Cliff boarded during school terms at the Kirinari
Youth Centre at Sylvania to attend High School in the
Cronulla district. He played both Australian Rules
and Rugby League in the Cronulla Sutherland area, but
it was at rugby league that he excelled. In 1981
Cliffy was graded by Cronulla to play in the Sharks
Under 23 side as a lock and second rower.
In 1982 Cliff
was back in the bush playing for the Gundagai Tigers.
In 1983, with Cliffy in the side, Gundagai won the
Group 9 Premiership after a 20 year drought. Cliffy's
form attracted interest from a number of Sydney
clubs, and in 1985 he signed with North Sydney.
Cliff made his
first grade debut for Norths in a 15-10 win over
Illawarra in Wollongong on 14 March 1985. Cliff set
up all three Norths tries, kicked a field goal and
topped the tackle count in a debut the press heralded
as "magical". But Norths had a wretched
year culminating in the sacking of coach Greg Hawick
and Club Secretary Ken McCaffrey. Cliff had had
enough stating that he was "sick of the bitching
and in-fighting at the club".
Easts and St
George were interested in signing Cliff, but he was
looking for a club that would allow him to play his
style of football and he signed with Manly on 4
September 1985. Before commencing at Manly Cliff
played the 85/86 English season with Leeds and did
not return to Australia until April 1986. His debut
in reserve grade immediately impressed first grade
coach Bob Fulton and he made his first grade debut
for Manly against Penrith at Brookvale Oval on 27
"Fatty" Vautin breaking his arm in Cliff's
debut match, Cliffy was to play out of position at
lock for much of the 1986 season. Nevertheless,
Cliffy had an impressive first year with Manly
winning Manly's "Clubman of the Year
Award". But it was 1987 that Cliffy really came
to the fore playing State of Origin for NSW and
winning a premiership with Manly.
feeding a brilliant Manly backline, Manly ran in 95
tries for the season and emphatically beat Canberra
in the Grand Final. Cliffy opened the scoring with a
solo try and went on to win the Clive Churchill Medal
for the best player in the Grand Final that Manly won
another big year for Cliffy winning the Gold Dally M
Award for Player of the Year and touring with the
Kangaroos to England and France. Australia lost the
Frst Test against England and Cliffy was brought into
the Second and Third Tests. His role in those two
tests is legendary and without him Australia would
have undoubtedly lost the Ashes series.
His try that
put Australia in front 10-6 in the second half of the
Second test, at the end of a 15 pass movement in
which Cliff handled the ball three times is one of
the best tries ever seen in a rugby league Test
match. Later at 10 all Cliffy threw the pass that
sent Ricky Stuart careering downfield to set up the
match winning try for Mal Meninga.
In 1994 Cliffy
won a swath of Awards: including the Dally M Gold
Award for the second time. Premiership glory came
again in 1996 with the Grand Final win over St
George. At 35 it seemed to everyone that it would
have been a good time to retire on a winning note.
But Cliffy loves playing football and continued
playing first grade for another three years until his
retirement from first grade in 1999 and even after
that played for Umina on the Central Coast.
In 1999 Cliffy
tied with Nicky Winmar as "Aboriginal Sportsman
of the Year". Cliffy played 309 first grade
games for Manly scoring 80 tries and 336 points.