There is something a little different about this Bulldog legend. He is the first in the series to have left the physical world after his tragic passing in February 2018.
People become legends in the sporting sense for a variety of reasons. World records, global recognition or one off superhuman feats can all elevate a competitor to immortal status. Steven John Folkes achieved none of the three. A quietly spoken and somewhat shy man, Folkes earned his rightful status as a legend of the club based on a combination of more tradesman like factors. When combined, they make him as blue and white as potentially any other Bulldog, past or present.
I always felt somewhat connected with Folkes from very early in his career. Living not six hundred metres from the school where he began to show his physical aptitude for the game was an obvious start to that connection. Punchbowl Boys High School and the Bankstown Sports Junior Rugby League Club were perfect places for Folkes to hone his craft as a junior.
The working class area bred them tough and made no apologies for its ruthlessness. It moulded Folkes into the grinding forward he became; one who rolled up his sleeves and often did the work of two men in defence. Never blessed with remarkable attacking skill or prowess, Folkes would take his hit-ups in turn but it was in the other side of the game that he excelled.
Just shy of his 20th birthday, Steve Folkes began his grade career at Canterbury in 1978. It was to morph into one of the greatest periods in the clubs’ history and the humble second rower was to play a key role. It began with the entertainers of 1979 /80. The youthful and raw side coached by Ted Glossop played consecutive deciders and scared the heck out of the Dragons in the first, before climbing footballing Everest in the second against the Roosters.
Throughout the entire decade, Folkes took few accolades. Peter Kelly, Mark Bugden, George Peponis, David Gillespie, and the wildman himself Geoff Robinson, were far more likely to draw attention in the pack. However, the relatively small-framed Folkes just kept tackling and working. The nearest modern example in the Bulldogs’ ranks is Josh Jackson, whose tirelessness in defence is also astonishing.
There was however, a particular group of people watching and representative selectors saw his value.
Further premierships in 1984, 1985, 1988 and another loss to arch enemy Parramatta in 1986, saw Folkes play through a golden age.
Three hundred and eight grade games, six Grand Finals, nine State of Origin appearances and five Test Matches later, Folkes left the game in 1991. A short stint at Hull in the U.K and a final ten games in the Australian league saw him depart as battered and bruised as a player could be.
In the early nineties, Folkes and then Bulldogs’ coach Chris Anderson had invested in a gymnasium on Wilga Street Punchbowl. It was two doors from my house and I lurked about the place like a petty criminal.
Folkes inherited the coaching reins of the famous club in 1998 from fellow legend Anderson. The two men were brothers in law, having both married daughters of club patriarch Peter Moore. One of those daughters now chairs the Canterbury Board and the Bulldog spirit and business acumen of Lynne Anderson is plain for all to see.
Folkes built a powerful team in his ten years at the helm and without the salary cap rort of 2002, could perhaps have guided them to multiple premierships. In retrospect, it was destabilising, as was the Coffs Harbour affair and the lone and triumphant premiership of 2004 probably doesn’t reflect his full talent as a coach.
By 2008, it was time to move on and a variety of positions across different clubs and sports fitted his trademark understated style, as he wound down his involvement in the game. Sadly, in 2013, Karen Folkes lost her battle with cancer. My wife, as a young teacher, had known Karen well and taught the Anderson boys at De La Salle Bankstown.
History now shows that Steve would leave us too soon as well. The feeling in the pit of my stomach when the news filtered through social media was something I will never forget.
Sure, Folkes wasn’t the master of the chip and chase, blessed with blinding speed or freakish footwork. What he did on and off the field was far more representative of the Bulldogs’ culture. Steve Folkes was always a head down, bum up kind of guy.
I have included a link to the piece I wrote at the time of Steve Folkes’ death and used my favourite image of him on both pieces. Thank you for reading the legends series, people have been very supportive and with any luck, it will return early in 2019.