When Super League took the ARL to war in 1995 over pay-television rights

LOOKING BACK: Before the Super League war kicked off in 1995, the Canberra Raider revel in their 1994 ARL Grand Final win against the Canterbury Bulldogs in Sydney. (From left) are Steve Walters, Ricky Stuart, Mal Meninga, Laurie Daley, Bradley Clyde and Brett Mullins. Photo: Getty Images

LOOKING BACK: Before the Super League war kicked off in 1995, the Canberra Raider revel in their 1994 ARL Grand Final win against the Canterbury Bulldogs in Sydney. (From left) are Steve Walters, Ricky Stuart, Mal Meninga, Laurie Daley, Bradley Clyde and Brett Mullins. Photo: Getty Images

It's hard to believe that 25 years have flown by this week since the Super League war kicked off.

It was the night all hell was about to break loose in rugby league and I was right in the thick of it.

Not that I was aware of the ramifications of it at the time. But seemingly, in the blink of an eye, that all changed.

It got ugly very quickly as the News Limited-backed Super League went to war with the ARL in 1995 over pay-television rights.

As it all unfolded, none of us initially knew the damage that would be caused or the friendships that would be strained and even lost because of it.

My recollection of Super League was there had been whispers about some sort of new competition maybe forming for a while, even as far back as the '94 Kangaroo tour.

But none of the players really took it seriously. In early 1995, the whispers became rumbles and a big increase in player wages was being trumpeted. But again, it all sounded a bit pie-in-the-sky.

But that all changed for us when the Canberra Raiders were in Townsville to take on the Cowboys on April 1 that year.

It was the night before the game and we got word from our CEO that there were people from News in town who wanted to talk to us.

We met as a group at our hotel and all the boys were of the same opinion that whatever we decided to do, we needed to stick together.

We were to have individual meetings at the Townsville Casino and I was first cab off the rank.

I walked into a room and there was Lachlan Murdoch and a guy by the name of David Smith [News executive] and I sat there with them for an hour and discussed everything from what the competition was going to look like, what rep footy would look like and what the pay structures were going to be for the players.

At the time, I think they were still hopeful there would be one competition with them running it but irrespective, they said this was going to happen.

They laid it all out for me and then cut to the chase. They offered me a seven-year deal that was worth eight or nine times what I was currently earning at the Raiders and said if I signed there and then, I could walk out with a cheque that was equivalent to the money I'd earned for the entire 1994 season.

Then they gave me 48 hours to see whoever I needed to see - club officials, teammates, solicitors, whoever - and if I decided to renege on it, I could rip up the cheque and forget all about it.

My head was spinning and knowing I had the grace period, I couldn't sign it quick enough.

As I walked out, Brad Clyde was walking in and he had that look on his face like he wanted to know what was going to happen.

We didn't have time to say anything to each other so I just smiled. A disbelieving smile.

Back at the hotel, I got out of the elevator on our floor and all the rest of the boys were in the corridor outside their rooms having a chat and waiting for their turn to go to the casino.

I told them about the meeting and the offer and the cheque and everyone was just going 'wow'.

I don't know how many players they got to that night, but I reckon we stayed up until around 3am talking and waiting for the next bloke to come out of that lift.

No-one could believe it and I remember really struggling to sleep and we had a game to play that day. Probably not the greatest preparation because I doubt anyone was able to concentrate on the footy.

After getting back to Canberra on the Sunday, we discussed it as a group again and got legal advice over the phone and then News gave us an extension of another day to speak to solicitors. We were finally comfortable with what we were doing.

By then, it was all over the papers and the news and it escalated quickly between News and the ARL with the ARL fighting back to sign players. She was on for young and old.

Like I said earlier, none of us saw the damage that was about to unfold when we agreed to sign for money that no-one ever dreamed of earning.

We obviously copped plenty of flak at times too because it really did blow up big time but it's a long time ago now and just about all of the scarring from back then has disappeared.

They were crazy times.

And as a footnote, it's just dawned on me while writing this that while my memory of that night in Townsville is still really vivid, I seriously have no idea whether we won or lost against the Cowboys that day.