After the Coffs Harbour Comets’ appearance in this year’s Grand Final, we started reminiscing about their win back in 1985. So we caught up with two local Comets legends, Paul Seccombe and Warren Gilkinson, to talk about all things rugby league.
How old were you when you started playing football?
I was 5 and I played for the Coffs Harbour Junior Rugby League Possums. I started playing as half back, but I was a pretty versatile player. When I got older I played most of my career for the Coffs Harbour Comets, but I had 2 seasons with the Orara Valley Axemen in the later part of my career.
> What makes the Comets so special?
As a kid I played for Coffs, and I stayed with them all the way. I have so much respect for the coaches, players and committee that were there to teach me everything I know. We had good committees and good people running them.
> Why is rugby league so important to the Coffs community?
It gives the juniors a sense of team spirit, and they can enjoy playing with kids with the same interests. It keeps them off the streets and gives them the chance to be part of a team.
It also brings the community together to support the players.
> You were part of the Grand Final winning Comets team in 1985. What was that like?
It was pretty special at the time. I had my brother Dean with me, and a lot of the guys that worked for me play in the team. It’s the last Grand Final that Comets won. It was a good side, with a lot of junior based Coffs Harbour players who spent most of their childhood growing up playing together.
In 1985 we weren’t the number one side. Nambucca Heads were the favourites, and we came from behind. We weren’t expected to win, but we did – which makes it a lot more special.
> As an ex-Comet, how did it feel when Coffs made the Grand Final this year?
It brought back some memories. When the boys got into the final this year, it was pretty special. I was so happy to see the park surrounded by ex players, coaches and committee members who are still associated with the club.
> Did you have much to do with the club after you stopped playing?
I coached under 16s for 2 years and under 18s for 2 years back in the late ‘90s. It was really good to bring the players from junior to senior level, and there were actually 3 players from that side who played in the Grand Final this year. My sons, Mitchell and Tom, played Junior Rugby League for Coffs, and Jake played for Sawtell.
> Tell us about your involvement with the Western Suburbs Magpies.
I was offered to sign with them, and they took me down to Sydney. They wanted me to sign up for that year, but I had a serious knee injury. Wests put me onto a doctor in Sydney, and I had an operation. It was pretty bad, so I decided not to play. I had about 8 years off after that.
> What were some of the standout moments in your footy career?
Definitely the 1985 Grand Final. I also played in the 1980 under 18s Grand Final winning team, which was brilliant. Just playing football locally and still to this day being known as a good footballer is really great.
> What was it like playing alongside your brother all those years?
Yeah, really good. Dean and I played a lot of backyard football at Kurrajong Street in Coffs. He was much smaller than the rest of us, so we toughened him up and he ended up as one of the best footballers ever to be born and bred in Coffs.
It was just really good to have each others’ support. It was always a grudge match in our last years of football, because he played for Orara Valley Axemen, and I played for the Comets.
> Who’s your favourite NRL team?
South Sydney Rabbitohs. I have gone for them all my life. Greg Simms is my all time favourite player.
> What advice have you got for any young players in the local area?
I think they should enjoy their football and dedicate themselves to it. Fitness is an important thing these days, and football is a good sport for that. It’s great for hand eye co-ordination, so also focus on ball skills and sprint training.
Enjoy every moment with your team mates, because when you get older, team sports don’t come around that often.
> Thank you Paul.
How did you first get into rugby league?
Up until I was about 14 I played soccer, but then my mates started playing rugby league for Sawtell, so I decided to join them. I played with Sawtell for two years, and when I was 16 I joined The Comets – where I stayed for the rest of my career.
> What position did you play?
I started in the centres, then I went to five-eighth. I also played lock for a number of years, then I ended up in the front row. It wasn’t really versatile; I just got lazy! (Ha ha).
> What was it like playing with the Seccombe brothers?
It was good. It was always a local family affair at the Comets. We enjoyed our team, because we hung out together on weekends and we all went to school together.
> What is your best memory as a Comets player?
Winning the 1985 Grand Final. We were the underdogs. Nambucca was undefeated for the year and we went down there with the right attitude and team spirit, took the premiership away from them, and won it ourselves.
> You’re still heavily involved in the club?
Yeah, I took over coaching The Comets half way through last year. They just missed out in the semis; they were just too far behind at the time. This year we re-built and moved on and got to the Grand Final.
Unfortunately we got beaten, but we’ll aim for one better next year. There’s a big difference between playing and coaching. When you’re playing, it’s all about mateship; but when you coach, you have to pull yourself away a bit and get that respect from the guys.
> How do you think the team has changed since you took over the coaching role?
I think they’ve got more direction and there’s a bit more belief. I have nothing bad to say about the coach before me, but I came in and put a straight and hard plan down. If you didn’t like it, you left, and if you wanted to stay … well, you stayed. The guys previous to that knew exactly how I coached, so they knew what it was about and they just followed on from there.
> As a coach, what do you try to instill in the players?
The skills are the basis of football. They’re the basic things you do wrong in a game that cost you a game. The basic stuff is what seems to let most sides down. In terms of values, success is seeing someone improve and to see the side going well. It means the club goes better, the supporters are happier, and it just puts a good feel in the community.
> How are the boys preparing in the off season?
We are doing a lot of planning. We’re talking to some new players, trying to keep as many players as we can from last year, and we will get into training towards the end of December.
We really want to go one better next year. We need more consistency earlier in the year, then when we come to the end of the year it’s the basics we will work on, because that is what cost us in the Grand Final this year.
> What is it about the sport of rugby league that makes it so special to you?
I just love the game – especially when you’re coaching. You can work plays so you can outsmart the opposition, and you can coach a side to give them direction.
Once you have the direction, the individual skill comes out in each player; that’s brilliant and really pleasing to see. The mateship, friendly atmosphere and socialising with different people makes it a good game.
> Who’s your hot tip to win the NRL next year?
The Roosters! I’m a bit biased, but I think they should have won this year! The Dragons cheated! (Ha ha).
> Thank you Warren.