Broncos legend Willie Carne has his groove back, writes Greg Cary

Willie Carne has never been fitter – or, in many ways, happier. That should come as good news for those who enjoyed his wonderful career and are aware of his various struggles in recent years.

I bumped into Willie in the early hours at Noosa in January. We were both walking on the beach as the sun rose. I asked him why he wasn’t running. “Can’t,” he said. “Too sore.” Everywhere.

A couple of weeks back I saw him again as he jogged up to join a group of friends for a daily catchup. He’d just finished a 4 kilometre run on soft sand and a 500 metre swim, something he does every day. Oh, and then rides home again on his bike. No aches, no pain. He puts it down to diet.

In fact, he’s convinced of it. Ask those friends!
He swears by his raw-food diet. Lots of fruit and vegetables, some fish, mixed nuts, no sugar, not much meat… and NO milk. Lunch the main meal and a small dinner – before 6.

It’s also true that the better you feel about yourself, the more you’ll do and the better you’ll eat. It’s self-perpetuating. As is the reverse.

Willie has always been an enthusiast and the positivity remains relentless. Elite athletes bring us much joy but their time at the top is fleeting and their deeds too often remembered only in occasional snapshots.

Their recollections are usually different.

“I still remember driving down from Roma to Brisbane in my Datsun 120Y,” says Willie. “I remember the good times and the bad. The best is representing your country. An unbelievable honour.”

He recalls, too, the immense joy of playing with and against those who had been his idols. “At 10 I was a Rugby League nut and idolised people like Wally Lewis, Ross Strudwick and Peter Sterling. We were playing at Parramatta one day in my first year and Wally was on my team and over there was Sterlo. Thought I was dreaming.”

Dreams are important, though, not least for their tendency to come true. Like many who make it to the top, Willie’s achievements were not widely anticipated. “I was one of five boys and grew up on a farm and then went to boarding school. I was probably considered least likely to succeed”.

The doubters were wrong (as they often are) and he went on to play 136 games for The Broncos, 12 for Queensland and 10 for Australia.

John Ribot had promised him a bonus if he managed 10 reserve grade games in his first year. He played 20 – in first grade. “I always was determined,” he says with a smile and more than a little understatement.

All those games took a toll and he suffered some cruel knocks towards the end of his career. It hasn’t turned him against the game, though. “I love it, mate, ” he insists. “There are some incredible players.” He likes Brisbane’s chances this year and sees “no reason they can’t go all the way.”

Many who played in the past often choose to live there as well. Not Willie. He’s a big supporter of the NRL’s crackdown on high shots: “In fact, they should do more. There is never – never – an excuse for hitting a player in the head. I did it several times and it was careless, reckless and stupid.”

It says much about him (and the humility his father taught him) that he mentions the few occasions he transgressed rather than the many where he was the target. Often a deliberate one. His two children are being aimed towards soccer, golf, tennis, cricket and nippers.

He’s on the bike now, headed for work (real estate – he enjoys that, too).

Headphones are on and the music’s playing. Springsteen’s ‘Glory Days’: “Pass you by, glory days / In the wink of a young girl’s eye, glory days…”

They’re gone now – but not forgotten.