The highs of rugby league excellence are often offset by the lows and former Kangaroo and NRL legend Gavin Miller knows this all too well.
Miller, 63, captained the Cronulla Sharks in his prime, 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 being the first man chosen to star alongside the late, great Tina Turner in the commercials that brought the game to breathtaking heights.
But today, the toll first graders took in the brutal days of the 1970s and 1980s is being felt, and Miller is now in need of hip and knee replacements as his body is failing him.
In his heyday, Miller 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 Rugby League Week Player of the Year awards, which remains unique to this day.
He made 178 appearances for Cronulla and became 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 despite being a small forward and having to be overwhelmed by much, much bigger attacking rivals throughout his career.
Cliffy Lyons (maroon top), Tina Turner and Gavin Miller (blue top) during the original photoshoot for the now incredibly famous NSWRL ad campaigns
Gavin Miller (above) was sitting in a restaurant in north Sydney when Tina Turner (pictured) came up behind him, cupped her hands over his eyes and told him he was about to star in a TV commercial with her
As a player, he was 174cm tall and weighed just 87kg and today, 40 years later, those clashes with taller men have taken their toll.
He made some unique memories back then and some of them still live with him, although his humble demeanor and quiet demeanor rarely cause him to stop and reminisce.
But the great man has five photos of himself and Tina together on his phone to date and he only has fond memories of them.
“Just a beautiful woman and we hit it off really well,” he said.
She liked him so much that she completely surprised him one afternoon on her trip to Australia.
“I didn’t know she was being flown out here for another commercial,” Miller said.
“And one day when I was invited to North Sydney for lunch with some other footballers, I walked in, sat down to eat and out of nowhere I felt these hands come out from behind me and cover my eyes.
“It was Tina and we hugged then she told me we were doing another ad that afternoon.” “Those ads changed rugby league and I’m very proud to be a part of it.”
Two years earlier, it was Miller who became the first Australian rugby player to meet her. It was in London. He was there playing for Hull Kingston Rovers and accepted an invitation from the NSWRL to meet them.
NSW rugby league CEO at the time, John Quayle, knew Gavin and called him. “I said mate we need to get Andrew Ettingshausen for these ads ‘You’re his mate, can you get him?’ asked Quayle.
ET, who is widely considered the best looking rugby player of all time, was also playing in England at the time Miller was there and Miller contacted him but ET stalled and was unable to film the advert.
“So Gavin calls me back,” Quayle said, “and says, John, don’t worry.” I can get Cliffy [Lyon] and me. We meet them and do the advertising. And it worked perfectly.’
From that moment Gavin Miller and Cliffy Lyons laid the groundwork for the very first commercial that made Tina a household name in Australia and helped rugby league to greatness Down Under.
“With all the emotion surrounding her death, I think the NRL should revisit those ads.” Just add a few players from today in there and reuse the ads.
“That’s how effective they were and will be again.”
But alas, that thought has yet to be sanctioned, and everything he’s done in the paddock and in those ads is nothing but memories for Miller, who faces a very real, modern-day problem.
Experts told him that he not only needed a hip replacement, but also urgently needed two knee replacements.
Tina Turner wins as 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 smashing ‘Simply The Best’ ad campaign in the 1990s
The once proud, dynamic, and incredibly gifted Cronulla forward who could score field goals, score tries, kick skillfully in general play, and fire offload passes great, can barely walk upright.
When he extends his right hand to shake someone’s hand, his fingers appear to be permanently arthritic.
He is very gray and, at 63, looks many years older. But its steely toughness is still something to behold and admire.
“I hurt my hip bowling,” he said.
‘Can you belive that? “I was just bending over to bowl the other day and my left side just stopped working.”
His health is fine, but his badly battered body is failing him.
Former players Gavin Miller and John Dorahy during a memorial service for Tommy Raudonikis at Sydney Cricket Ground in 2021
Former NSW Blues State of Origin coach Ricky Stuart chats with QANTAS staff member and former player Gavin Miller after arriving at Sydney Airport with the team in 2012
Now retired, he’s enjoying a quiet, regular beer with his friends while still keeping an eye on his beloved sharks.
“I’m out now, but I’ll talk to Fitzy.” [Cronulla coach Craig Fitzgibbon] a bit on the side, but my days are gone.’
He believes Nicho Hynes has earned the right to play on the team in this upcoming Origin. “He’s ready, he can control games and they need that,” Miller said, but cautioned that going to Queensland for an Origin game is an incredibly challenging task for any NSW team.
He played five of them in his career.
In two weeks the Family Of League [formally Men Of League Foundation] will raise money and awareness for rugby league greats as part of its annual Crazy Socks week.
NRL fans can help ex-players like Miller by attending.