Origin legend who came back from the ‘dead’
TEN years ago, Queensland State of Origin great Dale Shearer lay in a coma after a devastating car crash, his injuries so catastrophic a mate shared a heartbreaking text: "Rowdy's dead."
The accident had ripped the skull of the rugby league star of the 1980s and '90s from his spine and doctors did not expect him to survive the night.
He did. And when they told him that he would never walk again, he did that too.
Now, bursting with vitality at age 53, Shearer has rebuilt his broken body, and the veteran of 26 Origins for the Maroons and 21 Tests for Australia again looks strong enough to belt the Blues.
And, amazingly, after he shakes a niggling hamstring injury, he says he wants to return to the footy field.
"They (doctors) told me not to play any contact sport, but I'm going to have a run next season with the Coolum Colts so I can play with my boys (Jesse and Jakson),'' Shearer, who lives on the Sunshine Coast, told The Courier-Mail.
The team plays in the local second-tier competition.
When asked whether he might slot in on the wing, he flashed a cheeky grin and said: "No way - It would be at half or five-eighth so I could steer them around, kick it and try to avoid trouble''.
Recalling the horror crash on the Sunshine Motorway that almost ended his life in February 2009, Shearer said it came almost 12 months to the day after he lost his wife Delyse to cancer.
"I was really struggling, certainly depressed and drinking more than usual, and I've questioned in recent years whether I might have, in that moment, done it deliberately but I can't be sure," he said.
"I think when it looked like the end for me, she said 'get back down there and look after the boys'.
"They (doctors) wrote me off that night. They couldn't stop the swelling. The crash had torn my skull from the vertebrae, which no-one had ever survived. A mate texted people, 'Rowdy's dead' - that's how bad it was.''
In the following days, he defied the odds and when a nurse saw he could move his little finger, just a tiny bit, it brought a flicker of hope.
That was all someone with Shearer's never-say-die attitude needed. He said he learned to tap things, then squeeze and hold them, then raise himself up, walk with support, and eventually to move around on his own.
It has taken time, but Shearer now weighs a powerful 98kg - heavier than when in his prime playing for the Maroons and Australia - and trains every day without fail.
Ironically, he attributes his physical transformation to weight training - which he shunned while playing at Manly-Warringah and the Brisbane Broncos - and said he also used boxing, running and a rowing machine to strengthen his frame.
Shearer said he still faced hard times but kept busy with a range of business interests including his Red Emu Products venture which has a range of partners involved in everything from footwear to wine and labour hire.
An advocate for mental health, Shearer set up support group Emu Men and also Lil Emu, which creates better education for indigenous children in remote communities.
Shearer also is a licensed real estate agent, has an NRL and horse racing tipping service, and is a captivating guest speaker in high demand, especially when the Origin series rolls around each year. He still hates the Blues, but what really makes his blood are referees in the modern game.
He said constant referrals to the video ref to decide on tries were ruining the game.
"Refs still made mistakes in the old days, but at least they made them quickly and we could all get on with game,'' Shearer said. "Honestly, by the time they've looked at the replay 10 or 11 times, like one of the tries in Origin I, it's beyond a joke. For the benefit of the game, they should make the call and get on with it.''
Shearer's favourite Queensland Origin player is Daly Cherry-Evans, who he said came from a great family. He said he was proud to have played with Cherry-Evans' father Troy, who was "a real goer … a tough hooker good for 50 or 60 tackles a game''.
"I'm looking forward to seeing Daly in action (tomorrow) … he's excellent and (I'm) more than happy seeing him being so successful," he said.
He doesn't catch up much with his former Origin teammates - but said he didn't have to, because they would forever be bonded as brothers.
"It's always great when you see them, but it's not something I do all the time. Time doesn't matter though … that mateship lasts forever,'' he said.
Shearer, who acquired the nickname "Rowdy'' at Manly because he was the exact opposite, held the Maroons try-scoring record, with 12, for 10 years after his retirement until surpassed by Greg Inglis.
He was a promising cricketer in his younger days and achieved his best bowling figures of 6-6, including five wickets in a row - a triple hat-trick - playing for Warwick.
As a 16-year-old, Shearer was also offered a scholarship in the US for baseball.