As the tributes continue for Bulldog legend Steve Folkes, I’ll admit to shedding a tear on Tuesday afternoon when I first heard the news.
With all that has happened at the Club over the past six months, Folkes’ passing reminds us all of what it is that makes the Bulldogs great.
In a burgeoning Club in the late 1970’s, as a certain newsagent owner from Belmore began steering the ship, Steve Folkes was one of the most important ingredients in the raw and aggressive new breed that had been assembled at Canterbury.
There was very little experience at all in the team that took to the park in the 1979 Grand Final against the Dragons. Outplayed on the day, despite a stirring second half comeback, the signs were there that each and every club had better be prepared for what was to come.
And so the predictions came true and the Bulldogs’ claimed the first of their four premierships in the 80’s the very next year. Sitting and watching that very game this afternoon after hearing the news, my eyes were constantly drawn to the dark haired fella in the middle of the park.
Steve Folkes was machine-like and the prototype for many who followed.
For every long haired, wide running firebrand who hits the fringes like an enraged maniac, there is a quiet man, making tackles and going unnoticed. In Folkes’ case, it was the reason he played at representative level; working diligently while the more gregarious grabbed headlines.
The extra defensive work he did, allowed the more expansive forwards to show their hand and at Club level, he formed a considerable part of the granite that fortressed the Canterbury defence.
In later life I discovered that my wife had taught at De La Salle College Bankstown, with Karen Moore, the daughter of Peter. She was eventually to become Mrs Folkes, falling in love with the handsome, intense and quietly spoken forward.
Karen would tragically lose her battle with cancer in 2013 and Steve continued working in the game that he loved, eventually earning the head coaching position with the Jillaroos, after acting as assistant at the Dragons.
His eleven years at the helm of the Bulldogs resembled something of a roller-coaster, with both triumph and tragedy playing a role. The 2004 team was as good as any the Bulldogs’ faithful have seen in some time and that Premiership was his crowning glory and a memory being called on to this day, as the Club attempts to rebuild and reclaim some its former success.
My most vivid memory of Steve Folkes is his repeated climbing of a ladder in Salmon Reserve, Punchbowl. Folkes and Chris Anderson had invested in a gymnasium together and the park was used as a well-hidden venue for the Canterbury legend to strengthen an injured knee, that had kept him out for some time.
I was around fourteen and would sneak over to one of the grassy mounds and watch Folkes patiently stretch and test the joint, building confidence for his return. I felt like I was in the midst of greatness, as one of my heroes worked out metres away.
I don’t know whether he ever saw me, or felt like telling me to piss off, but he never did.
As I write these words, I can see Folkes climbing those stairs over and over again, scything down opponents with low tackles that made much bigger men fall and see the smile on his face on that famous night when we beat the fancied Roosters.
Sadly, we have lost him today; physically. However, there is something about Steve Folkes that will never leave the minds of the Dogs’ fans. He will always represent what is great about our Club.