The highs of rugby league excellence are often counter balanced by the lows and former Kangaroo and NRL legend Gavin Miller knows that all too well.
Miller, 63, in his heyday captained the Cronulla Sharks, played State Of Origin football for NSW and represented Australia in rugby league, scoring two tries.
He was a star during the 80s and 90s winning two Dally M Player of the Year awards and was the very first man chosen to appear with the late, great Tina Turner in the ads which took the game to stunning heights.
However today the toll of first grade footy in the brutal days of the 1970s and 80s have come home to roost, with Miller now in need of hip and knee replacements as his body fails him.
At his prime, Miller, uniquely to this day, became the only rugby league player in history to win a Dally M and a Man Of Steel, along with a Rothmans Medal and a Rugby League Week Player of the Year award.
He played 178 games for Cronulla becoming one of the club’s five “Immortals” [separate from the NRL’s Immortals], represented Australia three times, played five State Of Origin matches and 102 matches for Hull Kingston Rovers in England.
He was a legend, even though he was a small forward and had to play his entire career being smashed by much, much bigger rivals in the forward pack.
Cliffy Lyons (maroon top), Tina Turner and Gavin Miller (blue top) during the original photo shoot for the now incredibly famous NSWRL ad campaigns
Gavin Miller (above) was sitting in a North Sydney restaurant when Tina Turner (pictured) came up behind him, placed her hands over his eyes and told him he was about to star in a TV ad with her
He was 174cm tall as a player and weighed just 87kg and today 40 years later, those collisions with bigger men have taken their toll.
Back then he collected some unique memories and some of them still live with him although his humble demeanor and quiet nature rarely cause him to pause and reminisce.
But, the great man does have five photos of himself and Tina together on his phone to this day and he has nothing but fond memories of her.
‘Just a beautiful lady and we got on very well,’ he said.
She liked him so much that she completely surprised him on her trip to Australia one afternoon.
‘I didn’t know that she had been flown here for another series of ads,’ said Miller.
‘And so when I was invited to have lunch with a bunch of other footy players in North Sydney one day, I came along, sat down for the meal and out of nowhere I feel these hands come from behind me and cover my eyes.
‘It was Tina and we hugged then she told me we were going to make another advertisement that afternoon. Those ads changed rugby league and I am very proud to be part of them.’
Two years earlier it was Miller who was the first Australian rugby league player to meet her. It was in London. He was there playing for Hull Kingston Rovers and he accepted an invite by the NSWRL to go and meet with her.
The then CEO of rugby league in NSW, John Quayle, knew Gavin and phoned him. ‘I said mate, we need to get Andrew Ettingshausen for these ads. You’re his mate can you get him?’ asked Quayle.
ET, widely acknowledged as the best looking rugby league player ever, was also playing in England at the time Miller was, and Miller contacted him, but ET got snowed in and couldn’t film the ad.
‘So, Gavin calls me back,’ said Quayle, ‘and says, John no worries. I can get Cliffy [Lyon] and me. We’ll meet her and do the ads. And it worked perfectly.’
From that moment, Gavin Miller and Cliffy Lyons formed the cornerstone for the very first advert that made Tina a household name in Australia and propelled rugby league to greatness down under.
‘I think now with all the emotion around her death that the NRL should revisit those ads. Just add a couple of todays players in there and use the ads again.
‘That’s how effective they were and will be again.’
But, sadly, that thought hasn’t been rubber-stamped as yet, and all he did on the paddock and in those ads are now just memories for Miller who faces a very real li9fe modern problem.
He has been told by specialists that he needs not just a hip replacement but two knee replacements rather urgently too.
Tina Turner belts out Simply The Best at the 1993 NRL grand final between the Brisbane Broncos and the St. George Dragons
The legend that is Tina Turner (pictured), became a friend of Gavin Miller during the filming of the great Simply The Best ad campaign in the 1990s
The once proud, dynamic incredibly gifted Cronulla forward who could land field goals, score tries, kick adroitly in general play and fire offload passes sublimely can barely walk upright anymore.
When he reaches out his right hand to shake someone’s, his fingers are curled in what appears a permanent arthritic manner.
He is very grey and looks many years older than his 63 years. But his steely toughness is still there to be seen and admired.
‘I hurt my hip playing bowls,’ he said.
‘Can you believe that? I just bent down and bowled the other day and my left side just stopped working.’
His health is fine but his much bashed up body is failing him.
Former players Gavin Miller and John Dorahy during a memorial service for Tommy Raudonikis at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 2021
Former NSW Blues State of Origin coach Ricky Stuart chats with QANTAS worker and former player Gavin Miller after arriving at Sydney Airport with the team in 2012
Nowadays he is retired and enjoys a quiet regular ale with his mates, while still keeping an eye on his beloved Sharks.
‘I’m out of it now but I do talk to Fitzy [Cronulla coach Craig Fitzgibbon] a bit about the side, but my days have passed.’
On this upcoming Origin, he believes Nicho Hynes has earned his right to play in the team. ‘He’s ready, he can control games and they need that,’ said Miller but warns it is an incredibly big ask for any NSW team to venture to Queensland for an Origin match.
He played in five of them in his career.
In two weeks, the Family Of League [formally Men Of League Foundation] will be raising money and awareness for rugby league greats through its annual Crazy Socks week.
NRL fans can help former players like Miller by taking part.