It has been 33 years since he last played but the passion for rugby league still burns bright in the eyes of Bulldogs Legend Steve ‘Turvey’ Mortimer OAM, who recently retired from the
League Club Board bringing to an end one of the greatest rugby league playing and administrative careers.
He vividly recalls playing in the 1976 Preliminary Final against Manly-Warringah and going up against his idol, Bob Fulton. In that moment, he felt flabbergasted to be playing on the same field as the player he grew up worshipping but in true Turvey fashion, he shook off the nerves and got stuck right into the game. The Berries lost 12-15 and Manly eventually went on to become the 1976 Premiers but that game capped off a sweet start to his career with the Berries.
“I used to, as a halfback, stand behind our defence so that if anyone broke through, I would go around their legs and pull them down. My love for rugby league was setting up the game to run the ball – you have to look at where your teammates are and flip the ball to them – that’s what I was pretty good at, looking at the opposition and seeing the gaps,” said Steve.
During the club’s golden era of the eighties, Steve was instrumental in helping the Bulldogs reach an impressive six grand finals, winning four of them, and captaining three of them including consecutive titles in 1984 and 1985.
“The Bulldogs won their first grand final in 1980, going back almost 40 years ago [since their last Premiership in 1942]. It was so great, we beat the Eastern Suburbs Roosters 18-4, in other words, we stuck it up them,” Steve said with a laugh.
“It was truly an unbelievable dream of a country boy from Wagga Wagga, made all the sweeter because my brothers Chris and Peter were also my teammates that year together with the Hughes brothers – we had a very good team.”
“After that Grand Final, we came back to the league club and had plenty of beer. My brothers and I fell asleep in the offices – tired and drunk after all the celebrations!”
Steve went on to represent the Canterbury-Bankstown Berries/Bulldogs in 272 first grade games until he retired, as a one-club man, in 1988. He held the National Rugby League record for most
first-grade games for a single club until 1998 and still holds the second most first grade games for the Bulldogs behind Hazem El Masri.
From a young age, Steve suffered from asthma, but he didn’t let that or his size deter him from becoming one of the Bulldogs greatest players with his keen tactical mind, signature speed and
“My dad, who was a policeman, got transferred to Wagga Wagga from Sydney when I was 5. We lived in Kooringal and at that time the Kooringal Magpies did not have a junior team. My dad said, ‘Alright Magpies, you’ve got a junior club now’ and that was it!” reminisced Steve.
“Growing up, my brothers and I played for that team and it was just wonderful; we knew each other’s game and my dad was a great coach to us kids.”
“I was never a Berries/Bulldogs fan [when I was a kid]; my dad was a Balmain supporter, so I was a Balmain fan too even though my family used to live in Yagoona. But then I came to the Bulldogs, and all my brothers soon followed, so it became all about the Bulldogs,” he said laughingly.
“Playing with my brothers, Peter and Chris, was just a great privilege – Peter was absolutely great in attacking and running and Chris is the toughest bastard out of all of us Mortimer boys.”
“I’d ask how he was going, and he would always reply with one word, ‘Alright.’”
The memories continue to come fast and furious as he talks: He remembers feeling chuffed to make the NSW team in 1977, only his second year with the Berries.
He remembers being there in 1978 as the Canterbury-Bankstown Berries transitioned to becoming the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs that we all know today.
He remembers cheering and kissing the ground after five-eighth Brett Kenny scored a decisive try in the very last minute of play in Game 2 of the 1985 State of Origin, thus ending Queensland’s dominance over the previous series.
“I am a simple country boy at heart and through rugby league and the Bulldogs, I got to play the greatest game whilst earning a living and supporting my family,” said Steve.
“I was 32 when I retired – I still wanted to play but it wasn’t meant to be. Looking back though, I had 13 great years and a wonderful career; I played in 6 Grand Finals, I had the chance to play for Australia, and I had the chance to beat Queensland for the first time.”
Post-retirement, Steve kept himself busy with a range of businesses including a marketing and promotions company, and founded Australian Shuffleboard which promotes the game of shuffleboard in the community.
He has also made several media appearances, became a sports commentor in Channel Seven’s Sports World and Fox Sports NRL coverage in the early 1990s and used his profile to advocate player safety in the game.
“I still say that rugby league is the greatest game in the world but there needs to be a greater spotlight on player safety. The game was a lot faster and dirtier back in my playing days, which made it exciting to watch, but it meant that a lot of players got hurt. It is great to see the NRL implement rule changes such as banning high and mid-air tackles.”
“There are many schools that don’t want to play rugby league because of what you see on the field. Rugby league administrators need to sit down with primary and secondary schools to talk about the game and how together, they can make the game safer and more attractive to the next generation,” said Steve.
In January 2003, Steve was elected a Canterbury League Club Director, a position he held for 18 years. In that time, he sat as a member of the ClubGrants Sub-Committee which made recommendations on community funding and often you would see him hanging around Canterbury chatting to members and having a coffee.
“I have always been a family man and I became a Canterbury Director to give back to the club that has done so much for my family. During my years at the league club, I got the opportunity to speak directly to members and help them overcome issues that they might be having such as problem gambling,” said Steve.
He continues to be a staunch family man: husband to wife Karen Johnson-Mortimer for 40 years, dad to his children, Matthew, Andrew and Erin, and now proud grandparent of three – Lachlan, Harrison and newly arrived granddaughter, Rosie.
“The Board of Canterbury would like to extend the warmest of wishes to Steve and thank him for almost two decades of his support as a Canterbury League Club Director. I have only ever known him as a great clubman who cares about the Bulldogs and the league club. He always has a friendly smile for any supporter or club member, is quick to laugh, and a firm handshake for everyone he meets. Good luck Steve, and from all of us at Canterbury, thank you,” said Paul Dunn, Chairman of Canterbury League Club.