He was a helluva footballer, but a young Paul McGregor would have made a lousy player manager.
His first contract with the Steelers was something out the George Costanza school of negotiation: you held out... for less money?
"I think the offer started at 14,000 dollars and and I ended up signing for five," McGregor recalls.
"I don't know if they thought I was getting older or if they were just thinking 'we're over this bloke' but it's funny how things work out. I'm glad they persisted, put it that way."
Yarns in rugby league have a way of growing legs and running away with themselves, but the one about the Steelers needing to pry 'Mary' out of Dapto with a crowbar is pretty close to the truth.
"It was the case at one stage," McGregor said.
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"They repeatedly asked me to come in and I continually refused. In the end they said to me 'if you don't want to come in we're going to stop you playing in the local competition'.
"I went in one day and played reserve grade, I scored a try, left before first grade was over and went back and continued playing for Dapto.
"Each year Neil Lovett and Bobby Millward continued to offer me a contract to come in and play for the Steelers but I never had complete focus on doing that.
"I was working at the time at the steel works and I wasn't committed to giving that up to take up a footy career because it wasn't full-time back then.
"I was enjoying work, I was enjoying my weekends a bit too, and I continued to do that. Each year that offer got to be less and less."
So what changed his mind? It can't have just been the five grand?
"In the end the decision was mine," McGregor said.
"My father was very vocal about me going in there and having a go and testing myself among the best. That drive from Dad, Mum, and with the persistence of Bob and Neil, I ended up going in there and making a career out of it and a life out of it really.
"I was very fortunate that they persisted because the Steelers have been such an important part of mine and my family's life. We wouldn't be where we are today without the faith they showed and the belief they had in me early."
A year after finally inking that cut-price deal, McGregor was a key member of the Steelers side that took the club closest to the promised land in 1992.
Beyond that, he was Origin mainstay through one of the Blues' most dominant eras in the early 90s. The resume also includes three Tests for Australia.
That trajectory speaks to the significance of the Steelers. Given how hard it was to drag him 15 kilometres up the road, Sydney may as well have been the moon.
Certainly the man himself has no doubt he wouldn't have had a career had the Steelers not been about.
"That's very fair to say," McGregor said.
"The persistence of Bobby Millward and all the hard workers in those early days to actually get a team outside the Sydney region was huge because there were no sides outside the Sydney region.
"I did get offered a contract overseas in England and I got offered a contract at the Balmain Tigers and I rejected both before I took up the Steelers one.
"You'd be right in saying I wouldn't have made a career out of rugby league if the Steelers weren't the Steelers."
It was perhaps more pronounced in the club's infancy in the early 80s.
Cult figure Michael Bolt is another certain he wouldn't have had the top-flight career he had - including 187 straight grade games - without his beloved Illawarra.
"I had St George interested and Canterbury interested, but to move up to Sydney or live down here doing uni and commute up to training and back, it just wasn't a viable thing to do," Bolt said.
"A lot of people were in the same sort of boat. We all had to work back then and it was pretty hard yakka to hold it down while also working and-or studying."
It makes you wonder how many other careers would have gone unrealised had Illawarra not come into being. These days the question is less 'how did it happen?' and more 'how did it take so long?'
Given Wollongong's now a relative stone's throw from the big smoke, it's easy to assume it was always fait accompli. The reality was anything but.
The first bid came in 1954. 'Southern Division' had notched victories over touring Great Britain sides in 1946 and 1950 and fought out a 17-all draw in Wollongong in 1954 in which Keith Barnes caught the attention of Balmain.
The Illawarra bid that year got just a handful of votes.
It was the same deal in 1966 - the year Manly signed a young Unanderra-raised bloke by the name of Bob Fulton from Wests in Wollongong. He followed a bloke called Graeme Langlands who'd been lured north to St George three years earlier.
In many ways, Illawarra Division progressing deep into the 1978 Amco Cup was the final straw. A steady exodus of the region's best players heading north had led to underwhelming campaigns.
Great Britain and Cronulla legend Tommy Bishop came on board as coach of a squad christened 'Bishop's Babes' given there were only five players in the squad above the age of 22.
They reached the quarter finals of the Cup where, after trailing just 2-0 through three quarters, they were beaten 12-2 by an Easts outfit featuring the likes of Kevin Hastings, Ron Coote, Bob O'Reilly and Mark Harris.
At the conclusion of that campaign, Steve Morris and Brian Johnson shifted to St George where, skippered by Corrimal's Craig Young, they hoisted the 1979 premiership trophy.
Peter Wynn headed to Parramatta, while Keith Rugg, Allan Sheppard, Rod Henniker, and Kon Demos all followed Bishop to North Sydney.
Little wonder that when Millward was made full-time secretary of the IDRL in 1979 it was with a task of rebuilding the Illawarra competition being butchered by a Sydney comp that wouldn't give the breeding ground a crack under its own emblem.
"We'd asked 'could we please come in' [in 1954 and 66], but we took a different tack in 79. We really started beating the drum," Millward said.
"I started as full-time secretary in February 1979 and the charter was to rebuild the local comp. We had a very good rep side in 78 but player after player was going up to Sydney.
"Chris Walsh and Craig Young were already at St George. Brian Johnson and Steve Morris went. We could see it continuing to happen.
"The Mercury started sending their journo and photographer up there. It was the NSW Rugby League, but it was only a Sydney comp played from Hornsby to Sutherland.
"We said [the NSWRL] needed to be responsible administrators or they would be responsible for the continued demise of the Illawarra Rugby League."
The more forthright approach saw him cop more than one ear-bashing from the NSW Rugby League brass, but it had the desired the effect, the Steelers papers stamped on December 13, 1980.
It was the third time, but not necessarily lucky. The final nod came amid an economic downturn that made those early years a grind.
"It was a big move and we were continually warned by opposing clubs in the Illawarra that we didn't have enough money, where were our facilities? where was a major sponsor?," Millward said.
"It was all valid, but there was a determination there and we persisted."
Things turned significantly when BHP Steel came on board as major sponsor through the club's finest era.
Still, questions will always linger about how things could've been different had earlier bids been successful.
It's just one of many 'what ifs' that pepper the Steelers story.
What if Immortals Fulton and Langlands were synonymous with the Steelers?
What if the Steelers had gone it alone through Super League?
What if Greg McCallum saw what the rest of us did that afternoon in 1992 (that neither of those passes to Brett Rodwell were bloody forward)?
Having thrown one of those flick passes, McGregor is philosophical on the latter question.
"To be honest I didn't really expect too much but for that to happen again and again," McGregor said.
"I probably took it all for granted. I just thought you player your best footy, you get the results and you play finals at the end of the year.
"We finished my first year in 91 really strong and it led well into 92 where we won the pre-season competition. I just thought 'this is the norm, this'll happen every year'.
"It's never that easy but back then that's just what I thought.
"Have I watched [the 92 prelim] back? Yeah. Were there a few things that happened that might have changed the scoreboard? Absolutely.
"It happened and you don't get that time over again. There's always what ifs and that was one of them.
"It was a great side, we were all young, it's just shame we couldn't hold that together for a longer period of time."
What ifs yes, but few things he would change, in particular the steel city's relationship with its team.
"I remember when we made those finals in 92 the streets were all red and white, shop windows were full of memorabilia and that was just for playing in the finals," McGregor said.
"When I started Rod Wishart was an International, Allen McIndoe was an International by then. Johnny Simon had emerged, Ryan Girdler had emerged, Brett Rodwell, Dave Riolo.
"Ian Russell was a great, great rugby league player, Neil Piccinelli, Dean Schifilliti... it was a really good football side and whether we won or lost determined how many people showed up to work at Steel Works on Monday.
"When we won more people went to work. Our coach Graham Murray really drove that, what is our DNA and how does that play out on the weekends?
"We knew that, we knew we had a responsibility to the community to play in a way they'd be proud of.
"It was a great experience and for me it was my hometown. I only traveled from Dapto to Wollongong to do it."
For most of us it was all too fleeting.
For those outside of Wollongong (and a few inside it), the Steelers emblem inspires feel-good retro vibes and not a lot else. It's a massive under-sell.
The Steelers impact in decentralising the game was monumental. It took three concerted attempts over 30 years to get the NSW Rugby League to extend its reach just 50 kilometres south in 1982.
Just four years later the NSW Rugby League featured a team from Brisbane. It wasn't long after that the game went national.
It was Illawarra that kicked down that door. It's a mighty legacy to which only the Steelers can lay claim.
"We were the catalyst for decentralisation," Millward said.
"We said 'bring it here and don't stop here'. Now we're in Melbourne, Townsville, through Super League we were in Adelaide and WA. It's a national competition.
"Super League forced our merger, but I've always said if we had to go another merger tomorrow we'd go with St George.
"St George Illawarra's been going 24 years now and the game is still being played here in the Illawarra, we're still producing top-line players and those pathways are strong.
"We wanted to bring world-class rugby league to the Illawarra and it's still here."
Sports writer. Sport is my passion, rugby league my first love.
Sports writer. Sport is my passion, rugby league my first love.
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