Memories of his time at Bradford Bulls leave Australia legend Steve Menzies smiling

IT IS ten years since the legendary Steve ‘Beaver’ Menzies left Bradford Bulls but reminding him of names from the club’s squad during that era leaves him chuckling to himself.

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Glenn Morrison, Andy Lynch, Sam Burgess, of course. The late Terry Newton, Wagga (Wayne Godwin) and Paul Deacon. Steve McNamara had some quality in those ranks.

At the age of 35, the formidable and prolific Australia second-row Menzies had moved across the world to Odsal in 2009 after an entire and glorious career with his beloved Manly Sea Eagles.

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Any notion that he would ease into retirement were quickly quashed; the New South Wales State of Origin star thrived in Super League.

Having destroyed opponents with his trademark hits and also weighed in with 13 tries, it was no surprise he soon signed a one-year extension with Bulls.

Moreover, the Kangaroos icon, whose 180 tries in the Australian game is more than any other forward, then went on to spend three impressive seasons with Catalans Dragons before finally calling it a day aged 39 in 2013.

On those Bradford days, though, talking to The Yorkshire Post from his home in Manly in the first of a two-part series, Menzies admitted: “Hearing those names… Wagga, Sam, Dave Halley, Rikki Sheriffe, Elliott Whitehead, Scrutes (Nick Scruton).

“It is cool. There’s some really good guys there – great footballers – and I just smile when I’m saying these names. It’s literally making me smile!

“I suppose we didn’t have the success we wish we’d had over those couple of years.

“Sometimes memories are a direct correlation to success; how much enjoyment you got out of a year was how well you went.

“But it’s a sign of the players in a team when you want more success, it doesn’t happen yet you still have super-fond memories of there.

“I spent all my career at Manly but close friends knew they hadn’t offered me another deal and I didn’t want to play against them so I was happy going overseas as I still wanted to play.

PICTURE BY VAUGHN RIDLEY/SWPIX.COM...Rugby League - Super League - Dream Team 2011 - Old Trafford, Manchester, England - 12/09/11...The 2011 Super League Dream Team - (L-R) George Carmont, Kirk Yeaman, Joel Monaghan, Tom Briscoe, Sam Tomkins, Steve Menzies, Rangi Chase, James Graham, Ben Westwood, James Roby, Sean O'Loughlin and Garreth Carvell.

“It meant Bradford – and then Catalans – was another exciting chapter of my life.”

Admittedly, life at Odsal was a bit different to the Northern Beaches back in Sydney but he insisted: “It wasn’t all new. I’d toured with the Kangaroos in ’94 and ’95 – albeit a long time before – so I knew it could get a bit chilly and was a little wet sometimes.

“I even understood a bit of the accent! But the little subtleties of playing in England and playing there are my best memories – throwing the ball around, scoring more points and the crowds being really close, cheering and chanting. We have that here but it’s not like when you’re at Castleford, a metre and a half away from the sideline and they’re into you!”

Menzies, who won the 1996 and 2008 Grand Finals among his record 349 games for Manly, played alongside a young Burgess at Odsal and tried securing him a move to the Sea Eagles.

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“I was good mates with Sam at Bradford and we used to play a bit of golf,” he recalled. “He said he wanted to come to the NRL and I asked if he was serious as he was still young, only about 20. I asked if he’d told anyone and when he said ‘no’ I said to keep it that way.

“I called (Manly coach) Dessie (Hasler) and said he needed to do something and to get onto it. He tried but couldn’t sort it out and then Russell Crowe got wind.

“He was filming Robin Hood and told Sam to go hang with him on set. He wined and dined him and we had no chance. He was off to South Sydney. But I did try and get him for Manly!

“Sam was always world-class.

“You could tell that back then and part of me was glad he tested himself over here. He was one of the best players here as well. To have played with him when he was younger and see him blossom like he did was great.”

Menzies also lined up with a teenage Whitehead at Bulls, the Bradfordian who then followed him to Catalans and is now an England international who played as Canberra Raiders narrowly lost last year’s Grand Final t0 Sydney Roosters.

“Elliott was always a really, good quality, tough kid but he’s evolved into an amazing player,” he recalled. “I suppose that’s why I couldn’t be a scout! Whenever Canberra play at Manly they stay down the road at the Manly Pacific. I always try catch up with him and still speak with him. I texted him before the Grand Final and said good luck. He’s such a good kid and worked so hard I just wanted him to come away with a Premiership...”

Menzies, who played as Australia won the 1995 World Cup Final at Wembley, is now a full-time mortgage broker while also working as an ambassador for Manly.

The 46-year-old conceded at being surprised at how much the sport has changed in the last decade alone. He said: “Our 2008 Grand Final was on the other week and the speed of the game is different. The body shapes are different – bigger, faster, stronger.

“They are better now. We did a podcast on the ’96 Grand Final where we sat and commentated on it but we looked like we were in slow motion! I was screaming ‘get off the defensive line!’ You think anyone could play that but it was the best in the world at the time. That’s why it’s so hard to compare different eras as everything evolves.”

One thing, though, has not changed; Menzies still remains one of the sport’s greatest ever players – and you do not need to be a Bradford, Catalans or Manly fan to realise that.