of his dad. But then he doesn’t really need to reach those heights does he? Mortimer isn’t going to be remembered like his father and uncles…

      But I guess that’s the thing… all these young men are on their own journey. Do they or their fathers feel disappointment that they might not make it as high, or higher? Maybe a little. Is it rational to feel that? Not really.

    • Roar Guru

      February 15th 2017 @ 11:04am
      Jason Hosken said | February 15th 2017 @ 11:04am | ! Report

      Great stuff.

      I see you’ve developed a side-step, Jimmy. Cleverly dodged Bozo and Scott!!

      I like the Cleary mix – would get away with signing each others footy card.

      • February 15th 2017 @ 11:24am
        DOUBLES said | February 15th 2017 @ 11:24am | ! Report

        Scott was rubbish ..

        • Roar Guru

          February 15th 2017 @ 11:27am
          Jason Hosken said | February 15th 2017 @ 11:27am | ! Report

          Is there an alternate expression…

        • February 15th 2017 @ 11:38am
          E-Meter said | February 15th 2017 @ 11:38am | ! Report

          He was a good fisherman though

        • February 15th 2017 @ 11:48am
          no one in particular said | February 15th 2017 @ 11:48am | ! Report

          If Scott was rubbish what was Brett?

      • Columnist

        February 15th 2017 @ 11:51am
        Jimmy Smith said | February 15th 2017 @ 11:51am | ! Report

        Ha no sidestep Jason. There were many that fitted the bill but you have to go with the top 5. I think that the development of Nathan Cleary could see him move on to this list eventually. And remember it is a combined score of father and son(s). When you have an absolute legend like Steve Rogers and a very, very good son like Mat makes them hard to beat.

        • Roar Guru

          February 15th 2017 @ 11:59am
          Jason Hosken said | February 15th 2017 @ 11:59am | ! Report

          Haha. Got me, no step and finished me off with an elbow…

    • February 15th 2017 @ 11:12am
      Johnno said | February 15th 2017 @ 11:12am | ! Report

      I think Joey/Matty’s dad Gary Johns played 1st grade in Newcastle comp.
      John Lomax/Noa Nadruku both have sons who are promising rugby union players though.
      I suppose with Noa Nadruku he was a rugby union player before he took up league.
      Cliff Lyons son played soccer in the old NSL.
      Oh here’s another one John Raper and Aaron Raper.
      Surely Eric Grothe Senior and Junior would have to go close to making the top 5.
      I’d say Eric Grothe Junior had a better career than Dean Young.

      • Columnist

        February 15th 2017 @ 11:52am
        Jimmy Smith said | February 15th 2017 @ 11:52am | ! Report

        Eric and Eric considered Johnno but didn’t make the 5. Sattler, Raper and Lang all came close as well.

        • February 15th 2017 @ 12:54pm
          DOUBLES said | February 15th 2017 @ 12:54pm | ! Report

          Jonny Lang Martin Lang
          Bobby McCarthy Darren McCarthy
          John Sattler Scott Sattler
          Bill Mullins Brett Mullins

          Alan Jones Brian Smith 😉

      • February 15th 2017 @ 4:22pm
        Kevin Malone said | February 15th 2017 @ 4:22pm | ! Report

        why do you always try and out do the author, Johnno? even with those rubbish examples

    • February 15th 2017 @ 11:21am
      DOUBLES said | February 15th 2017 @ 11:21am | ! Report

      Wayne won 2 state of origin series 1985 1986 ( one as captain) something the Mitch could not achieve..hahaha

      • February 15th 2017 @ 11:31am
        Cassia said | February 15th 2017 @ 11:31am | ! Report

        Mitchell will win one this year.

      • Columnist

        February 15th 2017 @ 11:53am
        Jimmy Smith said | February 15th 2017 @ 11:53am | ! Report

        Not yet DOUBLES…..

    • February 15th 2017 @ 11:31am
      Mike from tari said | February 15th 2017 @ 11:31am | ! Report

      The sons of players who played at the highest level do get favouritism whilst coming through the junior system, my son who was Captain of the U14A’s was dropped the following year to the U15B’s, in favour of the son of a well known ex player who had been playing in the B’s, the ex player had taken over the coaching of the team, I was very angry but my son asked me not to say anything, even he did not get an explanation.

      • Columnist

        February 15th 2017 @ 11:56am
        Jimmy Smith said | February 15th 2017 @ 11:56am | ! Report

        And I am sure that sort of nepotism takes place in rugby league like it does in all other sports and all other walks of life.

        Works both ways as well Mike, as we can see by the John Cartwright letter. I was speaking just the other day with a former international who is an ex teammate of mine who was bemoaning the treatment of his son by a junior rugby league.

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