The A-List: FRANK PRITCHARD (Hull, New Zealand & Samoa)

Pritchard, FrankBy STEVE MASCORD

“WHEN he walked into training, the session stopped,” Hull coach Lee Radford says. “That doesn’t happen for me, I can’t do that.”

It’s early in the season. The wind howls in off the North Sea. It’s pretty much dark by 5.30pm. Not far from the front door of Hull FC’s striking KC Stadium, past a chippy more battered than anything it sells, boarded up shops and convenience stores with reinforced glass, there are what’s known in England as Estate housing.

Outsiders use words like “bleak” and “grim” to describe Hull. But for Frank Pritchard, posing for photos with a few lingering fans in the cold, it’s not foreign. Not at all.

“We were brought up in housing commission, out west in Campbelltown, everyone waiting for hand-me-downs,” ‘Frank The Tank’ tells A-list, in a corridor outside the KC’s media room.

It wasn’t just the Airlie Birds players who took an instant shine to Pritchard, as Radford recounted. Fans immediately recognised him as one of their own. “Super Frank, Super Frank. Super Frankie Pritchard” they chanted during a pre-season derby against reviled Hull KR, in which he set up a try with his first touch.

Frank is now 32. While the road from humble beginnings to success  is what rugby league is made of, the former New Zealand and Samoa international hasn’t taken the most direct route.

Along with being blessed with size and speed and power and delicate hands, Frank has always had something which coaches increasingly see as a liability – a personality.

In 2006 alone, this correspondent can remember quoting him, while at Penrith, as saying he was sick of playing for peanuts, that Karmichael Hunt would be made to regret choosing Australia over New Zealand (Hunt was smashed in the first tackle of the Anzac Test) and that Melbourne’s Ian Donnelly had eye gouged him.

The move to Canterbury in 2011 seems to have made Frank more circumspect. It’s easy to imagine him being gagged by a famously inward-looking club. He argues not.

“It was just growing as a player,” he says, giggling a little at his early utterances.  “I was a bit immature then, I didn’t know how to handle the media and all that stuff. I could have been a bit more mature with my words, thought before I spoke. I could have chosen better words to use at the time.

“At the time, I was 21 and coming off contract and I had all the clubs chasing me. It’s overwhelming but you’ve got to just keep your feet on the ground.”

On the field, there have always been suggestions Pritchard could have done more, become more. Now, he played well over 200 first grade games and 30 Tests, but….

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“On the field, early in my career, I could have been a lot more dominant instead of just sitting back, waiting for something to happen, waiting for the other player to do something.

“I got to the Bulldogs matured a lot, let the game grow a bit. It was good to play around those guys – Mick Ennis, James Graham and that who are dominant blokes in their own right.”

But can some coaches get more “out” of Frankie than others, as commentators have suggested? Yes, he admits. And Des Hasler is one of those men.

“There’re some coaches that you learn to go that extra mile for,” he answers

 “Just a lot of belief in myself … I was out at Penrith there, had a few good games here and there at Canterbury it was c confidence builder. I got to a club that had a winning culture and it just rubs off on you when everyone is willing to win.

“Dessy’s a mastermind, he’s a magician. During his time there, he’ll get one. I wish I could have won a premiership in my time there, with Mick Ennis and the rest of the boys.”

And of all Pritchard’s seasons at Canterbury, 2013 was the most problematic. Perhaps one day, a book will be written about how the protracted departure of the previous year’s Dally M medallist, Ben Barba, tore the club apart.

“We had a lot of in-house drama there with the Benny Barba saga and stuff like that,” he says, as fellow reporters grow impatient waiting for us to finish.

“Things like that were out of our control. There was stuff like that that shouldn’t affect a team, which it did.

“We made the eight and then we lost the first game of the finals series. It was a bit of a shock and Des blew us up at the Leagues Club, after that game. He blew us up. So he should. He said not enough of the boys wanted to bleed for their brothers. Thirteen wasn’t a good year.”

It was at the end of 2014, during the Four Nations, that Pritchard first heard that Canterbury might be willing to release him early. First it was Catalans, then Salford, and the Warriors posted an 11th hour bid after he had agreed to terms at Hull.

“I gave the club my word …,” he explains, when asked if it was an offer he considered. “I’ve come over here to do a job so the moment I get comfortable, I need someone to kick me in the arse.”

He likes Hull and Hull likes him. “Rough streets” aren’t just a cliché for Frank. In 2007, his brother Tom was stabbed in the heart as they each tried to protect their sister in Penrith.

“I almost lost my brother and two of my relos,” he says. “I come from a family that are big believers in Christ and faith had its role. My brother got another life.”

And so the circle is about to be completed. Football is many things but amid the gossip and adulation we often forget it is a way out for many families, a way to make things better from one generation to the next.

 “Rugby league has helped my family financially, it’s given them a better start in life,” Frank reflects. “I was able to help my family get ahead.

“To every kid out there looking to play footy, it’s a great job. You get to travel and if you’re smart with your money, you can invest it and buy a couple of houses.

“Football’s been great to me.”


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The A-List: JOSH HOFFMAN (Gold Coast, Indigenous All Stars & New Zealand)


JOSH Hoffman is said to have greeted reporters for his first media opportunity this year by saying “haven’t seen you guys for a while”.

The smiling 27-year-old Titans fullback was a favourite of reporters during his six years at the Broncos. The Mackay product was always co-operative and good for a quote – perhaps too much so in the eyes of his club, at times.

But things went sour at Red Hill. Not once, but twice. First, while he was away at the World Cup, club-mate Justin Hodges was quoted as saying he was not fullback material. Hoffman’s father Shane attacked Hodges on social media, calling him a “dog”.

Then the cousin of new Queensland rep Dane Gagai – and relative of Wendell Sailor, Ben Barba and Travis Waddell – was repeatedly photographed with Canterbury members of the Kiwis squad – and asked for a release.

There was a season of truce while the Broncos waited for Anthony Milford and Wayne Bennett to arrive – and Hoffman finally got the hell out of Dodge, although only an hour down the freeway.

During it all, Josh maintained an uncharacteristic silence in the mainstream media – even if his social media accounts remained entertaining. This year, he’s dressed up as superhero for the club website, posted Instagram videos to kill the time during the commute to and from training – but has been interviewed only briefly.

A-List meets Josh during a break in training at Burleigh Leagues Club, overlooking the Gold Coast Titans’ new training ground. New, because they were kicked out of a school facility when the drugs story broke earlier this year.

A couple of times, looking back over the past couple of years, Josh will use an expression like “this blew up in the media” … before going onto confirm the story concerned was more or less right. There’s much to catch up with since he last spoke in depth about pretty-much anything. We’ll not pussyfoot around….

HOFFMAN left Brisbane for Gold Coast this year with a season left on his contract. “I had the chance to go in and meet Wayne (Bennett). I didn’t really even have to say much. He sort of knew my position. He just said Darius was coming to the LeagueWeek Back Issuesclub and he wanted Darius to play fullback and he said ‘I know that’s your preferred position and I’m not going to hold you back from going out there and finding another opportunity’. In saying that, he said ‘you’re signed with the Broncos and you’re welcome to stay here and you’ve always got a club here’. He was really good like that. At the time, Canberra were in the mix and Ricky (Stuart) was chasing pretty hard I had a young family, I had a little girl and my wife as well and we were trying to decide on whether we wanted to move to Canberra. It was a little bit too far away considering my wife and her mother were very close. We wanted to stay somewhere … stay in Brisbane. And the Warriors were chasing as well.

“There was a little bit of talk and a little bit of interest (from rugby union) but I don’t think they pushed too hard on getting me over there. That would have been another thing I would have considered but I really wanted to stay and play rugby league. I felt like I had more to give to the game. I rang my manager up and he rang around and I said ‘what about Gold Coast, do you reckon they’d be keen?’ and he gave Neil (Henry) a ring and we set up a meeting and happy days.”

A YEAR earlier, Hoffman had asked for a release while at the World Cup. “I wasn’t sure where I was going to be in the future because of everything happening at the club and my positional changes with everywhere I was being moved. I just didn’t know where I was going to fit in the team and I felt like there was no certainty there at the club. I spoke to Hook (Anthony Griffin) and asked for a release … like I said to Wayne, if I could find other opportunities out there to play fullback. I guess things went a bit sour after that. I stayed at the club. The best thing for me is I didn’t go around kicking stones and dragging my lip on the ground and feeling sorry for myself.

amazon“Me and hook, we don’t have any malice against one another.”

THE matter came to a head when veteran Broncos centre Justin Hodges was quoted as saying Hoffman was not the answer for the club at fullback. “Coming from your own team-mate, you sort of … I know I was young at the time and I took it the wrong way and I understand where Justin was coming from; the Broncos were looking for someone who could ball-play, someone who could be another five-eighth and my game, it’s purely a running game. I like to bring the ball back hard and get as many metres as I can. That’s just what I do. At the time I took it as a personal attack and I got a bit upset after that. That was another thing that made me want to leave the club as well. Having your own team-mate say that, it’s made my confidence go down a bit.” But he never approached Hodges over the slight. “I didn’t want to cause drama over it because at the time we were trying to keep our season alive. I didn’t want to cause drama between team-mates.”

AT the World Cup, Hoffman was photographed with Bulldogs players repeatedly, leading to intense speculation he was headed to Belmore. “I was walking down the street in Manchester and I was with big Sammy (Kasiano) and Franky (Pritchard) and Greggy Eastwood and they were in my ear, telling me to come to the Doggies, you know? They were trying to get me over there. And I was like ‘boys, I’m still with the Broncos and I’ve still got two years left and this and that. Being stubborn boys, they just kept pushing and pushing. We eventually got a photo together and it got in the paper and I think the Broncos took it the wrong way and it was blown out of proportion. It was a bit hard being over in the UK and reading all donate2this stuff on the website and being asked about it as well, getting attacked on Twitter from fans and that. It was pretty hurtful but there’s nothing you can do about that. Everyone’s got their opinions. “

HOFFMAN was overlooked for selection by the Kiwis at the end of the tournament and has not played for his father’s country since. “We played against Papua New Guinea and I did my shoulder and it was bothering me at the time. Steve (Kearney) knew I wasn’t 100 per cent but I was adamant I wanted to play. I guess he thought it was in the best interests of the team to play Kevin Locke. At the time, I was a bit disappointed, a bit angry about it because I would really have loved to finish the World Cup off playing in the finals but the boys really did well to get to the final.”

JOSH appears to be facing an up-hill battle to make the touring squad for England at the end of this season. “There’s a lot of competition for the fullback spot. Dallin (Watene-Zelezniak) has been playing a lot of fullback since (Matt) Moylan’s been out, he’s been going really well. And Roger (Tuivasa-Skeck) is the incumbent fullback at the moment. He’s been playing really good footy. There’s a lot of competition there and also in the backline as well. At this stage I’m just focusing on the Titans. If we can get some wins together, hopefully we can get to play in September.”

BUT since Hoffman signed on with the Titans, Aiden Sezer plus Nate Myles have left and Daley Cherry Evans announced he would not be joining, as originally agreed. DCE “It is a big loss for the club and something Neil’s going to have to shuffle around. I’d hate to be in his shoes right now, trying to figure out what he’s going to do for next year. But I guess in saying that we need to focus on this year. It was disappointing and sad to see Nate leave – such a great player with great experience. I really look up to him.’


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The A-List: Ryan Hall (:eeds & England)


HE can solve a Rubik’s Cube in 45 seconds, once addressed his team-mates on how Pythagorus Theorum affects every day life and plays saxophone, piano, guitar and violin.

Leeds’ 105kg Ryan Hall may or may not be the best winger in the world – his team-mates call him ‘WBW’ anyway – but half an hour in his presence has convinced A-List he is the most interesting player in either the NRL or Super League today.

Hall, 27, is known to most casual observers as a tank of a man who regularly scores against Australia and New Zealand and who was controversially denied what would have been a match-winning touchdown at AAMI Park during last year’s Four Nations.

But for all his peroxide-headed heroics on the field, the Leeds local is a singularly distinctive character off it – a prodigy who would be studying pure mathematics at university if he wasn’t terrorising his opposite number each weekend as a pro rugby league player.

We sat down with Ryan on Friday morning at the Virgin Active gym in Kirkstall after a recovery session to find out what makes WBW tick.

EARLY YEARS: “I was a footballer. All my core mates at school played football (soccer). I play from seven up until about 11. At that age, football was on Sundays and I found out rugby (league) is on Saturdays. I did both up until 14 and then football changed. I was a goalie. I was a small guy, I didn’t grow until quite late on. I realised I were miles better at rugby than I were at football. I switched back to rugby, I was playing amateur, no rep games or anything. I played for fun. When I got to 17s and 18s, I used to play first grade as well – open age. Our 18s team trained twice, the open age team trained twice, so I trained four times a week and played on a Saturday and a Sunday. I did a lot more rugby then than I do now – it’s quite funny. In comparison to other players, I did get spotted quite late – 17 or 18, playing down at Oulton. I fullback … not much of a passer.”

PYTHAGORUS THEORUM: “At a pre-season camp, Brian (McDermott, coach), got everybody to stand up and address the donate2team. He likes to get you out of your comfort zone. Some of the lads talked about their lives growing up in rugby. I don’t get much of an opportunity to hold an audience. I thought I’d prove to the lads Pythagorus Theorum, using shapes and all that, is real, and where it comes from. That’s basically it. If you could see matrix, you’d see how it works. You’d see the trees breathing, you’d see equations going through. It does affect everything.”

MUSICAL LAD: “All through school, my mum encouraged me to do something different, to add another string to my bow – so to speak. I played violin in year two, junior school, and I gave that up and did saxophone. Technically (it’s my best), although I haven’t played it in a while. Through school … music’s quite transferable. If you can play saxophone, you can read music, you can play other instruments. I was in all the orchestras at school, I was in all the productions. I played in the bands at school and then we went touring. Every year the band would go to Paris, London, nice places like Amsterdam …. I’ve got a guitar. I didn’t play any at school but I thought ‘it’s more sociable. You sit around with people, it’s better to have a guitar than a saxophone’. I can play songs now, I’m not very intricate with it but I can play along with some chords. It’s a bit of an escape for me. People like watching TV – I like doing that.”

@BoringRyanHall TWITTER ACCOUNT: The parody account says things like “Brett Delaney just called me bro – which is very strange because he’s not my brother’. “I’ve got a couple of candidates but it keeps taking right turns,” Ryan says. “I think I’ve got it, and then it throws me. I quite enjoy it, so I’m not too bothered about getting to the bottom of it. I think the fans enjoy it too.”

GOING TO THE NRL: “I’ve never said ‘no’ to it directly but I’ve never had a full opportunity to do it. I’ve always been in a amazonlong-term contract at Leeds. Gary must have been quite smart, keeping me tied down. At the end of the last series, the Four Nations, I said I would like to come over if circumstances were different. If Gary was willing to let go and I was going to a good club, I’d think about it seriously. Here and there (there are whispers) but it goes away from me because it’s a back-room chat. I might regret that in my later life but I’m playing at such a good club in Leeds.”

WORLD’S BEST WINGER: “The boys say it when they’re taking the mick a little bit. It was started by the commentators at Sky, after the 2012 World Club Challenge. It’s nice from pundits to say that sort of thing but it gives people a bit of ammo to have a go at you. It also sets you up for a bit of a fall. At some time, I’m not going to be the best in the world and then they’ll be, like, ‘what’s happened to him?’.”

THAT TRY IN MELBOURNE: “I thought it was a try, speaking honestly. A lot of people said ‘why didn’t you celebrate?’. I couldn’t see the ball. I was diving over GI and just blindly taking a swipe at it. I felt contact with it. But I didn’t know if ball were in air, and I knocked it dead for a 20 metre restart, or I got it down. I didn’t want to start carrying on if I’d knocked it tWLBd41422314935dead. When it got referred upstairs, I thought ‘we’ve got a chance here’ and when there were images showing me touching it on the floor, I thought ‘it’s a try’. I’ve never beaten the Aussies and I’ve been playing them since 2009. I thought that was our chance and it was in their back garden as well.”

THE HAIR: “The first time I did it, it was (charity) Sport Relief and everyone had to do their hair red. You bleach it so the red will take better. It went blond first and then you put the red on top of it. All the lads hated it, they’re all vain – ‘not gonna pull with this hair cut’ so they all got rid of it as soon as they could. But I liked it. I like being different. I kept it. It also ran alongside my girlfriend being pregnant for the first time. I kept it all the time she was pregnant because I thought once I was a dad, I’d have to be a responsible adult. Then I actually quite liked it, I enjoyed looking at the videos of me playing with it, so I kept doing it sporadically throughout the year. I’ll do it again this year, don’t know when.”

RUBIK’S CUBE: “Forty-five seconds is my best. I did it on Soccer AM, the TV show, in just over a minute. That’s maths. You can solve it writing it down on a piece of paper. In fact I went back to my old secondary school and the head of maths is still there from when I was there. He asked me to come in and do some little chats because it’s hard to get people to concentrate on maths at times. If they get someone with a bit of a profile to go in, it makes a difference. So I went in and I wrote it down with the Rubik’s Cube for the classes, to show it’s mathematical, it can be done.”


Benji Marshall: Leaving The Blues Behind

Marshall, BenjiBy STEVE MASCORD

“I WAS shattered by that,” says Benji Marshall, staring back at me, unflinching.

Since his return to rugby league last year, the iconic Kiwi magician has given a number of brutally honest, self-critical interviews. We know already that his ill-fated move to the Auckland Blues has changed Benji irrevocably – but it’s a story which has so far barely had its surface scratched.

But before we mounted our black leather swivel chairs in the business centre of the Marriott Victoria & Albert Hotel in Manchester, Marshall had entertained a Leigh team-mate of FuiFui MoiMoi.

The young Championship player, accompanied to the hotel by Fui himself, was such a fan he had even brought a copy of Marshall’s biography for him to autograph. Given the goodwill wafting about, wading straight into this interview with hard arse questions had seemed a little ungracious.

donate2So League Week waits a little before asking about the comment on midweek television of Wests Tigers coach Tim Sheens – following his sacking – that “players get rid of coaches. It’s generally senior players too,”

“I still haven’t actually spoken to him about it,” Marshall says when the subject is raised, after saying the implication shattered him.

“I don’t understand how it can actually get to that, where that’s actually put out there.

“….firstly, that I could have any influence on a decision the board makes, or a decision by whoever makes that decision.

“I’m just baffled at how it got to me. There was heaps of shit floating around about it but I never said a bad word about Tim. I don’t know how it got to that.

“I think the perception is that players have a lot of pull but the only pull I’ve ever tried to influence is on the field and off the field you just do what you’re told, man.

“What confuses me is how it gets put on the players that we have that control.

“Put it this way: if I had control over the Tigers from 2008 to 2012, none of my mates would have left. I lost eight of my best mates through that time at the Tigers and the main reason I enjoyed being there was the family atmosphere at the club and having all those blokes around – which slowly got demolished group by group. In the end, it just me and Robbie (Farah) left. “

amazonSheens and Marshall were once said to have a father-and-son relationship. “I’ve never had a chance to come across Tim and talk to him. We’ve never seen each other face-to-face since then.

“You know what? People can have their own views or whatever but I’m not going to go out of my way to change who I am. I’m just the same person I was.”

Is he, though? During a half-hour chat while his St George Illawarra team-mates play cards on the other side of a glass partition, 29-year-old Marshall says enough to indicate plenty has changed.

His thoughts on the extremely disturbing trend of Holden Cup players taking their own lives are particularly forthright. Wests Tigers Mosese Fotuaika was the first.

tWLBd41422314935“I see some of these kids now and it’s a mental battle just to get through a season “I think what the 20s does is create a false sense of making it,” says Benji, after warning he has “a rant” prepared on the subject

”A lot of the Pacific islanders, particularly, their families create a mindset that playing under 20s is making it.

“From the outset, these kids are put in a position where they’re trying to prove to their families ‘this is it, I’ve made it’ and if they don’t move on from that, it’s like a failure and if they fail in that arena of under 20s, it’s like the end of the world.

“When reserve grade was there, some of these kids would come through and play reserve grade which was with men. And when you’ve got men in the team mixed with boys, the men can give advice on live experience, like coping with the pressure or ‘if you’re having problems come here and I’ll look after you’.

“…which I did, coming through. In Under 20s, it’s boys with boys who haven’t lived. You’re too embarrassed to tell your mate you’re having dramas mentally. They all want to be macho men, ‘I’m the man’, you know?

“… older people could recognise when a young guy needed help. What I had was Mark O’Neill, John Skandalis, Ben Galea saying every week ‘are things alright at home’, you know? I had issues with money growing up, they’d say ‘do you need money?’ and I’d borrow $100 or whatever. They’d look after me.

“Whereas these kids … if they get injured, their family’s not getting paid. A lot of them send their money home, which a lot of people don’t know, because they feel obliged. That’s just the Polynesian thing, you know?”

Benji paints an unflattering picture of himself during the tail end of his time at Wests Tigers: complacent, overweight, wilfully LOZHh51420274496oblivious to what others were saying about him.

“When I went there (rugby union), they were really honest with me, like about where I was fitness-wise.

“They were really honest with me about what I needed to do, what I needed to become. That’s something I never had during the back end of my time at the Tigers – that honesty.

“I thought I was going alright – and no-one was telling me that I wasn’t. Sometimes you need to hear the truth, especially when you’re an older player, or else you get caught just coasting and that’s what I was doing.

“I was just coasting and thinking everything was going sweet. When you’re playing, sometimes you don’t see it. You need other people to help point that out.

“I just got too comfortable in my position. There was never a time when I was under pressure from someone else coming through who was going to take my position

“Even my family wouldn’t say anything, which is … which is a shame.”

We’re just linking together Marshall’s compelling quotes now. A key marker in Marshall’s dramatic fall from grace in rugby league was being sacked as New Zealand captain in February 2013.

WLF2“At the time I was disappointed because it’s obviously a big honour. But I’ve got older and thought about it a lot more.

“My type of captaincy is different to Simon Mannering or, say, Ruben Wiki’s style of captaincy. I think what I tried to do was change my personality and not be, kind of, joking around and be more serious.

“I think if I was ever a captain again, I’d be the same me – just relaxed and have a laugh, have a joke and play my best on the field.”

Marshall believes he has “four or five” years left in rugby league. He likes the idea of being a coach afterwards. His post-career prospects in that area would have been seriously lessened had he stayed in rugby union.

But he went there for a challenge – one that, in the end, he was not up to. And even that is OK by him now. There is no pain on his face when I ask him about the day he decided to come back.

“It was the Monday after Easter Sunday,” he says.

“I walked into the coach’s office and he said the way he thought it was going, it wasn’t working for him. He said it didn’t look like it was working for me. He said ‘you can go back and play club rugby and learn your trade there’ and I said ‘you’ve got the best coaches here, why would I do that?’

“And then he said ‘you can go back and play league’.

“Melbourne were close. I made the best decision for my footy. Even my family was telling me ‘go to Melbourne’, everyone I knew was saying ‘go to Melbourne’ but I was after a bit of longevity. Melbourne could only offer me the rest of the year.”

addtext_com_MjAzNTE5NjcwMzQ2I ask what he would tell himself five years ago, if he could.

“Probably just be myself. The more I took the game seriously, the worse I got. The more relaxed I am, the less worried about what happens, it just seems to be better.

“Whatever happens, I don’t care about anyone else anymore. I used to care about everyone, all my mates. Now it’s just let it happen and if they need advice, they’ll come and ask.

“Off the field is more important to me now than on the field.

“But I don’t think I’d change anything., Where I am now in my life – more important than in footy – is the happiest I’ve ever been.”


The A-List: JARRYD HAYNE (Parramatta, NSW, NRL All Stars & Australia)


IN the middle of this interview, Jarryd Hayne’s answers get shorter. It seems like he’s had enough.

Your correspondent has to spell it out: ‘this story has to run to about 1500 words, that’s why I’m asking lots of questions’. There’s a brief nod, and the answers get longer again.

It’s a neat encapsulation of what some people say makes the 21-year-old Parramatta flier tick. There’s a story they tell around South Sydney, about how Hayne’s father Manoa Thompson was worried he would sleep through his alarm and miss a early training session at Redfern.

So he drove to the oval the night before, pulled up in the carpark – and went to sleep there, knowing someone would wake him up as they walked past his car. An apocryphal story, perhaps, but like father, like son. Jarryd Hayne marches to the beat of his own drum and the route he takes to success on the football field is rarely the conventional one.

But he doesn’t leave success waiting. The two of them, Hayne and success, almost always meet at the appointed place and time and get on famously. In fact, Hayne’s best friend in most teams is success.

A-List won’t bore you with stories of pet dogs, banter with team-mates, shopping malls and nearby AFL stars this week. We got Hayne at a NSW media opportunity – a bit before most of the fourth estate descended – and the details make for tedious reading.

The Fiji fullback is sat in one of those cubbyholes they have in the home dressingrooms at Sydney Football Stadium, wearing regulation NSW training gear, and talked into a digital voice recorder.

So after experimenting with Rolling Stone-style profiles and sub-headings, this week we’ll utilise another old journalistic favourite – the Q&A:

A-List: You’ve come into Origin camp on the back of Parramatta’s 23-6 loss to Wests Tigers. How do you reflect on that game?

Hayne: “We were a bit rusty, I was a bit rusty myself. It was probably our worst performance all year so I was a bit disappointed but I had a bit of a virus, a stomach bug at the end of the week and that didn’t help. I got it on Friday. We trained pretty late and then we had a sauna session after. We were out in the cold, when I was pretty sweaty. Then Saturday, Sunday I was a bit rusty and I wasn’t sure if I was going to play or not.’’

A-List: How would you sum up the year at Parra? And also your own year?

Hayne: “It’s been tough. It wouldn’t help any club to go through what we’ve been through. To not be coming last is a pretty good effort. To lose our halfback, to lose Feleti (Mateo). To lose one halfback, get a good combination going, and the lose another from the halves combination … it was very tough, it’s really taken it’s toll on the team. The state we’re in now, we’ve pretty much got to play our best every week to be competitive.’’

A-List: You’ve had a new coach coming in and changing things over the summer, there’s blokes off contract who do don’t know what they’re doing next year. Does that have an impact out on the field?

Hayne: “Yeah, it’s tough – especially when you’ve got guys who have been here for a while and they’re not sure if they’re going to be there next year or not. That’s what the coach is there to do. He wants players that he wants there. At the end of the day, it is what it is. There’s always fors and against. Obviously I’m going to lose some mates over the summer because they’re going to move on. I think he’s bought really well with (Shane) Shackleton and (Justin) Poore. I don’t know if he’s looking for anyone else….’’

A-List: You’re probably playing the best footy of your career right now. Is that how you thought 2009 would pan out? How would you describe the year for you personally and what’s changed?

Hayne: “I don’t know, just attitude. I’ve taken it upon myself to do a bit more and I’m a bit more confident in the team and I’m sort of take a bit more control of the team.’’

A-List: And being fullback must be a big boost to you as well…

Hayne: “Yeah, I’m rapt, I’m loving it. I hope to stay there, yeah.’’

A-List: For people why have never done it, tell us what it’s like to run out in an Origin game. What was it like running down that tunnel for the first time? Did anything surprise you?

Hayne: “Yeah, (it’s great) just being able to do it. You know it’s going to be fast, you know it’s going to be intense. Just being out there and in the moment, it’s good, it’s an awesome buzz. It’s one of the best feelings you can get, running out in the Blues jersey. You’re playing against the best players. The main thing is that everyone’s on the same level. From the intensity in training to just the little things, you don’t see the same things at club level you see at Origin level.’’

A-List: Are you more worried about making a mistake in Origin than you are in club football?

Hayne: “Oh, 100 per cent. It’s Origin footy. You can’t make mistakes, pretty much. A mistake, it takes something little to change a game.’’

A-List: But you are a creative player, you take risks. Does that affect your mindset going into an Origin game, if you are more worried about making a mistake?

Hayne: “No, not really.”

A-List: But in your first year of Origin, you tapped the ball infield and Queensland scored. How hard is it not to dwell on things like that?

Hayne: “Not that pass. I thought I was doing good for the team. I thought it was a 40-20, they’d scored two tries, we were on the back foot and I knew when it went out it really would have rattled us. It wasn’t like I was trying to do a magic play or I was trying to do something arsey or silly. That’s not why I did it.‘’

A-List: Everyone else is talking about four series in a row for Queensland. Are you fellas thinking about it a lot?

Hayne: “Yeah, of course. We don’t want want to play in the team that has been beaten four series in a row so it’s a major factor. I think the team we have now should be up for the task.’’

A-List: Tell us about how the side lifted in Melbourne after a poor period in the first half?

Hayne: “I think we were playing like that the whole game but sort of just weren’t getting the lucky chances we were getting in the second half. ‘’

A-List: Have you watched your no-try back on many occasions since then?

Hayne: “Yes’’.

A-List: And what are your thoughts when you watch it back?

Hayne: “What everyone else says. It’s a try.’’

A-List: What can we do to prevent those sort of mistakes happening again.

Hayne: “If there’s a touch judge there, what’s the point of going to the video ref? He didn’t put his flag up. So if he doesn’t put his flag up, why are we going to the video ref, you know what I mean?’’

A-List: So they should show more faith in the officials on the field?

Hayne: “Yeah’’.

A-List: You’ve played just one Test for Australia. At the end of the year there’s a Four Nations and a Pacific Cup? Would you like to play for Fiji again?

Hayne: “No, I think I’ll just stay with Australia this year. The World Cup was something special but I think you can only change a certain number of times in a certain amount of years. I’ll probably stick with Australia and if I don’t get selected I’ll go on a bit of a holiday.’’

A-List: When you say your attitude is different this year, what do you mean?

Hayne: “Before, I used to eat rubbish the day before the game. Now I’m eating right seven days a week and looking after my body a bit more, not going out as much. Just a bit more focus on footy. When I first came into first grade I was a bit young and got a bit sidetracked with the partying.’’

A-List: Was there a single thing that changed your outlook?

Hayne: “Just the World Cup. I really appreciate what I have and how many people wish they were in my shoes so that’s something that really drove me. Seeing the Fijian boys, how proud they were just to play for Fiji. To see them, puting the effort in and the enthusiasm they had really made me feel I should be doing more for myself.’’

A-List: And I suppose you were thrust into a leadership role there whether you wanted one or not.

Hayne: “I think that really helped me because I brought it back to Parra. The thinks I was doing in the Fijian team I was puting it upon myself to do with Parra. It’s obviously affected me in Parra as well.’’

A-List: And before that, you just considered yourself another footy player?

Hayne: “Oh, being young you don’t really want to be really stepping up and taking charge of a team. You had a whole lot of people there who had been around for a while and you just sit back and let them do their thing and you just finish it off at the end of it – which in ’06 I did. We had good halves and a good centre in Luke o’Dwyer who just looked after me. They all sort of left so I had to step up.

A-List: You will forever be known as the man who was shot at in Kings Cross. Is it still fun being a footy player or has scrutiny made it just a business?

Hayne: “Of course. I wouldn’t swap it for the world. It’s just a bit different now compared with back in the day, what the older players used to get away with. It’s a bit hard when you hear all these stories about what they used to get up to. Now, it’s like if you do anything near that you pretty much wouldn’t have a contract. It’s tough. It’s a new generation, a time when things are changing. We’ve just got to get used to it.’’

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The A-List: SAM BURGESS (South Sydney, NRL All Stars, England & Great Britain)

South Sydney - Sam BurgessBy STEVE MASCORD

ON a dreary, cold, wet Sydney day, the redeveloped Redfern Oval gives off an unearthly green hue. It’s almost as if the lighting that allows Melbourne AAMI Park to turn the colour of the host team has been installed just below the historic patch of grass.

In the Park Cafe at the northern end of the grandstand, Sam Burgess’ face completes the club colours. The topic of conversation is the Sydney media and, specifically, gossip column speculation about who he is dating.

Big Sam is, unmistakeably, blushing.

“I looked at it and I had a bit of chuckle. There’s no truth in what’s been written in some of the stories,” the 21-year-old says of those Candice Falzon stories.

“It doesn’t help me socially. People think I’m in relationships with girls and all that. It doesn’t help me at all – if you know what I mean.”

A few minutes earlier, A-List had happened upon Sam sharing a coffee and a laugh with cafe owner Harry Azar and some of his friends. Burgess calls them all by name and seems to have spent plenty of time in the modest but often busy little establishment.

It’s a snapshot that sums the England forward up. Remember the 1997 World Club Challenge slogan “we’re not here for a holiday?” Well Sam, kind of, is. Not as in getting pissed up every night and sleeping all day, but as in “getting new life experiences”.

“It’s good to get as many life experiences as you can from footy because it’s not a long career,’ he explains.

“I’d like to think I’ll stay for a while now. I’m having the best time of my life at the moment.”

He sees away games in Perth and Auckland as “free travel”. He’s curious and inquisitive and – most of all – personable. This isn’t about making money or getting famous, it’s about doing something many of his mates back home never get to do – and representing them well while he does it.

To take it for granted or become arrogant would be to disrespect them.

As you’ve probably guessed, Sam has plenty to say – which is why we’re going to revert to one of A-List’s favourite journalistic mechanisms, the sub-heading.


“I’ve never lived in a big city. I’ve always lived away from home, since I’ve been old enough so I’m used to that but living in a big city under a little bit of a spotlight, compared to how I used to live in England … it’s a bit of a difference. It’s not a bad difference. It’s been the best decision I ever made.

“Everyone since I got here … they give me advice. Other players, the staff at Souths, they warned me what it’s like. I think of myself as well-behaved lad anyway but they just sort of warned me to be careful.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a burden, this (points to voice recorder) part of the game. We’ve got to realise we play in a big sport, a well-documented sport. It’s part of being a professional footballer. You’ve got to deal with it and just enjoy it.”


“It definitely took its toll on the body. I struggled with my sleep, waking up in the middle of the night but that wasn’t the thing. It was just how fatigued I were. We played Manly that weekend. I’ve never been as tired in my life. I probably had the worst game of my NRL career. It took it’s toll and some of that I’ll have to think about next year, whether I go or not.”


“I think there’s a bit more interest now, with obviously Mark (Flanagan), myself and Gaz (Gareth Ellis). There’s a bit more interest in players coming over. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see a few more in the next few years. “

James Graham? “I’m not saying he will, I’m not saying he won’t. I’m not sure where he’s thinking of going but I think it’s an option for James. He’s fairly young and he’s an outstanding player. He’s got a great attitude, he’s got a very competitive attitude and I think he’d do really well. Whether he decides to come or not … he’s a fan favourite back in St Helens. He’s well-liked. He’s been there all his life so it would be a tough decision for him to leave if he did. But I’m sure he’d fit in well over here – especially in a Souths jersey.

“It would be nice. I’m sure there would be a way to do it. It would be nice to get him here. I’m going to try and twist his arm and tell him to come.”


“It was quite an emotional day. I don’t know why, the build-up to putting on the Souths jersey was quite big for me. Everywhere I’d go, people would be looking forward to seeing you play. I got really into the Souths tradition.”


“I consider myself really good friends with Russell. He’s a champion bloke. He’s helped me settle into things over here and he’s been a port of call if I do get any problems. He’s been good to me. I’m in close contact with him. He works very hard and is very busy in his own life but he’s good with all the boys. It’s unbelievable for us that he’s involved in the club.”


The Sydney Morning Herald quoted leaked Immigration Department documents to suggest his contract with Souths was under-the-odds. “That were one of the only things that pissed me off. I laugh about it now but for people to go to such lengths … I wouldn’t have signed here if I was cheating on anything. I know it’s their job but just to print my salary, or what they believe is my salary, in the papers was – I thought – a bit of a bullshit thing. That was one of the only things that has pissed me off since I’ve been here.

“That’s what I don’t understand. That’s the difference. In England, that just wouldn’t happen. It did piss me off that it’s come off my visa application, that that’s come out somewhere. It’s a bit shit. These things happen.”


Sam and Souths were up in arms when a journalist contacted his brothers for a profile story. “I’ll tell you what: looking back on it now, I shouldn’t have been pissed off. But I’d just got here and I’d been warned about this press, media and all that crap and I just thought someone were out to get me. And then, ringing my little brothers who were daft as a brush … great guys, I love them to bits but they don’t understand the press out here. They could have said anything stupid and I was just a bit worried that they’d say something and it would get taken the wrong way. That’s what I was worried about. I’d not spoken to either of my brothers about it. I know Glenn (Jackson), he’s a good fella. At the time I didn’t know Glenn, I couldn’t put his name to his face. It were a really good story that he ran. My little brothers, they’re just crackers…”


“I want to play in a grand final and win one. That would be my main goal. That’s my only goal. That’s what drives me each week to win a comp and just better myself as a player.


“From coming over here and experiencing life in Australia, playing rugby league as a professional player, to going back and seeing it back there – it just makes you think ‘I don’t want to leave Australia’.

“It’s a great place to play footy and enjoy yourself. Who knows what will happen in England. There’s soccer that’s massive, cricket, rugby union…’’


The A-List: MANU VATUVEI (Warriors & New Zealand)

Warriors - Manu vatuveiBy STEVE MASCORD
MANU Vatuvei seems like a man who rugby league played a big role in creating.
Raised on what the cliches always describe as the “rough streets of South Auckland”, the 27-year-old has been transformed on the field from a rookie described famously as a “clumbsy klutz” to a fearsome Test regular, and off it from a shy monosylabist to a well-spoken ambassador.
But as it turns out, Vatuvei is actually very clear on what he’d be doing today if he wasn’t “The Beast”.
“I think, if I wasn’t in league, I would have pursued my dream of becoming a police officer,” Vatuvei, sitting on the touchline at Warriors training, says with an easy smile. “That’s something I always looked forward to when I was young. Growing up I was always wanting to be a super hero.
“Superman was always my super hero.”
On Sunday week, Manu confronts his own kryponite equivalent when returns to Parramatta Stadium – the scene of his career nadir in 2007 when he made more mistakes than any player in any one game in living premiership memory. He has not played during the 2014 pre-season due to a thigh injury and admits that knee problems will haunt him for the rest of his life.
But that night seven years ago was the making of Vatuvei as a person and a professional, he reckons. It was so gut-wrenching to watch that it summmed up for many of us the very essence of confidence and the role it plays in just about everything we do.
“I just do what I have to do and hopefully I inspire people to never give up on their dreams,” says Vatuvei now. “There’re a lot of obstacles that you’ll go through in your career and that was one big one for myself and one massive hurdle I had to overcome. I wouldn’t have done that without the people around me – my family, and especially the club, all the guys who have been through it. Hopefully I showed them that if I can get through it, everyone else can.
“I had to learn the hard way. If it happened to me now, I would have dealt with it way, way easier and quicker but then I was still learning the game and everything just came to me and I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.
“I had to try and hide away from the media and I was getting punished from them and I just had to deal with it. But with the help of the club and everything they taught me, I could overcome it. I still get asked about it to this day and I’m happy to talk about it and show them how I overcame the obstacle and if I can do that, like I said, anyone else can.”
That is a sense of perspective you may not have anticipated from a man who stands at 192cm and weighs in at 112kg and who crashes into people for a living. Perhaps it’s one he would have attained as a policeman, perhaps it’s not.
Born in Auckland of Tongan parents (“my heritage is Tongan and I’d love to play for Tonga … it’s something that one day I’ll do”), he has learnt that his profile allows him to help those around him. Insiders say Vatuvei is a fixture at charity events around South Auckland but says little about it.
“When people approach me to go and do stuff, I try hard to attend what they want me to,” he explains. “I’m the type of guy who likes to give back to the community because I know how hard it is growing up and stuff around South Auckland – or anywhere. Sometimes you don’t have everything that other people have so sometimes I like to give back to them. I appear at events. I don’t have to speak, just show myself and have fun with the kids or whoever is there. I like to do that.”
Not that speaking is now a problem, as you can see. “(I’ve gaimed) a lot of confidence in speaking to other people, approaching people and all that,” he admits.
“Just doing my interviews now … from ‘yeah’ and ‘nuh’ to saying a little bit more. The game’s helped me a lot and I can pass that on to kids and people I can help out.”
Vatuvei does provide one confusing answer during our chat in the warm Auckland sunshine, while coach Matthew Elliott conducts a media opportunity a few feet away. I ask, in light of the success of the NRL Nines, whether rugby league might soon overtake rugby union for popularity in the City Of Sails.
“I think after the nines and if it continues, it will be,” he says at first, before adding: “But rugby is always the dominant sport here, like AFL back in Australia (readers, your thoughts?). It will always be second to them but hopefully we can get the game out there and have more support.
“The nines were something perfect for Auckland. To have all these players come here, 16 teams, was just a high for everyone. We even performed on the field too … even though we only made it to the semis … everyone supported every team and it was a good event.
“It’s always rugby. It’s a good comp, the rugby sevens, and for us to come out on top was really good. We need it in Auckland and we need it for the game to build in New Zealand.”
The Warriors seemed to freeze in their Nines semi-final defeat to North Queensland. There has been a pattern during their 13-a-side seasons too, to give other teams a head start and then rally for the finals. Manu has some thoughts on why it happens, and why depth in the 2014 squad may prevent the trend continuing.
“It’s always different things each year,” he says.  “The main thing, normally, is injuries. Some guys – usually our main guys – get injured and it takes a toll on the team. But we’ve got a variety of guys now who, no matter what, can fit in the spot. We’re confident there.
“I think it’s how we start the season. We normally start slow and build away, make it hard for us to get there. Then we lose energy when it comes to (the finals). It’s something that I think we’ve got this season.
“I’ve got this year and next year (under contract). I’d definitely love to play my whole career here, I started when I was young in 2004 and it’s something I was just blessed.”
But The Beast is making no guarantees that at some stage, he won’t be part of that annual litany of the wounded.
“My fitness is not too bad,” he said. “I’ve got a few niggles I’ve got to get over again. It’s something I’ve got to look after and the coaching staff is doing their best to try and make sure I do everything I’ve got to do to get it right.
“I’ve always got my knee problems, that’s always been there. Every game, I play off my knees. It’s something I get used to. I know what I have to do to feel great before the game and what doesn’t work. I’ve just got to talk to the coaching staff about that and work my way through training every time.
“I’ll definitely have problems with my knee when I retire. In 10 years or a few years after my retirement, I’ll probably be on crutches or a wheelchair! Not serious about that … everything I’ve got now is little cartilage and stuff in my knee. Nothing too serious. I’ll pay for it in the long run but everything’s worth it and I’m enjoying my time in the game and my family’s having a better life.”
OK, time to hit up Manu about some newsy issues before we go. What about the investigation into Kiwis abusing sleeping pills at the World Cup? The answer here is short but telling. “I think it’s a good thing that they’re trying to crack down on it,” he said.
Russell Crowe reckons Sam Burgess may have stayed in the NRL if he could play Origin. Vatuvei was once filmed going ballistic watching his beloved Maroons beat the Blues on TV. Should foreigners be allowed to take part?
“If you were at the nines and saw how the crowd was, you should know how big (Orgin) would be (in Auckland),” he said. “It would be bigger than the nines. They would have a sell-out crowd every time if they play it over here.
“No, I think it’s fair. It’s for Aussies. It’s a game that they started and something that’s a tradition in Aussie. I’d love to play in it but I’m not too worried about trying to change the rules. We’re happy to support it and I’ll always be a Queensland supporter no matter what. Gorden Tallis was a player I loved to watch. I love his aggression.”
These are characteristics of Manu Vatuvei’s new favourite superhero. Maturity has prompted him to ditch the two-dimensional, almost emotionless, man in tights for  a character more nuanced and flawed, one who is “getting angry, and quiet at some stage” – just like himself.
“I was always into my cartoons,” he says. “Now, it’s The Hulk.”

The A-List: PAUL WELLENS (St Helens, England & Great Britain)


PAUL Wellens’ appointment as part of England coach Steve McNamara’s support staff for the World Cup may well have prompted some of his long-term St Helens team-mates to offer a wry smile.

“People always say ‘you’d love to be Australian, you would’,” the decorated 33-year-old tells A-List in a coffee room across the road from Saints’ training base, late in the Super League season.

“,,,because I’d always be knocking round with the Aussie fellas.

“What I always do – I’ve always taken it upon myself because I’m a local lad – is when Australians come over, try to make an effort to make them feel welcome.

“It was a lot easier for me when I was young and I didn’t have kids and I had a lot more time, going down the pub with them for a few beers was great. I’ve always liked to make that effort

“It’s not Sydney. It’s not. It’s not golden beaches but they come here and enjoy it for what it is. St Helens is what it is, a working class town, but the people here are great and very honest people who work hard. I think people like that.”

Wellens and McNamara, of course, will be attempting to make life as uncomfortable as possible in Europe this month and next for a certain group of visiting Australians. After reaching 450 games for his club and 46 Test caps, the fullback-cum-utility believes his best contribution these days can be with the aid of a clipboard.

A faultlessly polite and helpful interviewee, Wellens has seen it all in British rugby league. But once upon a time, he could have been looking over the equator in the other direction.

“There’s a time when I was 24, 25 when I was thinking ‘should I go play in Australia?’,” he says over a strong coffee.

“But at that time I was here playing with my best mates, who I’d played with for years – your Keirons, (Cunningham) your (Sean) Longys, Paul Sculthorpe … Jon Wilkin .. we were being successful, we were going to finals every year and I just didn’t want to pass all that up.”

What followed was a long period of success for Saints – which in recent years has tailed off alarmingly. Under new coach Nathan Brown, they were flogged 40-4 by his former club Huddersfield at the start of the 2013 season.

Brown and St Helens got their act together late in the year – to such an extent that they were knocked out by a point on the penultimate game of the season.

For those of you who follow the British game closely, Wellens’ comments on the competitive arc of his club over the past half-decade will appear especially stark.

“From my perspective, for four or five years now, they’ve been saying the club’s in transition. But in many ways, we’ve been kidding ourselves. We’ve really been treading water, more than anything.

“But with Nathan coming in, he’s really started what I feel has been a transition process. He’s altered the way we play, there’s been a positional change with Johnny (Lomax) playing halfback. “Year on year, we’ve lost big players. We’ve lost your Sean Longs, your Keiron Cunninghams, your James Grahams. People probably underestimated how big a loss that was. We’ve not had that stability there. For years, we’ve never been settled enough to make genuine progress.

“The exchange rate makes it hard to bring over those hardcore internationals. If you look at next year, we’ve done fantastically well to bring over Luke Walsh and Mose Masoe.”

But the World Cup is what we’re all worried about right now. We ask Wellens the furthest away from the world no.1 ranking Great Britain or England have been in his time, and when they’ve been closest.

No prizes for the answer to the first question. A scoreline of 64-10 doesn’t exactly indicate competitive parity.

“At the time, it was really exciting – we got to play in Australia and it was my first time in Australia,” he says of the one-off mid-season international in 2002.

“We flew in, didn’t have much time to settled, and at the end of the day we were just outplayed. I think it was probably a real dose of reality we needed over here in the competition.

“We were just falling further and further behind if we didn’t redress that in our ways of doing things, the gap was only going to get wider. In terms of it being …. It was obviously a terrible experience, losing by that many points with a lot of eyes on you.

“It was embarrassing. But in terms of what we learned from it, it might not have been a bad thing.”

Just two years later, in the 2004 Tri-Nations, Wellens thought Britain had cracked it.

“We actually finished top of the group that year,” he recalled. “We’d been beaten at the City Of Manchester Stadium 12-8 by a last-minute Luke Rooney try, but we were in my opinion the better team for an hour. We should have won that game.

“We beat the Kiwis twice and we beat the Australians at Wigan a few weeks later. We were going, then, into the Tri-Nations final soaring with our confidence – and then we got absolutely blow away by a Darren Lockyer-inspired performance. It was frustrating.”

One of England and Great Britain’s biggest problems throughout that time, Paul seems to believe, has been inconsistent selections.

“Selection’s always been something where … you want consistency,” he says.

“Keiron Cunningham, if he could have played a lot more for Great Britain alongside Sean Long … remember in the 2006 Tri-Nations when we beat the Aussies in Sydney? We’d had a fantastic year at St Helens that year and won everything. I was the one, Leon was the six, Sean was the seven, James Roby was the nine … I don’t think that was any co-incidence that the form team throughout the year had the spine of the national side. We won the game and the four of us never played together in that team again. For me it was frustrating. I thought: ‘we’ve just got to run with that now’.”

Ah, but whose fault was that? Long misbehaved on a trans-Tasman flight, was reprimanded by coach Brian Noble and promptly went home.

Wellens mulls this over. “Looking back, I’m sure both Sean and Brian would probably have regrets about the way the situation was handled. Maybe, maybe not. I don’t want to put words in their mouths but it was frustrating because Longy had shown a couple of weeks before in that win in Sydney that when he’s on his game, he’s good enough to boss the team around the field and win you a game.

“Probably, I think, it just wasn’t good that he ended up going home and if Longy is honest with himself he’d probably do some things a little different and the whole scenario wouldn’t have happened.”

Two years later – at the last World Cup – division between Leeds and Saints players in the England squad was purported to be the reason for a risible campaign. Wellens says that’s sort of true – and sort of not.

“I can understand where people were coming from because St Helens and Leeds had played in that many grand finals. They’ve won most of them,” he muses.

“On the field, we didn’t like each other.

“Now for me personally, I get on with all the Leeds players great and I know all the other lads did – personally, one-on-one. You are friends with them and you mix with them. But I think there was something about Saints and Leeds – not individual players not getting on but the rivalry … at the time … it should never have got in the way. I don’t think it really did.

“I just think we had too many players in key positions, myself included, who just didn’t perform well enough.

“I held my hands up after that because my performances weren’t good enough. It wasn’t through lack of effort. It just didn’t go well for me on the trip.”

Welens was five when Mal Meninga graced Knowsley Road. In all his time as a fan and player, the biggest controversy was the 2004 betting scandal. Long and centre Martin Gleeson backed against their team when a host of players was stood down for a game against Bradford.

Long and Gleeson were suspended for three and four months respectively, and fined.

“Quite a few of us knew we weren’t playing. I said to Longy, ‘are you playing’ and he said ‘not playing, not playing’ and obviously they decided to stick a few quid on it and have a bet. I’ll be honest, the thought crossed my mind, I thought ‘I could make a few quid here’ .

“I don’t know of any other players who had a bet but I’m quite certain there would have been quite a few people who made a quid off that game who perhaps never came out.

“That never came out but if I was a betting man …”