GRUB Henderson plied his trade on Sydney’s violent rugby league fields in the 1980s. His brutal style of play constantly landed him in front of the judiciary, got him in trouble with officials and eventually ended his career prematurely.
Grub Henderson did not exist.
He was a figment of the imagination of former Manly and South Sydney player Matt Nable, who immortalised him in the 2007 motion picture, The Final Winter.
One day at Belmore Sports Ground, an oval on which Henderson would no doubt have spilt litres of blood, a player from that very era approached a young Bulldogs player called Josh Reynolds at training.
“Jim Dymock, he came up to me and he got it from the footy movie, The Final Winter. He said there was a character in there and he reckons he played like me. His nickname was the Grub.”
Reynolds is talking to A-List in Coogee. “It stuck. Everyone here, I get called it at home, everything. It doesn’t worry me.”
While the movie plot demanded ‘Grub’ be the last of a dying breed, Reynolds is proof the type of footballers who inspired the character and his comedy equivalent, Reg Reagan, aren’t quite an extinct species yet. If anything, the Canterbury halfback is leading a renaissance.
In fact, the 24-year-old is considered such a champion of rough-as-guts suburban footy that the coach of the NSW Residents side that played Queensland in last Wednesday’s Origin curtain-raiser asked him to address his team beforehand.
They won. It must have worked.
“It was sort of just … in high school, I just never really got a look-in because there were just better players out there than me,” says Reynolds, the man who got 14 minutes in Origin II for NSW after warming the bench for the first match.
“I … knew that for a fact. When I was, 16 or 17, I just sort of said to myself ‘I’m going to have to probably train a bit harder than everybody else because I haven’t got the natural talent, natural strength, natural build of a footy player’.
“It hurt me in school. I was never really in the top sides. I was playing B grade and things like that. I would see my mates – I was at Kogarah Marists in St George – who were playing rep football, making Harold Mats, and I was just floating. So I sort of had to knuckle down and work harder and make a few sacrifices.
“I love to pride myself on my dedication. I really try and work on my game as much as I can. You know how some guys don’t like a lot of people giving them advice? I take everyone’s advice and just use it how I like.”
Reynolds doesn’t seem to distrust the likes of me as much as most of his fellow professionals have over the past decade. His listens intently, says ‘you’re right mate’ a few times and shows no signs of being bored by the interrogation.
Already, his relationship with representative football has been fraught. He was picked by City, reportedly passed a fitness test, only to be withdrawn from the clash with Country by his club. Actually, those involved deny that’s how it happened –they say he didn’t actually pass the City medical.
Then there was his role as a paid spectator in Origin I, his 14 minutes in the return encounter and being released from camp five days before last Wednesday’s decider.
Again, Reynolds is old school. He liked Origin even when the rest of us weren’t that into it and is still enraptured with it even though it didn’t show him as much love as it could have.
“For me, myself, growing up, I was into it a lot but I noticed other people weren’t into it as much as I was,” he explains.
“It was that fast, I was just trying to get in there. It’s a bit hard. In the position I’m playing, I can’t really adapt to the game. I’ve just got to go out there and straight away try and make a bit of an impact. I went out there and I was just trying to lift the boys a bit.
Does his selection mean he’s the second string halfback to Mitchell Pearce, the next in line? That means an opportunity next year is likely after the series defeat. “I don’t think it does,” he says.
“I think I got this role because maybe I can cover a couple of positions. Two years ago, I didn’t know what my best position was, whether it was half, hooker, a bit of lock.
“Who knows? One day I might get in the six or the seven for NSW. It’s definitely a goal of mine but I enjoy playing at 14 as well.”
Time to mention another two of Grub Henderson’s contemporaries – former Bulldog Terry Lamb and Reynolds’ current coach, Des Hasler. Both were known as utilities – and their representative opportunities were probably adversely affected as a result.
“I don’t think being in any representative side can be a negative, whether you’re number one playing fullback or you’re 18th man,” Reynolds responds, almost shocked at the suggestion his versatility could in some way be a curse.
“It’s such a privilege to be part of it and it’s got such history and culture
“If I’m playing OK footy, if my foot’s in the door now, I’m a 14 … and if Laurie (Daley) needs me in a six or a seven or whatever, he might have the confidence to put me there.
“… for me it would never be a negative. If, like you said, that’s how I play my whole career at 14 … if I’m lucky enough to be there every year, I’ll be over the moon.”
Where are Josh Reynolds’ KB Cup, Winny Reds, Huttons Footy Franks cred REALLY underscored? When you ask him about the value of the flashy Holden Cup against the blue collar NSW Cup, whose rep coach asked him to give the boys a speech.
“For me, it’s NSW Cup,” he answers, swiftly. “It’s 80 per cent better footy, just because it’s a lot tougher. I remember playing 20s and it’s obviously a good concept because you’re 20 and you’re playing at all these awesome grounds and you’re playing before first grade and you’ve got a bit of TV time. Everyone loves that.
“To play in that arena is awesome but then you play NSW Cup and you’ve got guys that are seasoned veterans coming back there when they’re not getting a run in first grade. It’s hard.
“(But) I think it should be switched back. Premier League should be the game before first grade.
“It’s like an apprenticeship. If you’re in the 20s and you’re getting picked from 20s to go straight to first grade, you’ve missed those NSW Cup guys. It’s not a good feeling, if you’re playing in the NSW Cup, when guys from 20s might get the jump on you and you might have the same talent.
“I definitely think you should learn your trade and go 20s, premier league and first grade.
“Rip Taylor … said ‘look, have a word to them about coming through’. It’s an example of someone who back in the day wasn’t much of a player but I’ve tried to work hard on the little things and work hard on my game.
“It’s the hardest time of your life, playing 20s – and NSW Cup. You’ve got to work, obviously, then you’ve got to go straight to training. You’ve got to be really strong in the head. Everyone has bad days at work and then you’ve got to go to training and get smashed and people yell at you and things like that.
“You’ve got to switch off and remember what your goal is – to get to the peak of the NRL. I think that’s where I just sort of snuck through. There were guys who would say ‘I can’t be bothered. I’m going to go to training and put in a 50 per cent effort’.
“I tried to get to training every day, even if I was digging holes all day, with a clear head and a positive attitude. It’s tough period in your life but it definitely pays off.”
It has for this Grub. Even if Grub Henderson had existed, the title of the movie would remain a fabrication. There’s plenty of winters left for footballers like him.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK