Steven Paul Merrick
- 722Wallaby Number
Steve Merrick enjoyed one of the more meteoric careers in Wallaby history. Merrick played rugby league until the age of 18 and saw union as a “strange” game. In 1986 he watched his brother Dale play in a Tooheys Cup final against Orange and was hooked and the following year he joined the Singleton Bulls second grade team.
Merrick was a virtual unknown outside of New South Wales’ Hunter Valley despite having appeared for Country against international touring teams in 1993 and 1994 and having won the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union’s highest honour, the Anderson Medal, in 1990, 91 and 92.
After Australia’s disappointing 1995 Rugby World Cup campaign Merrick received a call from national coach Bob Dwyer. Thinking it a prank he hung up. Dwyer called back and asked Merrick if he would be available to make his debut for New South Wales against Otago. He did so and then both held his spot and performed well in two matches against Queensland. The Australian selectors then made several changes for the Bledisloe Cup series however none was more stunning than Merrick’s inclusion at the expense of George Gregan.
Merrick made his Test debut against New Zealand at the cauldron of Eden Park and more than held his own despite the 16-28 scoreline. He also played in the 2nd Test a week later, a match dominated by the great Jonah Lomu. Merrick then went back to driving his coal truck as the rugby world was in the throes of professional turmoil.
The Australian Rugby Union offered Merrick a big contract albeit with the condition that he live in Sydney, play for the Waratahs and leave country rugby. In a decision that was just as much of a shock as his Wallaby selection, Merrick turned his back on professional rugby and returned to Singleton to play footy with his mates and start a family. Merrick retained a special place in the hearts of many traditionalists for playing rugby for the love of the game.
Merrick won his first Test cap as the run-on XV halfback in the 1st Test, 16-28 loss to New Zealand in Auckland. Seven days later he retained his spot for the 2nd Test, 23-34 loss in Sydney.