Tables turn for Greenshields
The scenario was vastly different the first time Clint Greenshields played against Manly to what it will be at 1300SMILES Stadium on Monday night.
Back in Round 9 of the 2004 season, Greenshields was making his first-grade debut at fullback for St George Illawarra against Manly at Brookvale Oval. The Dragons, whose team of mostly young stars included Mark Gasnier, Matt Cooper, Shaun Timmins, Luke Bailey, Dean Young, Mark Riddell, Brent Kite, Jason Ryles and Ben Creagh, were in the thick of the top eight, where they would finish.
It was the first year of Des Hasler being in charge of the Sea Eagles, and although the team would later soar under his coaching they were struggling at this stage and would beat only two teams home on the competition table.
Yet the Sea Eagles sprung an upset to win, 21-10. This time, it's Manly who are in the thick of the top eight and Greenshields' team, 12th-placed North Queensland, who are struggling.
Oh, how Greenshields would like a similar upset to occur now.
Nine years is a long time, and Greenshields has since spread his career around the world.
"I played against Steve Menzies that day," Greenshields said. "And I ended up playing with him over at Catalans. I remember Andrew Walker was playing for Manly then as well, and playing good. He was putting massive spiral bombs up to me – I still remember that."
Menzies was the Manly lock and captain that day, and Walker played five-eighth.
Greenshields had three years at St George Illawarra and then six at Catalans, in Super League. He returned to the NRL this year, at 31, and is currently filling the fullback spot that became vacant when Matt Bowen was injured.
He has made six appearances for the Cowboys so far, and his performances have been solid. He doesn't have the wizardry of a Bowen, but not many players do.
Greenshields has run for more than 100 metres in three games, and has also come up with three line-breaks, four offloads and three tries.
It may have been nine years since Greenshields made his NRL debut, and a lot has changed in the competition during that time, but one thing never changes for fullbacks – they can expect to be bombed.
Asked what it was like to have Cronulla five-eighth Todd Carney raining them down on him in North Queensland's last home game, two rounds back, Greenshields replied: "It's never a lot of fun, but that's my job, that's what I train all week to do. I relish the challenge.
"My teammates have been practising their kicks all week at training, and I've been practising catching them. It's a challenge I look forward to each week."
North Queensland's season was in trouble after just a few rounds. The Cowboys opened with a win, but then they lost three straight, and their win-loss record has remained below even ever since. They have 11 losses to go with their six wins.
Greenshields said he was "pretty happy" with his own form, adding: "You can always improve, and there are little parts of my game I definitely want to improve, so hopefully I can improve this week, and stay consistent and injury-free."
Fullback Brett Stewart is the only member of that Manly side Greenshields played against in 2004 who is still in the team on Monday. Second-rower Anthony Watmough would make it two, but he was unavailable for this game because he is on State of Origin duty for NSW.
The Sea Eagles are also missing halfback Daly Cherry-Evans, who will play for Queensland in Origin III at ANZ Stadium on Wednesday, but the Cowboys are much worse off. They are missing halfback Johnathan Thurston, centre Brent Tate and props Matt Scott and James Tamou to Origin.
Greenshields said he was looking forward to playing against Brett Stewart again.
"He's a class player, everyone knows that," Greenshields said. "He's extremely fast and he has the ability to turn up when needed. It's going to be good to play against him – I haven't played against him for a few years. Manly have got a great side – it's going to be a great challenge for us."
Manly have been strong in defence this season, and in away games they are conceding an average of just 14.3 points per game. That makes it their best defensive season on the road since 1996, when they won the premiership.