PETER STERLING: Tate an inspired choice


T may not be as famous as the America’s Cup model but the “winged keel” which has become synonymous with Brent Tate is just as recognisable.

The neck brace has become a constant companion for the experienced three-quarter and both will make a return to the Origin arena next Wednesday night in Melbourne.

Brent was named in the Maroons squad this week after a four-year absence and ironically it was very much a result of the awful injury sustained by Jharal Yow Yeh earlier this season.

Ironic in the sense that it has usually been a player coming in to take his position after suffering another serious injury setback.

I would think that even the staunchest Blues supporter would tip their hat in admiration at the perseverance, dedication and sheer hard work that has enabled the 30-year-old to not only be back on the paddock, but playing the type of football that is deserving of an Origin berth.

He is the epitome of the saying, “It is not how many times you get knocked down but how many times you get back up.”

Well, Brent Tate has made an art form of dragging himself off the canvas.

I remember the first time that his career was put in doubt way back in 2003.

I was at Ericsson Stadium in Auckland for the round-24 clash between the Broncos and Warriors and witnessed the huge collision between Brent and home-side winger Francis Meli. The formidable flanker blind-sided Tate with a crunching hit that resulted in him leaving the Stadium in the back of an ambulance.

The tackle drew some criticism at the time, but my memory is that the real damage was done because he didn’t see Meli coming and so was unable to prepare himself for the impact.

But despite the brace that he wears being a constant reminder of his neck problems, it is the knees that have caused him the greatest heartache.

One knee reconstruction has been enough to end the career of some players; can you imagine being forced to endure the agony of three in the space of four years?

Not just the physical pain of injury and through rehabilitation, but the mental battle of trying to come to terms with such misfortune and having to start all over again.

There have been few more poignant sporting images than that of the emotion displayed by Brent in the dressing room at Suncorp Stadium after rupturing his ligament in the final of the 2010 Four Nation’s Tournament.

The outpouring was difficult to watch because it was so dramatic, but that in itself made the moment so heart-wrenching.

There were a number of people who felt that capturing the footage of Brent being consoled by trainer Brian Hider was an invasion of privacy, but I know it will be that image that comes to my mind when he makes his inspirational Origin return and runs on to Etihad next week.

While he represents his state for the 16th time as something of a veteran, he will need to put together quite an injury-free run if he is to emulate the effort of his great teammate Petero Civinoceva.

In what we now know is the final year of his remarkable career, there was some conjecture as to whether he would again be called upon to don the Maroon jersey for game number 31.

After all, there is no shortage of talented and younger forwards snapping at his heels north of the border.

Realistically there was probably never any doubt that coach Mal Meninga would again put his faith in the reliable front-rower, mainly because he is still the best man to get his particular job done.

Under Anthony Griffin in his return to the Broncos, Petero has averaged just 35 minutes in his nine appearances and the bulk of those have been in establishing the platform in the opening exchanges.

That will again be his role against NSW and as we have seen in recent series, if the Queenslanders attain the ascendancy in the opening 20 minutes, they have been almost impossible to run down.

There’s no doubt that his influence and very presence as much off the field as on continues to be an attraction in his selection, but the bottom line is that at this level there is no room for sentiment and he is there on his merits.

Adding to an already illustrious CV, Petero at 36 will become the oldest-ever Origin representative, surpassing Allan Langer, Arthur Beetson and Steve Price.

It’s a far cry from the young man who started his career in the centres and took out the Broncos’ rookie of the year award in his debut year of 1998.

Queensland used just 20 players in securing last year’s series. The vast majority have again been called on, with Corey Parker, Jacob Lillyman, the injured Yow Yeh and retired Darren Lockyer the only ones missing from the successful game-three squad.

Dane Neilsen and Willie Tonga were used in the centres at times to cover injuries to Justin Hodges and Greg Inglis with Neilsen pencilled in as 19th man for next week.

The only new face is 18th man Daly Cherry Evans, who has already won a premiership and played for his country.

We always knew that whatever squad big Mal assembled would be an awesome outfit, and it will again be their elder statesmen who lead the way.

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