DARRYL Van de Velde almost poached Australian rugby's brilliant centre pairing of Jason Little and Tim Horan to play for the South Queensland Crushers when they were one of four teams to make their ARL debut in 1995.
As the club prepares to hold its 20-year reunion in Brisbane next month, Van de Velde, the Crushers' inaugural chief executive, recalled how he almost hooked Little before nervous rugby officials pressured him into backing out of the deal to switch codes.
"Tim was interested, but he never committed. Jason had agreed to terms and we were set to announce his signing," recalled Van de Velde, who played for Brisbane Souths and coached Redcliffe to successive premierships in 1986-87 before heading overseas for several coaching stints in the UK.
"There was a scarcity of backs at the time and they would have been wonderful signings."
Van de Velde was a Horan fan before the Crushers came into existence, and had tried to get him to Redcliffe when he was coaching that club.
"He was a strong defender, ran the ball well and would have adapted to league very quickly. Jason was just an athlete," he said.
Van De Velde was so confident he had pulled off a stunning coup, he even had Crushers gear made with Little's name on it.
"I think the powers-that-be at the ARU put pressure on Jason to back out," he said
"We'd agreed to terms and the day we were going to announce it Jason rang me and suggested he wasn't going to be able to sign, which was disappointing."
While the Crushers folded after three seasons and limited success, their reserve grade side of young unknowns shocked everyone by winning the 1997 NSW Cup final.
"That young team went through and won the grand final in Sydney which a lot of people forget," Van de Velde said.
"We had a three-to-five year plan to bring those players though, but Super League was swirling around in the background and eventually proved our downfall."
While the timing proved all wrong for the Crushers, Van de Velde said he thought it was now the perfect time for another NRL team to play in Brisbane.
"The timing is definitely right, we've got the population base and the Stadium (Suncorp) is as good as any in the world, so we could be playing a league game there every week which would be ideal," he said.
The first Crushers team that took the field in 1995 was captained by Mario Fenech and included Trevor Gillmeister, who scored the club's first try, Mark Hohn, English flier St John Ellis, who has since passed away, and rugby convert Anthony Herbert.
Crushers lost its first ARL game 24-6 to Canberra at Lang Park on March 11, 1995.
Anthony Herbert, St John Ellis, Travis Norton, Nathan Turner, Wayne Simonds, Craig Weston, Craig Teevan, Mark Hohn, Wayne Collins, Mario Fenech (c), Trevor Gillmeister, Brett Horsnell, Scott Sattler, Jeff Wittenberg, Anthony Bella. Coach: Bob Lindner.
The 20-year reunion will be held at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday, November 22. For details, contact 07 33315150, or email: email@example.com.
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