Paul Harragon is a name etched in Newcastle folklore.
The Knights legend captained his club, state, and country during his playing career, an on-field gladiator who goes down as an example for all professional athletes.
Harragon said that, while he misses the camaraderie of the dressing room, he regularly trains with former Knights teammates Mark Hughes, Danny Buderus, and Steve Crowe.
“We get together and we train, we have a swim, a coffee, and we talk about all sorts of different things,” he said.
“I think that’s why Newcastle Knights’ Old Boys is really strong compared to other clubs. Everyone’s pretty tight.”
Harragon said he managed to make the most of a difficult 2020.
“[I] probably learned to have an afternoon sleep a bit more than I ever did before,” he said.
“My kids are adults now, but we had some really good times together hanging out as a family, more than we normally would.
“I started really getting into reading and expanding the mind, with different thoughts and different philosophies.
“It’s very hard, but the best life story I have ever read is called Autobiography of a Yogi, it’s incredible.”
Another positive to come out of 2020 was the Knights announcing the construction of a Centre of Excellence in November.
It is set to feature a ‘Chief’s Legend Room’ in a nod to the 1997 ARL winner.
Harragon said he was “surprised and thrilled” with the gesture but pointed towards the potential on-field impact of the facility, calling it a “sign of strength” that could attract talent to the city.
“At the end of the day, I’m most thrilled that the club and the area is finally getting an excellence centre,” he said.
“There’s been many, many people throughout the years [who’ve] tried to do it, and I’ve been one of them.
“I don’t think we’ll fully understand how big this is going to be for the club and for the town and the greater region [until it’s built].
“They will get this really amazing focal point that’s going to bring on young kids of excellence that want to be a part of that, which is going to lift everyone up – all the junior kids coming through.
“To have a museum or some form of a room there, that helps with a bit of tradition. I love all that stuff, it’s great to be part of that.”
Harragon added, with the leadership of head coach Adam O’Brien and young players who understood the Knights’ culture, he had high hopes for the club ahead of the new season.
“All the little things that take a long time to put in place are slowly being built properly, on a really good foundation,” he explained.
“Off the field as well, the club, [and] the way that it’s operated, the way things are done – it’s just going from strength to strength.”
Newcastle will kick-off its 2021 season against Canterbury at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday 12 March.
Origins of a nickname:
Paul Harragon has revealed that his ‘Chief’ nickname had an “ironic” origin far from what most people would think, stemming from his days as a “very shy” junior.
“When I was at training at Lakes United, I think as a 16 or 17-year-old kid, the movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, was on one night and the boys watched it,” he said.
The 1975 film, starring Jack Nicholson, included a character named Chief Bromden who was presumed deaf and non-verbal by staff and patients at the psychiatric hospital.
“So, as the story goes, the boys started calling me the Chief because I just didn’t say anything – I was really quiet,” he said.
Harragon said he was later advised by a teammate, when asked about the origins of the nickname, to say he’s called the Chief “because I tell them to”.
“[At the time] that was so opposite to my personality, it was obviously pretty funny,” Harragon said.
“Fast forward a year or two, and I’m making my debut.
“In those days, the journalists came in and sat down [in the dressing room], and there are about four or five around, and I played well, I won man of the match, everything went great.
“They’re asking me all the questions and they come to the Chief nickname. They asked: ‘Why do they call you the Chief?’”
“At the subconscious, somewhere, that bloke popped into my mind. I must have waited about 10 seconds, and I said: ‘Well, because I tell them to’, and the journos looked at me with a double take.
“So, they all started with ‘Oh, here we go, we’ve got a new young leader here, how good’s this?’
“It’s funny how you can play into a role.”