Adam MacDougall might have turned back the clock with his brilliant two-try performance against Canberra on Sunday, but former Queensland and Australian prop Steve Price believes the evidence is mounting that 36 is the new 30.
Impressed by the evergreen MacDougall, who could finish his illustrious career as high as 13th on the list of all-time oldest players when he finally calls it quits later this year, Price said he expected more and more players to push on into their mid-30s as training and recovery techniques continued to be refined.
And he’s not alone, with Brisbane-bound veteran Petero Civoniceva telling NRL.com he is sick and tired of the ongoing questions about his retirement. Civoniceva has signed a one-year deal to return to the Broncos in 2012 at the age of 35 (he will turn 36 in April) but has refused to rule out continuing on beyond next season should form and fitness allow.
“I think the days of people saying ‘oh he’s 31’ or ‘he’s 33’ – those days are over and they should be over too,” said Price, who was 36 when injury forced him into retirement 12 months ago.
“It’s the same as having a really young guy. If he is good enough to be there, he should be there. There is no use waiting another two years.
“I think we’ll get more players playing until they’re a little bit older now. It used to be around 32 or 33 that players would call it quits but it’s not unusual to see players reaching 35 and 36 these days.”
Price pointed to MacDougall, Civoniceva and departing Australian captain Darren Lockyer, who will break the all-time record for first grade games this week, as evidence that elite players should be wary of retiring too early.
Others still with plenty of sprite about their play include Dragons centre Matt Cooper who will be nudging 35 when his new two-year contract expires, 32-year-old Sharks centre Colin Best, his 31-year-old team-mate Jeremy Smith, rising 32-year-old warhorses Nathan Hindmarsh (Parramatta) and Todd Payten (Wests Tigers), and Roosters prop Jason Ryles who will be 33 when the 2012 season kicks off.
“You look at ‘Doogs’ and he has had some injuries but when he does play he is still very good,” Price said. “You look at Petero and Locky – they’re still playing brilliant footy,” he said.
“Obviously you’ve got to be playing good footy to be picked in the first place but if you are, where’s the problem? I know you’ve got to plan for the future but you’re not going to let an Allan Langer go just because he is 30. And if he is still playing like that at 35, so be it.”
However, Civoniceva said changing the perception that turning 30 inevitably signalled the beginning of the end could take some time after staving off questions about his own future since first joining Penrith in 2008.
Incredibly, he hasn’t ruled out pushing on towards 40 – a mark only ever reached by one player when North Sydney’s Billy Wilson farewelled rugby league at the age of 40 years and five days back in 1967.
“For me, I’m pretty tired of it now,” Civoniceva said of speculation about his longevity in the game. “Every time I front the media it seems to be a question that is asked and I’d rather people just let me play football and not worry about the retirement issue. That’s something I’ll address in my own time but for the moment, if I’m playing well enough that should be the focus rather than when I’m finishing up.
“I don’t think there should be an age to retire. It is definitely up the individual and knowing physically and mentally where they are in the game at the moment.
“I guess there is the theory that once you hit 30 you’re getting close to retirement age but I don’t know about that. I’ve never, ever had any perceived idea of what age I would plan to retire – my focus has always been on playing the best football possible while still contracted.”
Asked if he believed more players would follow in his footsteps, Civoniceva said: “You definitely have guys that succumb to injury quite frequently and the career is limited because of that, so it takes a bit of luck, but the benefit for the players now is the focus that we have on rehabilitation and the knowledge of individual strength and conditioning coaches at each club.
“They can cater to individual players’ needs and that might help too. It’s a balance I guess because it’s such a tough and fast game being played.”
Rugby League’s Oldest Players
Player Club Year Age
Billy Wilson North Sydney 1967 40 years and 5 days
Tedda Courtney Western Suburbs 1924 39 and 311 days
Roy Kirkaldy Canterbury 1948 38 years and 149 days
Henry Porter Canterbury 1948 38 years and 28 days
Sandy Pearce Eastern Suburbs 1921 38 years and 25 days
Robert Craig Balmain 1919 37 years and 364 days
Cliff Lyons Manly 1999 37 years and 313 days
Ken Kearney St George 1961 37 years and 59 days
Les Davidson Cronulla 1998 36 and 304 days
Darren Smith Brisbane 2005 36 and 284 days
Des Hasler Wests 1997 36 and 196 days
Vic Hey Parramatta 1949 36 and 170 days
Ron Willey Parramatta 1964 36 and 137 days
Jack Rayner Souths 1957 36 and 93 days
Adam MacDougall Newcastle 2011 36 and 91 days