Written by John Davidson
It was the end of 1999 and the Newcastle Knights were in a golden age.
ARL premiers in 1997, they boasted a squad that included the Johns brothers, Paul Harragon, Danny Buderus, Matt Gidley, Adam MacDougall and many other stars. The club was on the way to another title victory in 2001.
And it was in that period when the chance to sign of the one of the best English props of the era arrived.
Barrie McDermott was a fearsome front-rower who had made his name at Oldham, Wigan and Leeds. A tough, no-nonsense forward, he had battled against the Kangaroos in Test matches for Great Britain.
A teammate of Adrian Morley at Leeds, before Morley joined the Roosters, McDermott was a ‘hard as nails’ player much in the mold of English stars of yesteryear like Malcolm Reilly and Kevin Ward, and ones to come later such as James Graham and Sam Burgess.
And in the peak of his career, at the age of 27, the opportunity to play in the Australian top flight with Newcastle presented itself.
“In the late 1990s I had an offer to go to the Newcastle Knights but my wife was expecting our second child,” McDermott explains.
“1999 was the first Tri-Nations and having coming home from that and having had a couple of enquiries an agent called me and said ‘do you want to come out?’.
“The deal wasn’t a great deal but it wasn’t about that, it was about playing alongside the Johns boys, Paul Harragon was there who I’d played against, and yeah it could have been a really juicy part of my career.
“The timing just wasn’t quite right. I’d made a commitment to Leeds and the people within that organization, and the people on the terraces as well.
“I wanted to do the bulk of my career, my 10/11 years where I was at my absolute best with the Rhinos and win things and give those great fans some of those grand final appearances they got.
“But I had no regrets. I stayed at Leeds and every bit of effort and loyalty I put into it was rewarded when we won the grand final and the World Club Challenge.”
McDermott made 15 appearances for Great Britain and won a Challenge Cup, a grand final and a World Club Challenge for Leeds.
For the past 13 years he has been a Super League pundit on Sky Sports television.
While he does not regret not joining Newcastle, it remains an ‘itch’ he was never quite able to scratch.
“There’s always a little bit of an itch and one of them was the NRL, and going having a good go out there,” McDermott admits.
The 48-year-old did play down under, on Lions tours, and also for a brief period as a plucky 21-year-old when he was just starting his career at Oldham.
At this stage, before the start of Super League, the English game had yet to move its season to summer and many Englishmen tried their hand in Australia during the UK off-season.
“I played for the Wyong Kangaroos in 1993 under a guy called Rip Taylor, who’s a great fella,” McDermott says.
“I still keep in touch with him. I loved Wyong, I loved my time in Australia.
“I went back to England with the intention [of returning one day], as we did in those times because we had seasons at the opposite end of the calendar, you can play a season here and have a shortened season over there and likewise for the Aussies. But we went to the summer game.”