Almanac Rugby League – On Being a Dolphin: A Chat with Petero Civoniceva



In 2015 I had the honour of being awarded the Tom Brock Scholarship. For those not familiar, the Tom Brock Bequest, given to the Australian Society for Sports History in 1997, consists of the Tom Brock Collection supported by an ongoing bequest. The collection, housed at the State Library of New South Wales, includes manuscript material, newspaper clippings, books, photographs and videos on rugby league in particular and Australian sport in general. As well as organising an annual scholarly lecture on the history of rugby league, the Tom Brock Bequest Committee awards an annual Tom Brock Scholarship to the value of $5,000.


My research topic was ‘The Role of Club and Community in Queensland Rugby League’, and the research intent was to garner a player’s perspective on how this may have evolved in light of the nationalisation and corporatisation of the game from the 1980s onwards. I secured interviews with key players representing two important periods in the evolution of rugby league in Australia – firstly, with former Easts player and NRL premiership coach John Lang, on the introduction of State of Origin in 1980 and, secondly, with Queensland League legend Petero Civoniceva, on the modernisation and growth of the game in the 1990s through to the first decade of the 21st Century.


With the recent announcement that the Redcliffe Dolphins will join the NRL as the 17th franchise in the 2023 season, I thought it timely to re-visit my conversation with Civoniceva, a Redcliffe boy, and highlight his thoughts on what it means to be a Dolphin. An extract follows:


Sasha Lennon (SL): What was it like growing up in Redcliffe and playing for the Redcliffe Dolphins?


Petero: Growing up here and going to the local club, which is still here in Margate, at Humpybong State School, the majority of my mates, all the kids were all mad about rugby league; the Winfield Cup at that time, the kids were all talking about rugby league, and I guess that’s where I developed that following of the game.


And with the Redcliffe Dolphins, that was our local club, and I still remember signing on there. And I guess, you start to…you grow up in that culture of the club, you identify with it and you’re proud to represent that club because that’s your team, you know, and you’re a part of it; and that developed over the course of my junior years playing at the club and rugby league was a big part of my life.


SL: What sort of culture did Redcliffe have? What was it like as a club?


Petero: Yeah well, I think it gave me that identity, you know, you’re a Dolphin, or a “Fin” as they used to say. That grew or developed as you matured through the club and you’re proud to be a part of that and that’s something that’s still evident today. In 2013, when I went back to play for the club to finish my career, it still felt very much the same, you know, it’s like home. When you put on those colours again, its special you know.


I had a few cheeky comments from the President of the club then, you know, he said to me, ‘once you finish your NRL career, you have to come back and play for the Dolphins’ and that stuck with me; and when I came back I really enjoyed it.


We had an up and down year; we didn’t make the finals, we just missed out. But again, just being back at that level, it gave me an appreciation of what I had. It gives you an appreciation of the players and what they go through to play at that level because they have to balance footy with work compared to NRL players who are full-time professionals; what they go through to try and realise that dream which is to get picked by a scout to go to the NRL. It reminded me of that place I was in back then starting out. Balancing playing with work and family, that’s the real challenge.


SL: Did you have coaches or other mentors at Redcliffe who you looked up to and carried with you through your career?


Petero: Well, one of the things that really helped me with my development at Redcliffe, was, they were one of the first clubs in the mid-90s to have a development squad (they called it the Redcliffe Development Squad). That was when I was 15 or 16 years old. They picked an elite squad from the Under 15s, 16s right through to Under 19s. They put together a development program which wasn’t just about football. I started to learn about nutrition; you learned about public speaking, things like banking which I think was ahead of its time (in 1991). They were a real front-runner in that regard. Being exposed to that definitely helped in setting goals and realising what I wanted to do. That’s still going that development squad and I have a bit to do with it.


SL: What was it like, coming from Redcliffe to becoming a professional player with the Broncos?


Petero: That (the Redcliffe Development Squad) helped me on my way because, to be honest I don’t think I was a stand-out player, and I was a tall string-bean of a kid, but I was pretty steadfast in what I wanted to do, and I was going to give it a shot. I was lucky enough to get through to Under 19s at Redcliffe and then I was playing at a schoolboy carnival and Brisbane Broncos head scout Cyril Pommel was at that game. They made an approach to my parents about taking on a Broncos scholarship and possibly signing a contract. I was 17 when I signed up for the scholarship program and that was basically just a deal that helped with my tuition, and I was also invited to a series of camps as part of the Broncos Development Squad; from there I was able to go on and sign my first contract with the Broncos.


 I had a back-up plan, and I was actually doing a Sports Management diploma at TAFE, and I was wanting to get into teaching. But then football took over and I was so single-minded about it; but if it had all fallen over that’s what I would have fallen back on. Rugby league was getting more professional and just becoming a full-time sport when I started with the Broncos. It was only two years later when the Super League war broke out. The whole professional era was just beginning. Players were just finishing work and then it became full-time rugby league, and I was lucky enough to come in at that time.



SL: How did playing for Australia vs playing for Queensland vs playing for the Broncos and playing for Redcliffe compare?


Petero: When I was a kid growing up, I idolised the Queensland side, especially growing up in Redcliffe, which was such a strong rugby league community. You always looked to the players that were tied to Redcliffe, that was always something that interested me. When Queensland won, at school you’d always find one or two kids who were Blues supporters, and you’d give it to them the next day.


Player Summary:


Image: courier


Name: Petero Civoniceva

Clubs as player: Broncos (Brisbane) (1998-2007 and 2012); Redcliffe Dolphins (1990s and 2013); Penrith (2008-11)

Representative Teams: Queensland, Australia, Fiji, Prime Minister’s XIII

Premierships: 3 as a player with the Broncos (1998, 2000 and 2006).


For a full statistical resumé of Petero’s playing career click here.


To read more by Sasha on the Almanac click here.



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  1. Ah, Sasha, if only time would stand still and we could see the 2023 Dolphins run out for their first match led onto the field by Redcliffe’s favourite home-grown son, Petero Civinociva, with the likes of Dane Gagai and Brent Tate close behind.

    Now there’s a task – an all-time Redcliffe Dolphins selection who went on to the highest levels. Any takers?

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