A few weeks ago the admirable Men of League Foundation honoured 21 retiring champions. With the season almost over, I wanted to pay my own small tribute to these players.
One of the things that became apparent while writing this piece was that we are not only seeing the retirement of some genuinely great players who have contributed significantly to their clubs and to the game.
Most of these guys are also real gentlemen in the true sense of the word.
It’s understandable (although regrettable) that the media focuses on poor behaviour by a few.
These champs demonstrate that great players are often also great people.
Steve “Beaver” Menzies
Steve Menzies has recently retired after spending the last three years playing for the Catalans Dragons.
He was a real warrior of the game, a great club-man, a true leader and an exceptionally decent and honourable individual.
Beaver played a total of 477 first grade matches, which is a phenomenal achievement in itself. He left his mark wherever he played and we can only hope that some of his class rubbed off on the younger players he played alongside.
One of my all-time favourite memories from over 25 years of watching rugby league was seeing Beaver score a much-deserved try in the dying minutes of the 2008 grand final.
What a great moment!
Roy was arguably the best prop in the world when he joined South Sydney in 2007 – the club’s first big name recruit after Russell Crowe and Peter Homes a Court took over the beleaguered club.
In that time the Rabbitohs have finished seventh, 14th, 10th, ninth, 10th and third last year, so it hasn’t been an easy ride for the Kiwi forward. For much of his stint, it must have seemed that he was battling tirelessly for little reward.
It seemed to affect his motivation and performances at times, but this year I have seen Roy play with a new spring in his step. It’s great to see.
Like Beaver, Roy is one of the gentle giants of the game – quiet and unassuming, but an inspiration for those around him.
He heads to the Warrington Wolves in the Super League for the next two seasons. I wish him the best of luck.
Scotty Prince is in some ways the Daniel Kowalski of Queensland halfbacks.
A tremendous talent in his own right, he had the misfortune of playing in an era where the Maroons had one of the all-time greats in Allan Langer at half, followed by another all-time great in Johnathan Thurston.
Despite this, Prince played five matches for Queensland and four for Australia. It’s been a few years since Prince was at his best, but like others on this list he is a tremendous competitor who never gives up.
Watching his last match for Brisbane against the Dogs a few weeks ago, there was a moment that highlighted why he had such a stellar career over 15 seasons.
About 15 minutes into the match, the Bulldogs created an overlap and seemed certain to score when Prince pushed the much larger Canterbury winger Mitch Brown into touch with a great ball-and-all tackle.
That’s just the way he played – a great competitor to the very end.
My number one Scott Prince moment was watching him lead the Wests Tigers to their first premiership in 2005, winning the Clive Churchill Medal on the way.
Finchy hasn’t been the best halfback going around, but he is a hard worker and reminds me of the nuggetty, tough halves of the 1980s such as Craig “Tugger” Coleman.
Well liked off the field and respected on it, Finch played at four NRL clubs – Canberra, Parra, the Roosters and the Storm, plus a two-year stint at Wigan.
He had the misfortune of losing consecutive grand finals with the Roosters in 2003 and 2004, then having a third taken away for salary cap breaches while at the Storm.
My favourite Brett Finch moment? It has to be potting the winning field goal in the opening match of the 2006 State of Origin series.
Joe Guluvao is a true journeyman of rugby league, having played at five NRL clubs since he made his first grade debut in 1996.
And he’s a journeyman in more ways than one, having revealed a couple of years ago that he travelled 16 hours per week on public transport between his home in St Marys and training at Narabeen.
That’s what I call commitment, but it’s to be expected from someone who has played 17-odd years of first grade – it’s obvious he simply loves playing rugby league.
Sadly, Joe was ruled out for the season back in April with a ruptured Achilles.
Yet again, he’s a quiet and unassuming player who stays out of the headlines. He was a true champion who never gave up and who demonstrated that hard work and commitment can pay off.
Fortunately, Joe was honoured with a Premierships each with Penrith and Manly.
Many don’t realise that Matty King was almost lost to the game in 2002 when he “retired” from footy at the ripe old age of 22.
The catalyst was a serious injury suffered while playing reserve grade for Cronulla, as well as a claimed lack of interest and motivation.
Fortunately, he made his return to NRL (sporting a Sideshow Bob hairdo) the following year with the Melbourne Storm.
During that stint he represented the Blues in nine Origin matches, before heading to the UK and Super League team, Warrington.
My favourite memories of Mattie were watching him use his considerable size to terrorise the Maroons. At that time he was one of the most formidable wingers in the competition, and many thought his move to the UK was premature.
Like many of the other retiring players on this list, Matt King is well respected and liked by other players.
Quietly spoken and always with a smile on his face, he’s made a significant contribution to the Rabbitohs over the last two years, despite limited time on the field.
Matty Bowen is one of the rare members of this group to have played his entire career at the one club.
Bowen played ten State of Origin matches, which is an achievement in itself given that he played in an era of mighty Queensland fullbacks, including Darren Lockyer (in 2003), Rhys Wesser, Karmichael Hunt, Billy Slater and Clinton Schifcofske.
I think everyone must have a favourite Matty Bowen moment. Here is mine…
Which retiring player will you miss seeing play the most?