When you look at the game of rugby league, we usually tend to think of a prolific try scorer maybe as someone who dances about on the wing or even a creative ball playing halfback. What we do not really tend to think of is that hard-hitting, tough and brave nature of the forward positions as consistent try scorers. However, the Manly legend was one who broke that mould, becoming the most prolific try scoring forward in Australian rugby league history. As the ‘Beaver’ celebrates his birthday we focus in on the career of the headgear wearing maestro….
Residing from Manly, New South Wales, rugby league had always been built in Menzies DNA right from the start as his grandfather, Mackie Campbell was pioneer of Manly rugby league after playing in the NSW side’s first ever game in 1947.
At the young age of 19, the ‘Beaver’ made his first-grade debut for hometown club Manly during the 1993 NSWRL season. Despite only appearing on six occasions that season, the headgear wearing menace showed a maturity beyond his youthful years and by the end of the 1994 season had burst incredibly onto the rugby league scene. The second-rower’s 16 tries combined with his uncharacteristic pace and undeniable ability on the flank showed he was more than just that an average forward with good strength and defensive timing.
That breakout season earned him spot on the Kangaroos tour of Great Britain in 1994, putting forth a great display in the minor matches scoring 9 tries in 11 appearances. However, by the time the 1995 World Cup came along, the stage was set for Menzies to make his mark well and truly on the international stage and the world of rugby league. Despite not having the best start to the tournament with a 20-16 loss to England, Australia came out all guns blazing with 86-6 and 66-0 thrashings of South Africa and Fiji retrospectively. A 30-20 over New Zealand in the semi-finals would follow before rounding out a more than convincing tournament with a win 16-8 over England in the final. As mentioned before, the tournament provided that perfect platform for Menzies to make a name for himself and how he would. The then 21-year-old making sure the fans in England remembered the name, becoming the tournaments top try scorer with six and once more displaying he was more than just an astute defender but a man for opposing defences to constantly fear.
Throughout the mid-90s the foundations and structure continued to expand within Australian rugby league, with the formation of the ARL, the introduction of new teams, the Super League war and later the beginnings of the modern-day game of Australian rugby league with the start of the NRL. However, despite troubling and controversial times, it did nothing to steamroll an already prolific and accomplished career. Both the 1994 and 1995 seasons saw the unorthodox second rower claim Dally M honours as the best second rower in Australian rugby league before repeating the feat once again in 1998. If we look back through that period, his try-scoring feats quickly reflected upon the team’s performance and their morale as a dominant Manly side played some of the most entertaining rugby in the world and made three consecutive grand final appearances between 1995 and 1997.
To put into context how prolific Menzies was at the start of his career, looking back to his debut in 1993 and up to the end of the 1997 ARL (the last before the start of the NRL), he had scored 71 tries in 97 appearances all before the age of 25.
The turn of the millennium brought with it a rationalisation within the NRL as the Manly merged with the North Sydney Bears to form the Northern Eagles. The venture would run between 2000 and 2002 but proved unsuccessful in its nature as the side finished 12th, 10th and 9th in its three-season span. Even with the clubs poor run, Menzies was still a class above the rest as he made 69 appearances for the side on top of scoring 29 tries.
By 2004, Menzies had surpassed Frank Burge’s record of ‘most tries scored by a forward’, with his 147th try coming against St. George Illawarra Dragons. An incredible 15-year stint with Manly coming to the end after the 2008 NRL season, providing one true swansong for a rugby league great as for the first time since 1996 the Sea Eagles claimed Premiership honours.
Menzies had re-wrote the rules on what it was to be a back-rower with an unfathomable 180 tries from his position. That number not only the most by a forward in Australian rugby league but third all-time and only placing him behind Ken Irvine and Billy Slater. A dominant Manly side of the 90s and early 00s going onto to reach the premier final on five different occasions and despite only winning two (1996 and 2008), Menzies’ Manly legacy was already cemented making 349 appearances alongside those 180 tries. It was not just at club level though, featuring regularly for both Australia and New South Wales and becoming a more than consistent performer at each level.
For many players as the years go on, the dynamism and instinct that was once there usually starts to fade but for the Beaver, no chance. Throughout his time at both Bradford Bulls and Catalan Dragons between 2009 and 2013, the workhorse like nature never seemed to diminish and was always one of the hardest workers on the pitch. The frequency of tries seemed to lower towards the end of his Manly career, but a new scene breathed more life into the veteran as he consistently scored tries for both teams right up until his retirement in 2013.
There was more to the Menzies game though than just an outstanding try-scoring record as he continually showed his impeccable timing and prowess as a defender. The former Australian international was certainly a unique player in his time, breaking the mould for back-rowers and proving than it was possible for a forward to be more than just a great visceral defender and bulldozing runner. It was even so much so that his great work defensively was overlooked as he became a more recognised try-scorer. A player that will never be forgotten and one of the rarest rugby league talents to grace the pitch.
Happy Birthday Steve Menzies!
Milestones and accomplishments
PREMIERSHIPS: 1996, 2008
KANGAROO TOUR: 1994
WORLD CUP: 1995
DALLY M SECOND-ROWER OF THE YEAR: 1994, 1995, 1998DALLY M LOCK OF THE YEAR: 2002