If anyone knows about Queensland’s ability to hold a grudge, it’s former New South Wales back-rower Bryan Fletcher.
Fletcher, who played 14 games for the Blues between 1998 and 2003, was the man at the centre of the most famous try celebration of all time during Game Three of the 2000 series when he and half a dozen team-mates enacted the ‘hand grenade’ on their way to a record 56-16 win.
With Maroons coach Mal Meninga launching an extraordinary attack on all things NSW in his column in a Brisbane newspaper last weekend, Fletcher told NRL.com that it was time Queensland moved on and enjoyed their run of six consecutive series wins.
Asked his thoughts on Meninga’s comments, Fletcher said: “I think if you’ve won six in a row you wouldn’t think it would bother you but something has obviously cut deep with him.
“I can understand his frustration because a lot of coaches these days do get other coaches to do the tactical stuff [The Sunday Telegraph accused Meninga of having little input into Queensland’s success]… but he went off, didn’t he?
“They haven’t forgotten about the hand grenades – I know that much. I’m sick of it. I should be getting a Queensland tracksuit for that because if I’ve been the motivation for six years I want something in return.”
A number of former Maroons – including Gorden Tallis and Wendell Sailor – have spoken in recent years of their ongoing memories of the ‘hand grenade’ and how it fuelled their hatred of the sky blue jersey.
But Fletcher said it was ridiculous that it was still continually brought up a decade later.
“I mean, we practised that at the Bourbon & Beefsteak [a bar in Kings Cross] at about four o’clock in the morning!” he said. “It wasn’t disrespectful; we were having a good time and enjoying ourselves.
“From memory we’d just hit 50 so when I scored, Ryan Girdler came up and said, ‘let’s do the hand grenade’. I did it and everyone just slotted into position perfectly. I thought it came off alright.”
A key member of the NSW pack in an era when the Blues were the dominant force of the State of Origin scene, Fletcher is best remembered for his enormous impact at club level where he helped the Sydney Roosters claim the 2002 premiership before becoming one of the first players of the modern era to make the move to bitter rivals South Sydney the following year.
A controversial transfer at the time, Fletcher this week recalled the circumstances surrounding his departure from Bondi as the two clubs prepare to go head to head on Saturday night in Rivalry Round.
“In the end it just came down to money but it was very tough and it upset me for a while,” he said. “Winning the comp in 2002 was the highlight of my career so leaving at that time wasn’t ideal, but then I saw an opportunity at Souths who I had followed as a kid. There were a few other clubs I could have gone to that were a bit higher up on the ladder at the time but I don’t regret going to Souths.
“It would have been nice to stay at Easts. That was my ninth year and I would have liked to make it 10 years… but it wasn’t to be. Easts offered me ‘X’ amount and what Souths offered was just too good to turn down. So I went. Nowadays everyone changes clubs but back then it was a bit more of a big deal. But I don’t regret it.”
Although deep down he remains loyal to the club that brought him a premiership, Fletcher admitted that his allegiances would inevitably be torn this weekend.
“The beauty of it is that I just barrack for whoever wins!” he laughed. “But no, our company sponsors Todd Carney as a personal sponsor so I’d like to see the Roosters win but on the other hand I do have a soft spot for Souths. They’re due some success. I watched that game on Sunday and I thought they were home. But same old story – the poor old Bunnies just got pipped at the post again. But I do love watching these Roosters-Souths games because there is always a lot of spirit and the crowds give it to each other, which is quite entertaining as well.”
These days Fletcher’s life is far removed from his time as a professional sportsman.
One of the lucky ones, he quite literally landed on his feet after returning from a two-year stint with Wigan in late 2007 and starting his own cleaning and maintenance business called Cleanfit.
“At one stage I was going to get a job with a poker machine company, as all retired footballers do, and then this came up and I thought, ‘Why not? I’ll give it a go’,” he explained.
“It all came about by accident really. My business partner Craig Markham was working for another company but decided to branch out on his own about five years ago and it coincided with me retiring.
“We’ve been slowly building since then and at the moment we’ve got about 180 cleaners, so it’s quite big. We clean a fair few pubs, clubs and office blocks in Sydney.”
While Fletcher’s primary role is business development, the job also allows him to use another skill that few are aware of – plumbing.
“I’m a plumber by trade so I do jump back on the tools a bit when we get stuck,” he said.
“Originally we were just going to do the cleaning thing but throwing in some maintenance seemed to fit in. I left school in Year 10 and did my apprenticeship at the age of 15.
“Super League hit around then so I never really got back into it but I suppose my mother was right – you need something to fall back on. And it’s been good because the novelty hasn’t worn off yet. I’ve got mates that are plumbers but they’ve been doing it for 20-odd years and they’re just get sick of it. I’m sort of back at it again new and it’s worked out alright.
“It’s funny, I know a few other guys that have finished footy or are coming to the end and they don’t really know what to do, so I’ve been lucky in that sense.
“If I had my time over again I might have had my eye on the future a little bit more. I always thought I was busy when I was playing footy but once you get into the workforce you know what real life is like.”