It certainly takes a special kind of gifted player to make the transition between different formats of Rugby.
Whether it maybe, league, union or sevens, it takes a player of exceptional skill to even attempt each of the disciplines. Now, in honour of his 44th birthday, we look at the career of a player who has made his mark in each of these disciplines, Henry Rangi Paul…..
Over the many years of Super League now, we have seen some exceptional goal kickers grace the pitch. The likes of Kevin Sinfield, Sean Long, Lee Briers, Pat Richards have all made a mark with their phenomenal kicking ability. Now, Henry Paul is certainly one we could add to this that list.
Paul renowned for his excellent kicking ability would become a record breaker and a shining light of Rugby League in England between the years of 1994 and 2008, all the while transitioning between both codes in the process.
For Paul, his rugby league journey would begin in his native New Zealand, playing and excelling for the Te Atatu Roosters and the Auckland representative in the early 1990s, with whom he would represent alongside his younger brother Robbie.
From such a young age, it was easy to see what kind of a special talent Paul was, as he would go on to lead Rutherford High School, to break several Auckland Rugby League team and individual records during his time there back in 1990.
The following year would see the young prospect move to Fox Memorial side, Port Chevalier Pirates, where he continue to harness, and hone his skills as one of New Zealand’s top up and coming youngsters.
After making his return to the Te Atatu Roosters at senior level in 1992, an 18-year-old Paul would become a key player for the club, by being an integral part of the team that would reach the top heights of the Auckland Rugby League Finals, in the Fox Memorial Cup.
His exceptional performances would see him catch the attention of the Auckland representative side, where he would compete at under-19 level and become a crucial part of the team’s national tournament win in the same year.
This would only just be the beginning though, for not just one of New Zealand’s brightest rugby talents but the sport of rugby league’s as well. Following on from his profound success with the under-19 Auckland side, the young Kiwi would take his first taste of the international stage after being made Junior Kiwis captain for their tour of Great Britain in 1993. A richly talented under-19 Great Britain side, without an injured Andy Farrell, would find it just too hard to cope with Paul and his Junior Kiwis side. The young starlet would lead his side by example to memorable victories against his British counterparts, with the home side only able to record one victory.
Throughout the same tour, it would get better for an on-fire Paul as an injury ridden New Zealand side would make the decision to call up the 18-year-old. Even though he would only see four minutes of action, Paul would still make his senior test debut in a substitution appearance against France.
Those sparkling performances on the junior international stage would certainly get the scouts in England standing up and taking notice and in the off season of the 1993/1994 season, the Wakefield Trinity Wildcats would come calling for the young utility player. In 24 appearances for the club, Paul would go on to score seven tries and notching a total of 109 points for the club in a fairly impressive start to his career in England.
However, after only one season with the Wildcats, the still young Paul would move back to New Zealand to compete for Waitakere City Raiders, playing only five games in the Lion Red Cup. Even though a deal would fail to materialise that would see him play for the newly entered Australian Rugby League side, the Auckland Warriors, it would not be long before the temptations of Rugby League in England would come calling again. Before the start of the 1994/1995 season, the reigning champions, Wigan Warriors would eventually sign the New Zealander beginning a new and illustrious chapter in Henry Paul’s career that would see him vastly become one of Rugby League’s most elite players.
Between the years of 1994 and 1998, Paul would quickly establish himself in the Warriors set up and in his first two seasons with the Lancashire side he would score 23 tries along with notching over 240 points in the process. The year of 1996 came with the creation of the Super League and the increasingly improving Paul would enjoy one his best season to date after being chosen for Super League Dream Team in its first year following some exceptional performances which saw him score 24 tries along with accumulating 130 points. The feat becoming even more impressive by the fact it was only his second season at the club.
After five years and 147 appearances with the Warriors, Paul’s trophy cabinet would start to get busier, winning the Regal Trophy in first two seasons, the last of which saw him score two tries and kick four conversions in the win against St. Helens. After the formation of the Super League, Paul would go on to win three Premiership titles as well as a Challenge Cup win in 1994/95, along with winning his first Super League title in his final season with the club after victory against Leeds in 1998.
After four of his most successful years as a rugby League professional, Paul would eventually link up in the halves with his younger brother, Robbie at the Bradford Bulls. Here, Paul would enjoy some of the most illustrious moments of his Rugby League career whilst playing at the club. Between 1999-2001, Paul would add to his growing collection of silverware with another Challenge Cup win in 2000, winning the Lance Todd trophy in the process along with a Super League grand final victory over former club Wigan in 2001.
Throughout his time at the West Yorkshire club, his formidable kicking game would be on full display as in three years with the club, he would continue to break kicking records not just for the Bulls but for the Super League also.
During the 2000 Super League season, Paul would break the record for most goals kicked in a single game with 14 in the 96-16 demolition of Salford.
The biggest home win in Super League history to this day. Those 32 points in the game would see him secure the record for most points by Bradford Bulls player in a single game as well.
It was easy to see that Paul was fast becoming known for his renowned kicking ability, an ability that would see him kick 168 goals during a truly fantastic season in 2001 at the Bradford Bulls. By 2001, he would also hold the world record at the time for most consecutive goals kicked with 35.
The impact Paul would have in such a short amount of time with the Bulls would without a doubt make his achievements stand out all the more, with only the record for most consecutive goals kicked the only one not still standing.
By the end of his Bulls career, Paul would make 100 appearances for the club to go alongside a total of 33 tries. However, his 967 points at the club in three years would certainly stand out the most and at the time would put him as the Bulls’ all-time record points scorer. His 2000 and 2001 seasons, were arguably his most impressive performances as a player, with his points tally in both seasons being the two most by a Bulls player still to this present day, making 404 and 457 points retrospectively.
During the 2001 off-season, Paul would decide to make the switch from the Bulls to Union spending five years playing for the likes of Gloucester and Leeds Carnegie before returning for his Rugby League swansong by joining the Harlequins RL in 2006.
Although, he did not achieve the same success he did at Wigan and Bradford, he would still go on to make another 66 appearances, acquiring a total of 240 points in three seasons with the club, bringing his tally in English rugby league to 1,880 points.
Not only, would Paul set himself on the domestic stage but at international level also. After making his debut at the age of 18 for New Zealand in 1993, the former New Zealand international would go on to play 24 times for the Kiwis, while racking up five tries and 21 points in the process.
Henry Rangi Paul would most certainly establish himself throughout his career as a skilful and versatile player who was seemingly a jack of all trades, playing in several different positions from Stand Off to Fullback.
As mentioned before it certainly takes a truly gifted and special player to cross the Rugby divide but a special talent is what Paul would become.
By the end of his Rugby League career the halfback would accumulate quite a substantial resume, with two Super League winners’ medals alongside two Challenge Cup wins (a Lance Todd trophy to go with one), two Regal Trophy wins and three Premiership titles.
Although he would never reach the same heights in Union as he did in League, his skilful and versatile play, alongside his many achievements on the Rugby pitch would allow him to establish himself not only as one of the finest to ever grace the Super League but also that of the sport of Rugby League.