THE sudden loss of rugby league legend Steve Folkes rocked the sporting community to its core this week.
A Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs man dubbed the fittest human in the club’s history, Folkes joined his wife Karen in the afterlife on February 27 – one day before the fifth anniversary of her passing. It was almost as if she was calling for him.
Folkes died of a suspected heart attack, aged 59, leaving behind one hell of a legacy.
He began his career with the Bullodgs in 1978, playing 235 games for the club until 1989. He played one year for Hull FC before returning to his beloved Canterbury in 1991 for another 10 games.
Folkes represented NSW in State of Origin nine times and Australia five times. Then comes his coaching career.
Most recently he took the Jilaroos under his wing, but prior to that he was the Bulldogs coach from 1998 to 2008, a decade that brought arguably the clubs toughest times – and proudest in the form of the 2004 premieship.
He coached 288 games for 162 wins, seven draws and 119 losses. He nurtured the likes of Brent Sherwin, Hazem El Masri, Matt Utai, Braith Anasta, Jonathan Thurston, Luke Patten… The list goes on.
This is where my personal feelings come into things. As a toddler, I would sit and watch Bulldogs games with my older brother. For some reason it was the club he chose to support and in turn so did I.
It wasn’t until I was 12 that I decided to make rugby league a major part of my life. It was 2002, and the Bulldogs were flying high. Little did I understand the salary cap, how the game worked or why we were docked all our points.
But I do remember the voice of Steve Folkes. In all the media, the interviews, it was his face that I saw united the Bulldogs.
Two years later I sat in my bedroom with tears streaming down my face. Andrew Ryan and Steve Price hoisted the premiership trophy after a triumphant victory over the Roosters.
When I look back, I was obsessed. It was like a cult had sucked me in. I couldn’t stay away from rugby league, especially the Bulldogs.
I religiously recorded every match to re-watch. I recorded interviews, I stayed up late for the sports reports on telly just to see if the Bulldogs were mentioned.
As I think about all the great players I admired and respected for their talent, I never thought of Steve Folkes the way I do now days.
Back then it was all about the big hits, the tries, the line breaks.. But the fact is the man behind the dominant force that was the Bulldogs was Folkes.
I owe my passion for the game to him. I do what I do now because of Folkes. If not for him and his passion for the Bulldogs, which bled through the television screen and into my soul, I wouldn’t be in the position I am today.
Thank you, Steve. Thank you for the memories. Thank you for everything you have done for the game and for the Bulldogs. Thank you for the blood, the sweat and the tears – the most recent of which I also owe to you on the day you passed.
May you rest in peace and find happiness with your beloved Karen.
VALE STEVE FOLKES