Tongue recalls a player who slipped through the cracks

The name John Rowbotham will not mean a lot to most rugby league fans.

Head of the class: Mark Gasnier was one of the stars from the Australian Schoolboys side which featured Tamworth's Alan Tongue. Photo: Getty Images

Head of the class: Mark Gasnier was one of the stars from the Australian Schoolboys side which featured Tamworth's Alan Tongue. Photo: Getty Images

But, as is so often the case in life, had fortune been kinder to him the reverse may have been the case.

Rowbotham’s pulseless career was dug up in the graveyard of players who could have been, when Canberra Raiders great Alan Tongue held at junior league camp at Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School in Tamworth last week.

Tongue attended the school when he was selected in the 1998 Australian Schoolboys rugby league side. Rowbotham was also in the side. According to Tongue, Rowbotham has the unfortunate distinction of being the only player from that side which dominated the Kiwis who did not play at least one NRL game, although there is no record of John Shillington – a former Broncos and Storm signing and the elder brother of ex-Test star David – playing an NRL game.

In a 2011 ABC online article detailing Rowbotham’s transformation from highly touted league prospect to a hip hop artist called Johnny Row, it is stated that multiple shoulder injuries ended the Cowboys-contracted player’s career at age 22.

Surely Rowbotham wondered “what if?” many times as he watched Tongue carve out a 220-game NRL career and followed the ascents of other players from that ’98 side, including Mark Gasnier, Justin Hodges, Brett Finch, Brent Kite, Ashley Harrison, Mark Riddell and Luke Burt. “It was great to be able to play in that side and also play with and against some of those players throughout my career,” Tongue said.