Anthony Sullivan, one of Super League’s most prolific tryscorers, spoke to me in 2009 for Rugby League World’s ‘Blast From The Past’ series. A great bloke who you can follow on Twitter @antsull!
What are you up to at the moment?
I’m training for the latest Carnegie Challenge which consists of an 800-mile bike ride and a load of us crossing the channel in a dragon boat – a daunting prospect to say the least! Workwise, I’m looking to get involved in Rugby League again and I’m taking coaching badges at the moment.
What do you remember of your days as a Hull KR player?
I can’t believe it was over 20 years ago that I first played for them! I made my debut in 1987 in a game at Swinton – we won and I scored. It was very special to play for them and I’ve still got great friends there.
What do you remember of your dad’s career?
I regularly went to the home games – I was first taken when I was a few weeks old! I distinctly remember the 1980 final which was a phenomenal occasion for the city of Hull, especially Hull KR. I don’t remember the 1972 World Cup, only what I’ve seen on tape.
Did your his achievements in the game put you under even more pressure to perform?
There were probably increased expectations from other people but I wasn’t overly aware of it. But, to be honest, when I left it was because I wanted to make my mark on another club in my own way and not just be known as Clive Sullivan’s son. Saints were a shadow of their former selves when I joined but they were building a squad to challenge Wigan and, along with the history of the club, that made me want to join.
How did you settle in?
Not very well at first. I found it really difficult, I kept getting injured and when I came back I suffered some dips in form. I had very high expectations of myself, wanted to be part of a successful team and play for Great Britain but it wasn’t happening. I even got tonsillitis on the morning of the Premiership final when we beat Wigan 10-4 and had to pull out, which summed up my luck at the time.
Did you consider leaving?
It crossed my mind but I had a contract and I wasn’t one to walk away from something like that. I was determined to succeed.
What was the turning point?
For me it was probably Eric Hughes. I was putting myself under too much pressure and he alleviated some of that, for which I’m very grateful. As for the team, we became successful once the game switched to summer and there were probably a number of factors. Eric had been instrumental in putting together a successful youth policy which produced Keiron Cunningham and Shaun McRae came in as coach with a lot of new ideas.
How good was 1996?
It was a great year! People forget that we played a full season between August 1995 and January with a World Cup in there too and we only had a short break before Super League kicked off in March. It was hard work but it was very rewarding. We won the Cup at Wembley but the big one for me was winning the league. You have to be the best team to win the league, especially when it was first past the post, before they brought in grand finals.
You won many more trophies. Do you have a favourite final?
I am so lucky to have so many St Helens memories but I’ll go for the 2000 Grand Final. It was so special for me to play at Old Trafford because I’m a huge United fan and beating Wigan was great for the fans.
The game that took you to Old Trafford was a play-off win at Wigan when you scored a magnificent try on the stroke of half-time. Is that your favourite-ever try?
Probably but I’m not really one for reflecting on stuff like that.
How good was Paul Newlove?
He was a dream to play outside of. You’d find yourself with ball in hand with no-one in front of you so often and there were no hospital passes to contend with either! We had some great players back then and two of the best in my opinion were Keiron Cunningham and Chris Joynt.
What do you remember of Joynt’s famous play-off try against the Bulls?
He should have passed to me – that’s what I remember! I was completely unmarked on his inside… . I also remember patting him on the back and then getting absolutely swamped by everybody in the celebrations.
You were also coached by the hugely contrasting Ellery Hanley and Ian Millward.
It was great to play for Ellery because he was a legend. I played in the era when he was the biggest player. His preparation and approach to the game set him apart and they were things he didn’t get enough credit for. He brought those attributes to Saints and we benefited. Ian was a little different to Ellery to say the least, but I still learned a great deal from him. He changed the way we played, brought in new skills and enhanced what we already had.
Tell us about the two World Cups you played in.
They were both superb experiences. In 1995 we had so many well-known players in the squad and we did well in the semi-final against England, having beaten Western Samoa in a game that all Welsh fans remember. In 2000, we had a very different bunch of people but the spirit was still the same and credit goes to Clive Griffiths for that. He was a very underestimated coach. The semi-final against Australia was incredible and they really had to step it up in the second half to beat us.
Do you wish you’d played more for Great Britain?
Of course, but it wasn’t to be. I went on tours in 1996 and 1999 but I was also called up in 1990 when I was at Hull KR but injured my hamstring in an early training session.
How did your Rugby League career come to an end?
Part way through the year Saints told me they wouldn’t be renewing my career and I took it worse than I should have done. I spent a long time there and worked very hard and wanted another year. I didn’t have designs to play for another Rugby League club and there was nothing on the table when Cardiff [RUFC] came in for me. They had two wingers down so they had a spot for me. All good things come to an end!