The cringe on coach Wayne Bennett's face was there for all to see as Broncos rookie Wendell Sailor fronted the waiting media after last Sunday's win over Manly. First to shower and change, Sailor stood tall with his kit bag between his legs as journalists introduced themselves to the latest "unknown" to hit the spotlight. Understandably, the strapping 19 year old spoke excitedly about his introduction to semi finals footy as Bennetts watchful gaze monitored the situation from across the dressing room. "Last year I watched the grand final at home...now I have a chance to be part of it" Sailor grinned.
A few moments later Bennett joined the conversation from a couple of metres away. "Wendell, I think you have said enough for today" the coach said half jokingly. Sailor acknowledged his coach, continued his chatter and then made his way up the tunnel and towards the team coach. It wasn't that Bennett minded the youngster taking centre stage, it's just that he still knows there is work to be done before the celebrations can begin. Sailor did enough during last Sunday's 36-10 win over Manly to suggest that he will be conducting plenty more interviews in future. He scored a try, tackled well and ran intelligently when given room to move.
From the moment Bennett confirmed Sailor had earned a spot in the starting line up last Tuesday until the second the fulltime hooter sounded, everything had gone according to plan. "Our preparation was first class" Sailor said, "Everyone offered each other plenty of encouragement. There wasn't time to get nervous". "You only had to look into each others eyes in the dressing room before the match to know we were ready to play". Semi final football was all new to Sailor but, under the guidance of team mate Willie Carne, he slotted in without problems.
As usual, the Broncos travelled down the day before the match, basing themselves at Brighton, just 20 minutes from the Sydney Football Stadium. The players watched St George outmuscle Canberra on television on Saturday evening before getting together for dinner and then turning in for an early night. "Willie and I roomed together. He gave me plenty of advice" Sailor said. "He'd say things like 'don't let the crowd get to you ' and 'everything is going to be great'." A friendly game of tennis on match morning helped inspire spirit in the camp as fullback Julian O'Neil emerged the best of the bunch at the net. Then came the daunting task of marking Manly flyer Jack Elsgood, a player already pencilled in as a Kangaroo tourist for the '94 tour. Sailor missed his rival on one occasion and the scoreboard quickly credited Manly with 4 points. "I remember chasing him across the field when I collided with another player", Sailor said "He just went bang. I looked up and he was gone. I knew straight away nobody was going to catch him ".
Sailor still has clear memories of his first grade debut against the Sea Eagles at Brookvale Oval earlier this season in which Manly triumphed, and in which he dropped the ball and Manly scored as a result. "I wanted to come out and have a big game against them" Sailor explained "I felt I owed them something because of that match". Minor Preliminary Semi Final-Sydney Football Stadium - 5 September 1993 Brisbane Broncos 36 (Carne 2,Kerrod Walters,O'Neill, Sailor, Matterson, Cann tries; O'Neill 3, Matterson goals ) Manly 10 (Elsgood, Ryan tries; Cleary goal )