Robbie Kearns suffered a dislocated shoulder in the ill-fated trip.
Robbie Kearns suffered a dislocated shoulder in the ill-fated trip.

Fletch dishes on infamous bonding session

BLUES legend Bryan Fletcher has lifted the lid on the infamous horse riding expedition during the build-up to the 1999 State of Origin series.

The bonding session is etched in Origin folklore for all the wrong reasons, with prop Robbie Kearns sidelined for 12 weeks because of it.

"It was 1999 and it was my first Origin series," Fletcher told the Life of Bryan podcast.

"When you're a kid you hear this folklore about Origin camps where you get on the drink for four or five days.

"I had heard these stories so all I wanted to do was play State of Origin because you had four days on the drink, which is right up my alley.

"But in 1999 they changed the coach from Tommy Raudonikis, who loved a drink to the teetotaller Wayne Pearce.

"So Junior Pearce has the gig and the first day in camp I was pumped to go get on the drink and Junior says, 'no drinking'."

The Blues had lost the 1998 series to Queensland, after winning the first game, so the pressure was on to change the approach.

Pearce chose to explore other ways of team bonding that didn't involve large amounts of time spent at the pub.

"I was devastated and I said what are we going to do and he said we are going to go horse riding," Fletcher recalls.

A worried Robbie Kearns just before all hell broke loose.
A worried Robbie Kearns just before all hell broke loose.

"We went out to Kangaroo Valley, which is a million miles away and we were on this bus, which is a dry bus obviously and we turn up to see these trail horses."

Fletcher and his teammates looked around at each other still not quite sure what their coach had in store for them.

"So trail horses just sit behind each other and follow each other and right at the back we had Terry Hill," Fletcher remembered.

"Terry Hill grew up in the city in Zetland and had never ridden a horse in his life and the instructor said make sure you stay behind me because if I go then everyone will go.

"Then here comes Terry Hill on the outside and off he went and everyone else's horses followed.

The Blues and Fletcher went on to lose the opening game and eventually draw the 1999 State of Origin series.
The Blues and Fletcher went on to lose the opening game and eventually draw the 1999 State of Origin series.

"I was about fifth in line, so I could see what was happening, so I jumped off."

However two of Fletcher's forward teammates were not so lucky.

"Poor old Robbie Kearns and Brad Clyde didn't get off," Fletcher recalled.

"Clydey tried to, but he got his foot caught in a stirrup and the last thing I saw of him was going across the paddock and he got knocked out and he wasn't getting up.

"Robbie Kearns dislocated his shoulder and missed like 12 weeks.

The disastrous attempt at diversifying the build-up to an Origin game didn't last long after the carnage of the bonding session prior to game one  in 1999, according to Fletcher.

"So needless to say when State of Origin two came around we went to the Bourbon and Beefsteak instead five nights in a row," Fletcher said.

"I've never been horse riding again."

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