I got a phone call from Campbell Brown about 10 days before we left to head over to India, and he asked me whether I was up to playing this thing called Kabaddi.
I’d just finished work so he asked if I had any time off and whether I’d like to head over there for a gig. I said, ‘yeah, why not,’ thinking that he was having a lend of me.
He followed that on by mentioning that I’d be representing Australia in a world cup. Still not believing any of this, I sent Leigh Montagna a text who had arranged all of it and told him that it was a good joke and that I wouldn’t be falling for it.
After a few conversations, they convinced me that it was real and I went to a few training sessions and then went over there.
I spoke to my wife before I left and we discussed the opportunity for me to go to India for the first time, and that was a motivating factor for heading over. It was an opportunity of a lifetime.
It was the first time Australia had ever been in the Kabaddi World Cup, and they had approached Campbell to see if he had any ex-players who would be keen and he asked myself and Stephen Milne and got us on board.
In terms of how Campbell got involved, it was through his manager who presented the opportunity to him. Amazingly, 200 million people watched the opening ceremony in India — it’s the second biggest sport behind cricket.
I had to play in a grand final just after Campbell called me, so once I’d finished that commitment, I attended two training sessions before flying over to India to compete. Milney and I honestly had no idea what was going on during those sessions!
Learning the rules
Our entire team was practically new to the sport — bar a couple of squad members who had played a few times before and knew what it was about. The rest of the team was made up of guys who had played football before at various levels.
We didn’t know all of the rules heading into the first group game, but we did know most of them. It’s always a bit difficult when you’re doing something for the first time to completely understand everything that goes into it and all of the intricacies.
The majority of our training centered around defensive drills because that’s the core part of the sport. If you’re good in that respect, you’ll go alright.
The games go for 40 minutes, and each team has seven players competing and five reserves.
Funnily enough, the first game we played was against the hosts, India. They were also the reigning world champions.
We played five games in the group stage and managed to get one win against Argentina. I have to admit, we celebrated pretty hard that night, although it was a dry state.
— Kabaddi Australia (@Kabaddi_Aus) October 30, 2016
Although it’s an incredibly fun game, it is so brutal!
My ankles, knees and shoulders were in some serious pain after every game. Basically, you’re one bloke running down and you get tackled by seven opponents. When they tackle they grab your ankles, they twist, they dive at your knees — they’ll do anything to bring you down to the ground.
Milney and I played the role of attacker (we were the raiders), and we would be tasked with the challenge of running at a team of defenders. We were the ones that got up there and got tackled and belted around.
You get nervous when you brace for the contact that’s about to come because the opposition go really hard. Playing footy, you’re used to the contact which helps, but I can also imagine that there’d be some vicious injuries in Kabaddi.
The game is played in good spirits — there wasn’t really any sledging during play because it’s presented as a gentlemen’s game. They’re really big on that aspect and like to promote it that way as much as possible.
They play with an honesty system, so if you get touched you’ve got to notify — they really push that.
Even though fans hardly knew who we were individually, if we walked around the streets with our Australian gear, they would all swarm over to us because we were involved with Kabaddi.
We had security guards who had to be with us every time we left the hotel.
Which former AFL player was the best?
If you ask Campbell Brown, he’ll tell you that it was him, but the honest answer is that I don’t know. We all played our role and had plenty of fun doing so.
Since I’ve come back, a few people have asked if I’d be open to playing once again. The truth is, I’d never rule it out!