THE realisation that his fine career will soon be over is not lost on Leon Pryce, which is why Hull FC’s former Great Britain star is striving to gain maximum enjoyment from the forthcoming campaign.
The rangy stand-off will turn 35 the day after the Super League season reaches its climax at Old Trafford on October 8.
He remains the youngest Grand Finalist in history, having celebrated his 18th birthday on the night of the 1999 showpiece when home-city Bradford Bulls lost out to St Helens, one of the clubs he would later grace.
Hull fans dream of returning to Old Trafford, having only been once before in 2006 when, ironically, their current No 6 helped steer Saints to glory and his fourth title after three earlier successes with Bradford.
Pryce, who joined the East Yorkshire club on a two-year deal from Catalans Dragons ahead of last season, knows better than to talk up their chances too much with the new campaign less than a fortnight away.
Lee Radford’s side finished eighth last term, way off the pace, and as they prepare to tackle derby rivals Hull KR in tomorrow’s friendly at the KC Stadium, Pryce accepts it was not good enough.
It was particularly painful for the player who injured his shoulder in the win at Rovers in July that secured their Super 8s place and then missed their next six games following surgery.
Hull won just one of those –their hopes of reaching the top four were almost gone before the Super 8s even begun – and, though Pryce made it back for the penultimate fixture against Huddersfield Giants, he accepts that was a mistake.
“It was pretty frustrating and a pretty dull end to the season especially for Hull FC,” he said.
“We did okay and finished eighth but I think it was probably looked at as a disappointment.
“For myself, it was a season of ups and downs and, overall, it wasn’t very enjoyable so I am looking forward to getting back out there.
“I played well earlier on last year, but then probably slowed down towards the back end and then got the injury.
“That was me done really. I shouldn’t have played in that last game against Huddersfield; I was nowhere near match-fit.
“But I’ve had a good, tough pre-season and this year as a team we’ve got 12 months more experience under our belt and there’s another year of experience for Radders, too, who’s an inexperienced Super League head coach so he’ll be a lot better off for it as well. Hopefully, we’re in better stead.”
On that inevitable talk about when he will hang up his boots – there are rumours he will finish where it all started at Bradford, even if they remain a Championship side in 2017 – Pryce concedes it is something he has thought about.
“It is always on your mind,” added the player, who reached the milestone of 400 Super League games and 200 career tries last term.
“I’ve got a couple of years left in me yet. My body still says ‘yes’ and we’ll see how this season goes and go from there.
“Bradford? Maybe so. We’ll see what happens and I’ve got to get my body through the season first.
“Obviously I’m 35 this year so I’m not getting any younger and I’ve got to try to make sure I stay as sharp as possible.”
Hull have used football manager Motu Tony’s Kiwi links to recruit heavily from the Australian NRL this time with the likes of New Zealand forwards Frank Pritchard and Sika Manu arriving at the KC Stadium.
From closer to home, former Hull KR prop Scott Taylor, who won the Super League and Challenge Cup double with Wigan Warriors in 2013, has joined up with Danny Washbrook, who played in that 2006 Grand Final for Hull, returning after four years at Wakefield, and all are set to feature tomorrow.
Pryce, who scored six tries in 25 appearances last season, admitted: “I think the signings we’ve made should mean we’re good enough to compete right up there.
“But probably this year is more about actions than words; it’s no good predicting things and then not performing as then we’d just look stupid, but, yes, as a team, we’re excited by what it brings and, hopefully, we’ll have a good season.”
Much will depend on whether his partnership with Marc Sneyd, the mercurial half-back who dazzled for Castleford in 2014, develops further, but there is undoubtedly promise there as the countdown begins to their opener against Salford Red Devils on Friday week.
Ahead of tomorrow’s game, Rovers’ head coach Chris Chester had contended the derby was losing some of its magic given the number of times the fierce rivals now play each other.
In response, Radford, who hails from East Hull but played most of his professional career with FC before joining their coaching staff, said: “I think it’s a real Catch 22.
“If you’re a spectator you’re probably saying it’s too many; there’s a chance you could play them in the (Super) Eights and the Cup as well as the three during the year and the one in pre-season.
“But, preparing for Salford, it guarantees you an intense, physical game and you know they are going to come here and aim up this weekend. In terms of what we’re going to get out of the game, it ticks all the boxes.”