MARK ‘SPUDD’ CARROLL: Why Jackson Topine’s legal case against Canterbury Bulldogs leaves me stunned

Mark Carroll
The Nightly
4 Min Read
MARK ‘SPUD’ CARROLL: I nearly drove off the road when I heard former Bulldog Jackson Topine was suing his old club.
MARK ‘SPUD’ CARROLL: I nearly drove off the road when I heard former Bulldog Jackson Topine was suing his old club. Credit: The Nightly

Not everyone is cut out for a career in the NRL.

Not only do you have to have the ability to make it that far, but you have to possess the drive, desire and passion to stay at the top.

There are countless sacrifices to be made and the pressure to perform – from your club, your teammates, the fans and the media — is relentless.

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You must be strict about your diet and basically have next to no social life.

There are no time outs or shortcuts when you live the life of an elite athlete and it takes a toll on your body and leaves you with scars long after your playing days are over (something I will address further in the column).

So I nearly drove off the road when I heard former Bulldogs backrower Jackson Topine was suing his old club for $4m.

He claims his career was ended due to the “psychiatric injury, deprivation of liberty, humiliation, indignity, physical exhaus­tion, physical discomfort, anxiety, embarrassment and fear” he endured after being forced to wrestle 25-30 teammates as punishment for turning up late for training.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 05: Jackson Topine of the Bulldogs in action during the round 25 NRL match between the Wests Tigers and the Canterbury Bulldogs at Moreton Daily Stadium, on September 05, 2021, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images) Albert Perez
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 05: Jackson Topine of the Bulldogs in action during the round 25 NRL match between the Wests Tigers and the Canterbury Bulldogs at Moreton Daily Stadium, on September 05, 2021, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images) Albert Perez Credit: Albert Perez/Getty Images

I’m not here to question Topine and I’m certainly in no position to judge what he went through at Belmore.

Nor am I going to condemn Canterbury without knowing all the facts.

But I know this much — I reckon I’d have a decent old claim against my old club Manly for all the torture, abuse and punishment they put me through.

The only problem is, that I loved every minute of it.

Back in the mid-1990s, coach Bob Fulton started up a Fat Club at the Sea Eagles.

Conditions of entry were simple. If Bozo felt you could do with trimming a few kilos off your chassis, he’d send you to conditioner Dave Nable.

Dave, father of Fox League personality Matt Nable, was a lovely bloke but ruthless when it came to fitness.

He used to flog the likes of me, David “Cement” Gillespie and any poor forward putting the scales under pressure.

Occasionally, Geoff Toovey and Cliffy Lyons would join us for a session even though they weren’t paid-up members of Fat Club.

Geoff Toovey, Steve Menzies and Bob Fulton of the Sea Eagles holds aloft the winners trophy after the ARL Grand Final between the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles and the St George Dragons at the Sydney Football Stadium September 29, 1996 in Sydney, Australia.
Geoff Toovey, Steve Menzies and Bob Fulton of the Sea Eagles holds aloft the winners trophy after the ARL Grand Final between the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles and the St George Dragons at the Sydney Football Stadium September 29, 1996 in Sydney, Australia. Credit: Getty Images/Getty Images

They just knew they’d benefit from an hour or two under Nable’s punishing regime.

Fat Club helped me become the player I was.

It hurt like bloody hell but I knew it was good for me.

It took me out of my comfort zone and lifted me to a pain threshold I never knew existed.

My mind and body were in perfect synch and ready for whatever the game threw at me.

Can you imagine a Fat Club existing today?

Players still do “extras” but there’s no way it would be given a label like that.

If they did, they’d probably down tools and walk off the job.

Players in 2024 are still tough but there’s a different mindset.

They are more sensitive and ask more questions than we ever did.

We did what we were told and shut up.

It used to be called being pushed to your limits.

Now, in many cases, it goes down as bullying.

While times have changed in that regard, I am happy to see we are moving in the right direction when it comes to concussion and CTE.

I applaud Cronulla’s Dale Finucane for taking the brave — and correct — decision to call it quits after a series of head knocks.

I know it was not an easy move but, when he gets to my age, he will be thankful he made it.

Last year I documented my CTE diagnosis and ongoing journey.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about the future.

I wouldn’t change anything about my career but I welcome the advances we are making in dealing with the impact of repeated concussions.

Seeing what Wally Lewis, Mario Fenech, Steve Mortimer and many others are going through breaks my heart, but also serves to illustrate how important this work is.

I mentioned players in my day used to shut up and get on with things.

But there was the odd exception.

Terry Hill, my old Souths and Manly teammate, did not stay silent for a second.

I remember driving him home from training one day and I reckon I got about four words in for his every thousand.

My rearview mirror was full of condensation from all the spit that would machine gun from his mouth when he got excited.

We used to call him the human sprinkler and would duck for cover when he cranked things up.

When I was looking at coming to Manly in the mid-90s, I asked Fulton who they’d already signed.

He told me David Gillespie and Terry Hill were on their way.

“I’m in,” I told Bozo.

He was half in shock.

“Don’t you want to discuss money?” he asked.

I replied: “Hearing Cement and Tezza are on their way is good enough for me.

“I don’t care about the money. I want to win comps and those two blokes are winners.”

We ended up doing that in 1996 and Terry was a huge part of that grand victory over St George.

I go way back with Tezza. We came through the ranks at South Sydney and played plenty of rep and club footy together.

He was a larger-than-life character and a win-at-all-costs player.

It was very sad to hear of his passing.

RIP mate.

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