‘My Life in Rugby League’ for League Express with Nathan McAvoy, who is now retired from the game. The interview took place in 2007.
When did you first play Rugby League?
I went to school in Salford with Adrian Morley and all the lads there went to play for Eccles amateur club. I was ten or 11 and my parents were reluctant to let me play but I talked them round. Adrian and I were pretty similar back then – tall, skinny, quick and we both played in the centres. He was a great player then, tackling hard as he still does but his disciplinary record was better than it is now! He’s a great bloke and we’re still good mates.
How did you end up playing professionally for Salford?
I was pretty naive back then, not realising that I could play professionally. I just played for the enjoyment but 11 or 12 pro clubs came in for me and I didn’t really know what to think because I hadn’t considered a career in sport. I’d played for BARLA and at schoolboy representative levels. Salford was the nearest club that were interested so mum was pleased I chose them. To be able to play rugby and make money was the best thing ever.
Do you remember your debut?
I remember coming off the bench in a game against Featherstone Rovers. That could have been my home debut, not my actual debut. I came on in the centres quite early and we were losing by four points near the end. Scott Mahon passed me the ball outwide, I went down the wing, stepped inside a couple of defenders and dived in the corner for a try. My friends were all in that corner and went beserk so obviously that was a pretty memorable moment.
1996 was a great year for you. Salford knocked Wigan out of the Challenge Cup, you played for England, Great Britain Academy and then Great Britain.
All I remember about the Wigan cup tie was Scott Naylor’s try under the posts. Obviously it was an amazing win but that’s all that sticks out for me. I played against Wales in the European Championship decider in the summer of ’96, playing in the centres. As for the GB Academy tour, I had a great time and scored in all three Tests against the Junior Kiwis who had guys like Lesley Vainikolo, Monty Betham, Matt Rua and David Kidwell in their side but there was some discussion in the media as to whether I should have been on the senior GB tour from the off. We lost all three Tests although two were very close and I was the captain which was a real honour. Eventually I got into the main Great Britain side for a tour game against the Maoris which was great for a 19-year-old. Adrian was on that tour too and made a real name for himself.
You also won promotion in 1996 and competed very well in the 1997 Super League. What was it like to play for Andy Gregory?
Yes, we finished mid-table. We did the double over Wigan and I remember making 37 tackles at Central Park. Beating them there was a real buzz. It was great to play under Andy and he was making a real name for himself back then but unfortunately he had problems away from the game and it affected him. He was a real character though and we all loved him and we all wanted to play for him.
What were your reasons for moving to Bradford in 1998?
I’d been at Salford for quite a few years and the chance to move to a team like Bradford was too good to turn down. They’d won the league in 1997 so why would I not go? I signed mid-season and Scott also came over from Salford in 1999, which was the year that things began to click at Odsal. 1998 had been disappointing but in 1999 we won the Minor Premiership and laid the foundations for the success over the following years.
In 2000 you scored a wonderful Challenge Cup final try. Do you remember it well?
I remember thinking the game couldn’t possibly go ahead because Murrayfield was flooded a few days before the game. When we got there, it was fine and the pitch was in good condition. The game wasn’t the best but we always knew we would beat Leeds. As for my try, I had some space in front of me and I slowed down because I saw Iestyn coming. I looked to my left and saw a teammate but he was marked. In the end, I looked at the posts, chipped ahead, it wasn’t the best of contacts but I regathered and scored. Last Sunday, when we had our Centenary celebrations at the Bulls they showed it on the screen and I got a big cheer from the crowd! I’ve reminded Iestyn about it a few times too.
What were the highlights of your remaining time at Odsal?
The trophies obviously. I was on the bench for one Grand Final and didn’t get on but it was still great to be there and experience it all especially as I’m a big Manchester United supporter. Away from the playing side, I met a lot of great people there and it was good to experience the club at that time.
Why did you move to Saracens?
I discussed it with my family and my agent and just thought I should give it a go. It was exciting to move to London and it was also exciting to fly out to New Zealand straightaway for a Sevens tournament even though my daughter was only a week old. Injury affected my union career though and we moved back to Salford after a year or so which was better for my wife to be nearer the family as we had one child and another on the way.
You moved to Leeds Rhinos after that. What happened there?
I wasn’t really enjoying my second spell at Salford and I think everyone could see that. My contract came up and Brian McDermott who was assistant coach at Leeds rang me up and asked what I was doing next year. I said it depends on why you’re asking me and he told me that Tony Smith wanted to speak to me. Looking at the squad it was always going to be difficult to get into the side but Tony said to give it a few months and if I wasn’t getting in the team, he’d let me go. That’s what happened in the end and I headed off to Wigan.
And straight into a relegation battle…
Yes, Brian Noble hadn’t been there long and was looking for some new players. For as much as the season looked disastrous at one point we ended up in great form and the club probably emerged from it pretty well. The crowds were huge because of all the media spotlight and in the end, had it not been for the points deduction and a couple of late losses I think we would have got into the play-offs and maybe won the competition. We lost two very close games at Warrington and Harlequins but otherwise we were in great from mid-June onwards picking up some great wins.
You went back to the Bulls this year. Has it been a good year?
Yes, I’ve played a lot of rugby – more than I expected so it’s worked out well for me. I’ve only missed a couple of games.
What about the future?
I’m not too sure what the future holds for me at the moment. I’ve got the play-offs in one half of my brain and what’s going to happen next year in the other half. I want to keep playing because I’m playing some good rugby at the moment and I feel that I’ve got plenty to offer in the Super League. I’m coming to the twilight of my career but I think I can do two more seasons in Super League.