Had it been up to him, Glenn Hall would never have left Manly in the first place – yet ask him if he still has difficulty lining up against his former Sea Eagles team-mates and he insists those days are long gone.
A member of Manly’s 2008 premiership-winning side that thrashed Melbourne 40-0 in the grand final, Friday night’s sudden-death semi-final at Allianz Stadium will be the fifth time Hall has lined up against the reigning premiers since returning from an ill-fated season in the English Super League to join North Queensland in 2011.
While dozens of players switch clubs each season, any clash with the Sea Eagles is particularly significant for Hall given that he and wife Kylie are Godparents to Manly hooker Matt Ballin’s son Murphy, but while he admits he struggled the first time he faced his old club wearing a Cowboys jersey there will be no apologies should he help end Manly’s title defence this weekend.
“I’m still good mates with a lot of them and obviously we’re close to Matt Ballin so yeah, the first time I played against them (last year) it was a bit different… but not so much anymore,” he told NRL.com.
“I always stay in touch with a lot of them via emails and texts. In the off-season when we get down to Sydney I always try and catch up with a couple of them.”
“But they’re not my team-mates anymore when I’m playing against them, so I’ll be out there trying to rip their heads off. We can shake hands afterwards.”
While Hall was an innocent victim of salary cap restraints when forced to leave the Sea Eagles at the end of the 2009 season, he is quick to point out that there are no regrets – despite a miserable 12 months with Bradford Bulls in which he started just seven of his 25 appearances and was eventually dropped to reserves.
A late pick-up by the Cowboys in January, 2011, he has since become a key member of the side’s imposing right-edge attack and was rewarded for his contributions earlier this year when offered a one-year contract extension to the end of 2013.
Asked if he considered himself to be in career-best form heading into Friday’s huge finals clash, Hall replied: “It’s definitely close to it. I put it down to absolutely loving the club and the team and just loving where I’m at in both life and football at the moment.
“To be honest, I think [what happened in England] has helped me appreciate what I’ve got now. Things didn’t go the best for us over there but everything has worked out real well over here.
“Having said that, I came here with a good attitude and ready to work hard. Like I said, when the team is going well it makes things both on and off the field easier to handle as well, so it all kind of works together.
“And where else would I rather be than playing footy? I’m doing what I love with a great bunch of guys. My football flourishes off the team’s football. Hopefully that can keep going for another three weeks.”
While Hall will be keen to earn bragging rights over his Manly mates, Friday night’s blockbuster also provides an opportunity for the Cowboys to make amends for last year’s finals exit when they were belted 42-8 by the Sea Eagles after leading 8-0 at half-time.
The 31-year-old said he had no doubt his team-mates would find plenty of motivation from that defeat but also recognises that North Queensland is in much better shape than they were 12 months ago.
“I’m sure some of those boys have a bitter taste in their mouth and that can’t hurt going into this game,” he said.
“But last year we kind of limped into the semis. After the Origin series there were a few games that were not our best performances, whereas this year we’ve come in better prepared.
We’ve come out of Origin much better, everyone is in good spirits and everything is really working well.
“I’m very confident. I think we’ve got a good balance in the team and if we can get everyone injury-free and on the same page leading into games I think we’re a great chance of giving the premiership a really good shake.”
Hall said the Cowboys wouldn’t be fooled by suggestions that Manly will field a weakened side this week, with suspension set to sideline Steve Matai and injury concerns hanging over Jamie Lyon and Joe Galuvao.
“I don’t think we can be too concerned about things like that,” he said. “They’re still a dangerous team. As we’ve seen the last couple of years they’re going to be good with those guys or without them and that’s how we’ll approach them – as if everyone is on deck.”