4 April 2023

The rugby league community rallies behind Raiders cult hero Sam Backo, hospitalised after a heart attack

| Tim Gavel
Start the conversation
Sam Backo

Sam Backo played 115 games for the Raiders and has been involved in Indigenous issues since his league retirement. Photo: Supplied.

Sam Backo walked into the office of Raiders coach Don Furner (senior) in 1983 and declared that he was ready to play first-grade football.

This was a bold statement indeed given he hadn’t played any games in any grade up until that point. It was even bolder given that he hadn’t even signed a contract.

Don Furner advised him to go next door and speak to the Raiders secretary John McIntyre to sort out a contract before his ambitions could be taken any further.

That’s how it was done back in those days before the advent of player managers. It was all done on a handshake and a signature. Lawyers, accountants and managers were rarely sighted, and no lengthy negotiation played out in the media.

They were simpler times.

READ ALSO Project Coordination steps up to sponsor local junior football

But Backo had been on the Raiders’ radar, so his decision to front up to Don Furner with the response of an immediate contract wasn’t totally off the charts.

He had been playing in the local Canberra competition for the Valley Statesman.

Speaking to John ‘JR’ McIntyre this week about his memories of those early days, I got the impression that he, like many others, hungers for the times when football was the focus and not the drama that surrounds the game in 2023.

“Sam Backo was a great character and he wasn’t lacking in confidence as the story relating to him bowling into Don Furner’s office saying he was ready to play first grade tells you,” JR remembers.

I asked him whether, as the Raiders secretary, he felt his hands were full with big Sam, Peter Jackson and Terry Regan all at the Club at the same time in 1987.

His response is simple: “There was never a dull moment.”

This was probably a massive understatement, but I wasn’t there in 1987. I didn’t start commentating on Raiders’ games until over a year later.

However, I do have a mental image of the grandstand crowd at Seiffert Oval rising to their feet every time Sam carried the ball from a 15-metre run-up, knocking defenders out of the way like bowling pins.

And Sam Backo took on this role as often as he could during a game.

READ ALSO The value of stewardship and the APS

As John McIntyre described him, he was fearless and the crowd loved him for it.

This is why memories and emotion have come to the fore this week in Canberra as news filtered through that Sam Backo is in critical condition in hospital after suffering a heart attack.

The news, in many respects, provides a trigger for fans to talk about their memories of Sam and his cult hero status at Seiffert before he followed Wayne Bennett to the Broncos.

His infamous post-match interview with Channel 9’s Tim Sheridan after an Origin game in 1988 was also revived. It was a simple and memorable exchange.

Sheridan: “What was it like out there, Sam?”

Backo: “F—ing hard, mate.”

He wasn’t wrong.

JR said he tried to get him to come to visit the current Raiders team before the game against the Cowboys in Townsville in the first round, along with a couple of other great characters, including John Ferguson, but Sam couldn’t make it.

Post football, Sam has been heavily involved in helping others, particularly First Nations youth.

And you can only imagine Sam’s big, gravely voice commanding absolute attention.

The image is as vivid as Sam running off the fence at Seiffert to take the kick-off.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.