The highs of rugby league excellence are often outweighed by the lows and former Kangaroo and NRL legend Gavin Miller knows that all too well.
Miller, 63, in his prime captained the Cronulla Sharks, played State Of Origin football for NSW and represented Australia in rugby league, scoring two tries.
He was a star in the 80s and 90s, winning two Dally M Player of the Year awards and was the very first man chosen to appear with the late Tina Turner in the commercials that took the game to stunning heights.
However, today the toll of freshman football in the brutal days of the 1970s and 80s has come home, with Miller now needing hip and knee replacements as his body is failing him.
At his peak, Miller, uniquely to date, became the only rugby league player in history to win a Dally M and a Man Of Steel, as well as a Rothmans Medal and Player’s Award. the year of Rugby League Week.
He played 178 games for Cronulla, becoming one of the club’s five “Immortals”. [separate from the NRL’s Immortals]represented Australia three times, played five State Of Origin games and 102 games for Hull Kingston Rovers in England.
He was a legend, even though he was a small forward and had to play his whole career being crushed by much, much bigger rivals in the front pack.
Cliffy Lyons (brown top), Tina Turner and Gavin Miller (blue top) during the original photoshoot for the now insanely famous NSWRL advertising campaigns
Gavin Miller (above) was sitting in a restaurant in northern Sydney when Tina Turner (pictured) came up behind him, put her hands over his eyes and told him he was about to star in a commercial televised with her.
He was 174cm tall as a player and weighed just 87kg and now, 40 years later, those collisions with bigger men have taken their toll.
Back then, he collected some unique memories and some of them still live with him, though his humble demeanor and calm nature rarely cause him to stop and reminisce.
But, the big man has five photos of him and Tina together on his phone so far and he has nothing but fond memories of her.
“Just a lovely lady and we got on really well,” he said.
She loved him so much that she completely surprised him on his trip to Australia one afternoon.
“I didn’t realize she was brought in here for another round of commercials,” Miller said.
“And so when I was invited to lunch with a group of other footy players in North Sydney one day, I came over, sat down for the meal and out of nowhere felt these hands coming from behind me and cover my eyes.
“It was Tina and we hugged and then she told me we were going to do another advert that afternoon. Those adverts changed rugby league and I’m very proud to be a part of it.
Two years earlier, it was Miller who was the first Australian rugby league player to meet her. It was in London. He was playing there for Hull Kingston Rovers and he accepted an invitation from NSWRL to go and meet her.
NSW rugby league CEO John Quayle knew Gavin and phoned him. “I said mate, we need Andrew Ettingshausen for these commercials. You are his mate can you have him? Quayle asked.
ET, widely recognized as the most handsome rugby league player of all time, was also playing in England during Miller’s time, and Miller contacted him, but ET was blocked and unable to film The advertisement.
“So Gavin calls me back,” Quayle said, and said, John, no worries. can i have cliffy [Lyon] and me. We’ll meet her and make the announcements. And it worked perfectly.
From then on, Gavin Miller and Cliffy Lyons formed the cornerstone of the very first commercial that made Tina a household name in Australia and propelled rugby league to greatness.
“I think now with all the emotion around his death that the NRL should review these adverts. Just add some players from today and use ads again.
“That’s how effective they were and will be again.”
But, sadly, that thought has yet to be approved, and everything he has done on the paddock and in those commercials are but memories for Miller who faces a very real problem of modern life.
Specialists told him that he needed not only a hip replacement, but also two knee replacements.
Tina Turner crowns Simply The Best in the 1993 NRL Grand Final between the Brisbane Broncos and St. George Dragons
Legend Tina Turner (pictured), became friends with Gavin Miller while filming the major Simply The Best advertising campaign in the 1990s
The once proud and dynamic, incredibly gifted Cronulla striker who could score field goals, score tries, kick deftly in general play and fire sublime passes, can no longer walk on his feet.
When he reaches out with his right hand to shake someone’s, his fingers are twisted in a way that appears to be permanent arthritis.
He is very gray and looks much older than his 63 years. But his steely tenacity is still there to be seen and admired.
“I hurt my hip playing boules,” he said.
‘Can you believe that? I just bent over and bowled the other day and my left side just stopped working.
His health is fine but his very damaged body fails him.
Former players Gavin Miller and John Dorahy at a memorial service for Tommy Raudonikis at Sydney Cricket Ground in 2021
Former NSW Blues State of Origin coach Ricky Stuart chats with QANTAS employee and former player Gavin Miller after arriving at Sydney Airport with the team in 2012
Today, he’s retired and enjoying a quiet beer with his friends, while keeping an eye out for his beloved sharks.
‘I’m out of it now but I’m talking to Fitzy [Cronulla coach Craig Fitzgibbon] a little off, but my days are past.
On this next Origin, he thinks Nicho Hynes has earned his right to play on the team. “He’s ready, he can control the games and they need it,” Miller said, but warns that it’s an incredibly big request for any NSW team to venture to Queensland for an Origin game.
He played in five of them in his career.
In two weeks, the Family Of League [formally Men Of League Foundation] will raise funds and awareness for rugby league greats during its annual Crazy Socks week.
NRL fans can help former players like Miller by participating.