You only have to watch rugby league for a short time to recognise the value of the experienced player.
A player who has seen it all, played in some high pressure, high profile games against some of the best opponents around – can be a valuable asset to any team. And Super League currently boasts some of the best seasoned pros the game has to offer.
One such player is Pat Richards at Wigan. Now in his 11th top-flight season, the 28 year old former Paramatta Eels and Wests Tigers player is currently enjoying one of his most productive seasons to date.
After just 11 games, Richards has crossed for 15 tries (and kicked 53 goals), putting him well on his way to surpass his previous best try scoring tally of 20 (which came in 2005 while at Wests). He currently tops both the Super League try scoring and goal scoring charts for this campaign, and is a great example of a player who continues to improve with age.
Keith Senior at Leeds is another veteran enjoying a productive Super League season. Unlike Richards, Senior’s performances haven’t resulted in a personal points haul, but the 33 year old is attracting praise for his unselfish play and all-round effort for his team.
Last season, Senior’s partnership with winger Ryan Hall proved to be the most prolific in Super League, and despite a poor start by the Rhinos this term, Senior can already boast 25 offloads (the most by any centre in SL) and some strong running, which combined with his trademark solid defending, earned him the man-of-the-match award in yesterday’s triumph over Hull.
Of course the downside of the seasoned pro is his proneness to injury, as Hull have found out to their cost, with the addition of 33 year old Sean Long this season. The dreadlocked scrum half is currently nursing an ankle injury, which he suffered on Easter Monday, and which kept him out of his side’s second lost game within a week – although thankfully the ankle appears not to be broken, as first feared. Long had already missed three of the black and white’s previous 10 games of the season through injury. Hull are also currently without another veteran, in the guise of the influential Craig Fitzgibbon, who missed the Leeds game with a shoulder problem.
And a rising injury toll – attributed in part to bigger impacts in the tackle – could soon spell an end to the 14 or 15 year careers enjoyed by some of the game’s current veterans. It is widely believed that the force of the collision in rugby league’s premier competitions, is greater now than ever, meaning that the body is subjected to increased G-forces that it has to try to absorb. As the body gets older, it is less able to cope with such constant punishment, and injuries ensue, which take longer and longer to recover from.
Some players though (for the time being at least) are still defying the odds and playing well into their 30s. The Daddy of them all has to be Bradford’s Steve Menzies. At 36, he’s the oldest player in Super League, and is still making a telling contribution to the Bulls. On Saturday, Menzies scored one try and hand a hand in at least three others, to help Bradford to an impressive 36-14 away win against the Catalan Dragons. He is also one of the most versatile forwards around; playing in the centres and at loose forward for Bradford this season, as well as his usual second row position.
And the veteran of five NRL Grand Finals recently quashed speculation about his impending retirement, saying “At the start of the year I was pretty sure this would be my last year, but things may now change. I feel really good at the moment and I’m really enjoying it. So we’ll see how the next few months go and see what happens. You never know.”