Most people wouldn’t really have a tough time deciding between western Sydney and the south of France.
And that’s not a reflection on western Sydney, one of the cultural hubs of the world. Rather, the image of sunning yourself in the idyllic surrounds of Perpignan with exciting European adventures a simple trip away is something that would appeal to even the most reluctant of travellers.
Casey McGuire did it all in his four years playing for Les Catalans Dragons in the English Super League but when Parramatta came calling, the decision to take up residence in Sydney was an easy one.
“Once I signed my second contract over there, we were really enjoying it and by my fourth year in France I thought I would retire over there,” McGuire tells Big League. “But I got the opportunity to come home and have one more year at Parramatta, and I’m trying to really make the most of it. I’m really enjoying getting back into life in Australia, I’ve got my family here with two young sons and it’s good to be home.”
Still, the time overseas was something he’ll never forget. After debuting more than 10 years ago for the Eels before moving to Brisbane, where he won a premiership in 2006, he packed up and decided to test the waters in France, where rugby league is still growing, as a fairly new sport.
“We really loved our time in France. We had our kids over there and just really enjoyed the lifestyle. It was really laid-back and it was easy to visit the other countries, they were so close,” McGuire says.
“We really enjoyed travelling and living in France. It was a bit of a culture shock at first, simple things like trying to get your telephone on was really hard when we got there. But after the first 12 months it got a little bit easier. We leart a little bit of French, just enough to get around the town… probably not as much as we could have in four years! We did a few big trips as well, we went to Turkey and Morocco and Portugal, all those countries that are pretty close and it was just a great time.”
McGuire’s first stint at the Eels was ironically at a time when a few future club greats were also making their debuts. McGuire played his first game in first grade in 1998 and only played one further game before finding himself at the Broncos in 2001. The late ’90s also produced Nathan Hindmarsh and Luke Burt, who were some familiar faces when McGuire took the field in the 2011 pre-season.
“It was good to have a few familiar faces here when I got back, Nathan Hindmarsh and Luke Burt, we all started around the same time here, and Eric Grothe Jnr was here when I debuted as well,” says the 31-year-old.
“There are still a lot of the same people around the club; they’re a pretty good club like that, it’s very family oriented, they’ve been really good to my wife and my kids in that respect, there’s a lot of activities organised for them. I remember it being a really good family club when I was here and I was a bit younger, so that hasn’t changed much.
“When I first started here, it was a big shock to the system coming from the Sunshine Coast. It was a very laid-back lifestyle up there, and we didn’t really take our football that seriously. To actually move to a professional full-time position, I probably didn’t handle it as well as I should have. I definitely learnt a lot in the three years that I was here and it set me up well for the rest of my career.”
Despite now seemingly cementing the five-eighth spot after the well-publicised demotion of young gun Daniel Mortimer, McGuire says he knew he wasn’t guaranteed a spot in the side when he was recruited on a one-year contract.
“Just coming back after four years out, I wanted to aim to get a spot on the bench really,” he explains.
“When I got a chance to play dummy-half in the run-on team I was very happy. I worked as hard as I could in the pre-season and luckily enough I got that position when we started.
“I’m enjoying playing five-eighth. I’ve been pretty disappointed with my form in the past couple of weeks… it’s been a big change going from dummy-half to the halves. Hopefully I can start playing well with Jeff Robson and we can get a few wins.”
Beyond that, McGuire has his eyes looking towards next year and hopefully a second year under coach Stephen Kearney. Pressure for spots in the halves will be intense, however, with the signings of Chris Sandow (Rabbitohs) and Ben Roberts (Bulldogs).
“I’d like to stay at Parramatta, so I’m trying to sort that out at the moment. I’m really just focusing on this week and finishing as well as we can and that’s all I’m really thinking,” he says.
“[Kearney’s] been really good, he’s a very calm and thorough coach and all the coaches have been really good this year. I think the younger players that have been thrown in this year will definitely be better for it next year.”
According to Brett Kenny, one of the greatest five-eighths in Parramatta’s history, McGuire has turned out to be one of the most effective buys of what was an active pre-season in the player market for the club.
“I think of all the players that they bought he’s probably been the best value for money. He’s played in almost every game and he’s performed very well whether it be at hooker or five-eighth,” Kenny says.
“He’s certainly been a good buy for the club. He’s doing a good job there at five-eighth. It’s
a tough position but he’s doing a good job. He’s developing a solid combination with Jeff Robson and they’re starting to do really well.
“You look at the results and his performances and you would be saying yeah, you’d certainly look at re-signing him. He can play hooker or five-eighth, I guess he could probably even play halfback. He’d be a good investment.”
Even though he has a game against his old club the Broncos to look forward to this Friday, McGuire doesn’t have time to reminisce about the past. Instead, he is focused on one thing and one thing only – the last-minute desperate dash for the Eels as they try to work their way into the top eight.
“It’ll be good to play the old club, there aren’t that many players there when I was there last though,” McGuire says.
“At the moment we really need to win games so there’s no extra focus being put on this game. We’ve gone close in a few games against good sides, but last week was very disappointing. Canberra played really well and we didn’t handle it well. The previous few weeks we’ve been very close to getting some good results so hopefully we can start this week. We really need to win some games in a row now.”