Rugby League


Paul Osborne's heart still with Canberra Raiders

When Paul Osborne quit as chief executive of Parramatta in 2011, the former Canberra Raiders grand final hero, ACT politician and rugby league administrator admitted he was worn out and looking forward to the "quiet life".

So, ahead of the 20th anniversary reunion of the 1994 grand final that shot him to fame – Osborne is definitive when asked if he's missing the soap opera of rugby league.

"Not at all," he says with a chuckle, from his new logistics job, based primarily in Hong Kong. "It's nice not to be involved."

Osborne isn't interested in re-opening old wounds or being vindictive about his last post in rugby league, almost three seasons at the helm of the Eels.

It was a tumultuous ride that took him from the heights of the 2009 grand final with the Eels to accusations of bullying and an internal investigation of his management. Osborne contested and was cleared of all accusations, before he then chose to walk away from the Eels and the game altogether.

At the time he left Parramatta, Osborne said: "I've been in politics and it's nothing compared to what this has been like."


But three years on, Osborne says he's happy to see the Eels "flourishing", although he can empathise with former Raiders premiership-winning teammate Ricky Stuart for quitting Parramatta last year to continue his coaching career in Canberra.

"Parra seems to have got their act together which is good, I think rugby league needs Parramatta flourishing," Osborne said. "It's nice to watch how well they're going.

"Parra was a tough gig, there's a lot factors at play, but I enjoyed it there ... but I don't miss footy anymore.

"I've been gone a long time now, but I'm well and truly following the Raiders and I hope they can turn it around and be successful again.

"If I had a choice of any board in the NRL, I'd pick Canberra every time. It's a wonderful organisation and I don't think people appreciate the strength of it and the Queanbeyan Leagues Club group.

"I think Ricky's an exceptional coach and it was only a matter of time before he ended up back in Canberra. I'm sure it'll work out well ... from what I could see, he made the right choice."

Osborne will return to Canberra for Friday's 20th anniversary reunion of the 1994 Raiders premiership team that beat the Bulldogs, 36-12.

Origin coaches Mal Meninga and Laurie Daley have confirmed they will attend, along with Raiders' royalty, including Steve Walters, Brett Mullins, Jason Croker, Ken Nagas and John Lomax.

But no player's life was more influenced by that 1994 grand final victory over the Bulldogs than Osborne's.

Injured for most of the season, the veteran prop was ready to accept an offer to play in Britain, before Canberra coach Tim Sheens virtually dragged him off the plane to replace the suspended Lomax for the grand final.

Osborne set up two tries with offloads in the opening 15 minutes, writing his name in footy folklore.

With his public popularity soaring, the following year Osborne was elected to the ACT Legislative Assembly as an Independent representative, serving until 2001. 

"I don't think about what would have happened if I didn't play, but as you get older you do reflect on it," Osborne said.

"I've started to appreciate just how special a lot of those players were: Mal, Ricky, Laurie the list goes on. Being involved in football for so long, you don't see many teams of that calibre, so to be able to play at that club for a few years and be part of that day – Mal's last game – that's what I spend more time reflecting on."

Osborne only played 51 of his 135 first grade games with the Raiders, arriving in Canberra from the Dragons. After his political career he oversaw the NRL's player management accreditation scheme.

No longer married, Osborne's nine children – aged 7 to 22 – remain a priority. His eldest daughter, Sabella, who did the lap of honour in his arms as a toddler in 1994, will be his date at next weekend's reunion.

Of all the teammates Osborne is looking forward to catching up with, Lomax tops the list. In a team of superstars, Lomax, the hard-nosed Kiwi prop was named Raiders' Player of the Year in 1994, but was suspended from the decider because of a high shot in the preliminary final on North Sydney's Billy Moore.

"I kept putting [the] England [offer] off week after week and when Johnny got sent off I had to make the call, they basically told me if I wasn't on the plane there was no contract,'' Osborne said. ''I made the decision to stay, which turned out to be the right choice.

"I was the only bloke in Canberra who wanted him to get suspended,'' Osborne joked. "It was a pretty emotional week for everyone and it wasn't until Saturday morning [the day before the grand final] I was told I was in the team.

"Johnny's one of my closest mates down there and I felt for him. He was on top of his game, for him to miss out was bittersweet, but it was special to get the opportunity.

"He's a great man, I love him to death ... but I'm looking forward to standing next to him, because he'll make me look skinny."