Age before beauty in Super League
Father figures, elder statesmen and iconic oldies are all the rage in this year's competition. Steve Menzies is the daddy of them all at 36 as a growing band of thirtysomethings hope to prove more influential than ever
Sunday 31 January 2010
At the launch of Super League XV this week, the RFL's chief executive, Nigel Wood, looked out at the 360-degree view of London from the Millbank Tower and declared that 2010 would be the year of the young player. Looked at from a different angle, it could equally be the year of the well-preserved veteran.
It is glittering prospects such as Sam Tomkins, Richie Myler and Kyle Eastmond who we have spent the winter looking forward to see, but it could be the growing legion of the 30-somethings who prove just as influential.
The surprising fact, in what is supposed to be a young man's game, is that there are more over-30s than ever. Bradford's Steve Menzies is the daddy of them all at 36 and, not surprisingly, he believes there is still an important role for the more mature player.
"It's not something I boast about, being the oldest player in Super League, but there's no doubt that more players are going on for longer," Menzies said. "Perhaps we take better care of ourselves and have a more professional approach to what we do." Some of that rubbed off on to the Bulls, even in a bad season, and their hopes for an improvement rest heavily on Menzies maintaining his form.
The two sides they are chasing both have a 33-year-old who was around for Super League I in 1996, but Leeds are in no hurry to pension off Keith Senior, because he is still the best around, and St Helens still look to Keiron Cunningham for inspiration.
The side perhaps best equipped to challenge the Big Two are also tapping into the wisdom of the ages. You would never have guessed during Adrian Morley's explosive formative years that he was destined to be a respected elder statesman, but the 32-year-old Warrington captain is just that. He picks out the substitute rule and the increasing application of sports science and better training techniques for players' longevity.
Other clubs who will rely on an iconic oldie include Hull, who have invested heavily in 33-year-old "wild child" Sean Long to transform their fortunes.
For enthusiastic shopping in the veterans' aisle, no one can match Wakefield. Their off-season recruitment has included three 30-somethings in Glenn Morrison, Terry Newton and Paul Johnson. Their new coach, John Kear, believes you cannot put a price on the expertise they represent.
Under new coach Michael Maguire, Wigan have brought in one fresh face, which belongs to a 30-year-old they could have signed 15 years ago. Then he was a local schoolboy; now Paul Deacon is, along with Long, the most experienced scrum-half in the game. He will be coaching as well as playing and Tomkins, a decade his junior, has already referred to him as "a father figure". Much will depend on how he and all the other father figures nurture their playing families during what promises to be a fascinating season.
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