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Farewell Scully and thanks for the memories

Paul Fletcher | 21:40 UK time, Friday, 19 September 2008

I interviewed Paul Sculthorpe once when he was promoting his autobiography, Man of Steel.

When shaking hands with Scully, as he is known throughout the game, I thought I had lost mine forever as it disappeared inside the shovel that he had extended.

I bought Scully a tea and wondered how he would be able to hold it without crushing the polystyrene cup into a million pieces. But for all his physical prowess it was his body that, in the end, succumbed to the rigours of such a demanding sport.

His retirement had become increasingly inevitable but somehow it still rated as a shock when it came.

Perhaps it was just the timing. Scully announced his decision live on television minutes before Saints defeated Leeds Rhinos 38-10 to seal a place in the Grand Final.

Sculthorpe, appropriately enough with his arm in a protective sling following the injury he sustained in the opening minute of the Challenge Cup final, talked about how difficult the last few years have been. It doesn't take a genius to work out why.

scully438.jpgScully played just 26 games for Saints over the last two years and had become an increasingly peripheral figure at the club as a new generation of players stamped their mark on the game.

His team-mates have always talked about the impact he has in the dressing room and the esteem in which he is held by the younger players. His legendary status at St Helens is assured.

But the very fact Saints had not offered him a new deal spoke volumes and, after so many injuries, the writing was on the wall. I strongly suspect that Scully himself could not bring himself to join another club and become an also-ran, a former great, second best. Maybe he would have tried to make a go of it at Wakefield to fulfill his ambition of playing alongside brother Danny but talks with the Wildcats came to nothing. Or perhaps it was simply that the prospect of lining up next season against the club he had represented with such brilliance and dignity for 11 years was just too much to bear.

More than anything I just hope that his catalogue of injury problems - the lengthy knee injury, the Achilles tendon problem and now the dislocated shoulder - do not cloud peoples memories, do not dilute their understanding of what a devastating player he was.

For Scully was the complete modern-day loose forward; strong in the tackle, boasting superb support play, a brilliant off-load and a more than useful kicking game. Scully could spot a gap and burst through it, shaking off tackles as he did so. He was also an inspirational leader.

Take, for example, his performance against Brisbane Broncos in the World Club Challenge in February 2007, perhaps his last great game.

Playing his first match since the previous September, Scully came off the bench with his team trailing 8-0 and led them to a memorable 18-14 victory, scoring one try and kicking three brilliant conversions.

His form for Saints in the early part of the Millennium saw him become the only player to win back-to-back Man of Steel awards in 2002 and 2003.

He was rightly regarded as one of the world's top players, perhaps the best loose forward, and he rarely disappointed in a GB shirt even if he was far too often played out of position at stand-off. It was a shame that his spate of injuries came so quickly after he was made GB captain and he only managed to lead his country once. Like so many of his generation, he retires having never achieved the holy grail of vanquishing Australia in a series but it was never for the want of trying.

His courage and determination to stand up for himself and his team-mates was never in question. Not many players start a fight with Kangaroo Craig Fitzgibbon when already on the ground. Scully did in a famous Test in 2004. It certainly wound up Mark O'Mealy, who came barrelling over from out of nowhere with his fists flying only to receive more than equal in kind from Sculthorpe. An unwanted part of the game perhaps, but the brawl with Wigan's Andy Farrell on Good Friday in the same year also lives long in the memory. It spoke of passion and desire even if it expressed itself in the wrong way. For such a genuinely nice man he wasn't afraid to mix it.

Off the field Sculthorpe is a courteous and extremely likeable man with a voice to rival Barry White.

For a couple of years he had a column on our website and although he was rarely controversial - a quality that undoubtedly makes for good headlines - you won't hear a bad word against him said by anybody in our office.

Former Harlequins boss Tony Rea told me that after his final game he hung his boots on the peg where he had got changed and walked out of the dressing room, leaving behind him forever his playing days.

Alas, Scully's last game - the Challenge Cup final - lasted just a minute and he was afforded no such symbolic luxury.

Nonetheless, he can look back on a career rich in memories and silverware. I for one would like to wish him all the best for the future.

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