He’s one of the most fearsome rugby league players ever. He’s known for his all-consuming passion and absolutely unstoppable brute force. He was involved in what has become known as arguably the most legendary clash the game has ever seen…
Mark Carroll was the enforcer who fought with everything he had to ensure his team won. And, over the course of his career, he played for many of Australia’s best teams; Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles, London Broncos, City, NSW Blues and Australia.
Penthouse caught up with him to talk about the game, his new book and his friendship with Hollywood actor Russell Crowe.
Mark, great to speak to you, why now to write this book?
One word: COVID! I’d been talking to Adam Hawse for some time, maybe two years about writing a book. We started talking about it while working on a Fox program together. Then COVID hit, he lost his position and called me up saying, ‘Do you have time, I’ve got the time, shall we try this book?’ I would sit down at the water’s edge with him at Bayview, with a Toohey’s New in one hand, and talk to him for an hour. He’d record a story about my life and put it to paper in emails and it got bigger and bigger from there. I’d send what Adam had written to my mates to have a read and they kept saying it read as if I’d written it. Adam captured me so well. I sent it to my mum and dad, they liked it. I sent it to some of my mentors, they liked it. So here we are!
Tell me about your upbringing, you were always a sport’s nut?
Yes! When I was growing up, I dreamed of playing for Parramatta. There’s politics in real life and there’s politics in rugby too. My childhood dream to play for Parra was broken when the coach’s son was chosen ahead of me for the Harold Matthews squad. I pledged to ‘make Parra pay’. I would always lift when I played against them. Lots of people don’t realise I played Union for two years. I could really move back in those days – you might not think that looking at me now, but I could!
What’s one of your favourite moments in a game?
Probably the 1985/6 Grand Final Penrith versus St George. We won 48-6. Everything I did turned to gold in that game and I signed to be a Penrith Panther at the end of that. A lot of blokes play from so young these days, I hadn’t played that many games when I turned 23. I was always sport’s mad; I loved cricket, running, athletics, I was a typical Westy!
Because I’m a bit of a show off wanker, I wanted personalised number plates but SPUD was taken so I had to go DD
Tell me where your nickname “Spudd” came from?
Hopefully people don’t look at my head and think it came from there. It goes back to the beginning of my career, I was reserve and thought I needed some major energy to fuel my game. I’d read in a muscle magazine that eating potatoes would give you energy, so I ate sixteen potatoes. And I mean massive potatoes. There was this one game, I finally got my chance to play and went for it. A reporter asked me at the end, ‘you’ve just done twenty hit ups and twenty tackles, where do you get all your energy from?’ I told him I’d eaten sixteen potatoes. And then it was on the back page of the Daily Telegraph, me eating sixteen potatoes. I walked into the Souths and all the guys cheered, ‘Here’s Spud’. It’s stuck since then. And, because I’m a bit of a show off wanker, I wanted personalised number plates but SPUD was taken so I had to go DD.
Tell me about some of the underhanded tactics the game used to use?
We used blood capsules. It’s just one of those things you did for your side. In 1995, I had a cut by my right eye and it kept opening and closing. I had stitches here and there but it kept opening up. In the 1995 Grand Final, in the changing room, they said we needed blood to work the system. I grabbed the scalpel and re-opened my eye. Our trainer taped it up. It kept congealing so I had to rub it to make it bleed again. It was a mess. I had to have plastic surgery on that eye. The doctor looked at it and said, ‘I’ve never seen a cleaner cut’. I replied, ‘Mate, you don’t want to know about it’. That was before I’d talked about this openly, of course.
In the mid-90s you moved from Souths to Manly. That move wasn’t about the pay cheque, is it true to say you were more driven by the desire to win?
If you get in with a good side, the money follows. There’s a story I tell in the book about conversations with Bozo about the money. Remember back then, I held a job at the same time; we weren’t paid the money these guys are paid now.
What job were you working?
My dad always pushed me to work. He used to say, ‘if you don’t ask you don’t get’ and that stayed with me. All they can do is say no. I was always selling something; stationary, pens and pencils. When you walk in wearing a good shirt and tie, and you walk in with a black eye… A black eye opens many doors, let me tell you!
Who do you think is the toughest player in the game?
The toughest would be Geoff Toughby, look at his ears, those are ears you usually get in Union and that shows how much he put his body on the line. Back in my day, it was a badge of honour to stay on the field.
You were paid $200,000 to stay loyal to ARL in 1995/6?
Yes, that was when the Super League war hit. It was a battle between the chequebooks of Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch basically. They were after the numbers. I talk in the book about my role in the divide of the great sport. I was given $200,000 to stay loyal to the ARL – and that was something I did not expect.
How do you feel about the game now and its future?
The game’s very different today; it’s certainly changed over 21 years, that’s for sure. It was about brutality back then, now they’re scared someone’s going to get hurt. Back in my day, we kept playing on.
Can you tell me more about donating your brain to science?
That idea came to me after watching a movie called Concussion, which is about American AFL. I spoke to a couple of contacts and it got a bit of press. My brain, well, I can’t take it with me can I? I hope by that stage it can be useful, I hope they can run some tests of something; I hope they can use it and learn something from it.
Really interested to hear about your friendship with Russell Crowe…
He’s a massive part of my life, Russell. I met him in 1999 and we’ve been mates ever since. I was fortunate enough to go to Toronto in Canada with him when he was filming Cinderella Man. I’ve been on set of several films. I taught Ron Howard to throw a spiral pass, I visited Danny Devito at his home, Sting complimented me on my singing, I’ve got stacks of stories in the book.
How did Russell inspire you to start your gym, Spuds?
When I came back from Toronto, I found a gym for Russell and he said, ‘I think you should turn this into your own project’. Calling it Spudds was his idea and he drew the font, which I still use today. Every year I say thank you to him for his vision because the amount of people I see at that gym and get the opportunity to help, it’s incredible. Well, until COVID hit, of course…
And COVID’s been a pain the arse?
Yes COVID’s a pain in the arse! The amount of things we’ve all had to miss in this last year, it’s insane. Even my book launch, I had to do it all online. I’m hanging to go to a bookstore and sign some copies of my book when we open back up. Hopefully that can happen when we all start to get our lives back.
What are you most proud of?
Good question… I’m most proud of this book to be honest. I’ve always wanted to do it. It proves that anyone can do it. It’s the same as everything in life, if you want to succeed, if you want to get to the top, you have to work at it, it doesn’t just happen. People still come up to me in the street and ask for autographs, that makes me proud. They still come up to me to talk about my clash with Paul ‘Chief’ Harragon that makes me proud because we created a legacy for the sport; it was the biggest collision ever in our sport. Thank God I got up after that. People still want to talk to me in the street, in the supermarket, wherever, about that clash. I’m proud of that too.
* Spudd: The Mark Carroll Story is available from from Penguin and all good bookstores.