The eerie symmetry between Steve Menzies’ and Ruben Wiki’s glittering rugby league careers wasn’t lost on the man they call Beaver.
The pair opposed each other for the first time in a 1992 schoolboys’ international, in which Wiki’s New Zealand sprang an upset over Menzies’ Australia.
A year later the pair made their National Rugby League (NRL) debuts within a fortnight of each other; Wiki on June 13 for Canberra against South Sydney and Menzies for Manly against Brisbane on June 26.
On Saturday night when Manly face the New Zealand Warriors in the grand final qualifier at the Sydney Football Stadium, it will come to a teary end for one of them. Both have confirmed season 2008 as their last in Australia.
“I’m sure it’ll be pretty crazy at the end and someone will be really happy and someone will be disappointed,” the revered `Beaver’ Menzies said today.
“Either way I’ll go and shake Ruben’s hand, and deep down I’ll wish him the best. I’d love to see a player of his stature go out the way I’d like to go out.”
Menzies had to be reminded of their clash in the trans-Tasman schoolboy match 16 years ago, but he’s long been a Wiki fan.
That has gained currency this year as the pair’s NRL careers wound down amid much fanfare this season.
“I haven’t had a big chat to him, but I think after one game this year I thanked him for being around again, because he’s the only bloke older than me in the comp.”
Wiki, 35, has just over 10 months seniority over Menzies.
But Menzies has his nose in front in terms of NRL appearances. His 347 is closing in on Bulldogs legend Terry Lamb’s record of 349, meaning a Warriors victory on Saturday would leave him one short.
Wiki will play his 312th match on Saturday.
“I’m sure he would have played as many first grade games as me, but he’s had a couple more suspensions than me,” said Menzies.
But it didn’t take much prompting for Menzies — with 15 Kangaroos tests and 20 State of Origin appearances — to reach for the superlatives about the former Kiwis captain who holds the world record of 55 test caps.
“He’s been a great player, lots of guys at Manly played with him down at the Raiders and they have the highest regard for Ruben.
“They way he’s playing over there, the young guys are just following him.
“He’s always an intimidating and ferocious player. His career was typified last week (against the Roosters) when he took that kickoff and you could see him screaming as he hit the defensive line.
“That’s a signal to all his teammates, just follow me and I’ll lead you the right way. That run just typified the player that he is and has been over many years.”