Murphy’s Law: Souvenirs and the fence at Wigan

13 Apr 21, 5:51PM 0 Comments

Written by Stuart McLennan

Photo by Getty Images

Rugby League journeyman Justin Murphy has gathered what he describes as “plenty of good souvenirs” during an extraordinary career that saw him play in four countries in their national competitions (NRL, NZRL, Super League and FFR13) during the same year in 2004.

Golden memories include an NRL Grand Final, Challenge Cup Final at Wembley and representing France at the World Cup in 2008.

It was a shocking incident while playing for Catalans at the DW Stadium in Wigan that sticks out in the minds of many rugby league fans when you mention Murphy’s name. The St Estéve coach says he is lucky to be still around to tell Everything Rugby League the story with body intact.

“We were playing at Wigan and the in-goals are very small. I was chasing a Stacey Jones kick watching the ball and thinking it was an opportunity to score. I was travelling at pace and at the last moment, I glimpsed the fence and thought I’m in a bit of trouble here. I tried to jump but the fence clipped my knee and I tumbled into the concrete stairs.

“I returned to the field and played the whole game but had broken ribs, badly bruised kidneys and a sore hip from the impact. It could have ended a lot worse. I was extremely lucky to walk away. I missed the next six weeks and the medical staff explained how lucky I was. If I copped another hit in the game in the kidneys it could’ve been worse,” the former winger recalled.

Growing up in Narrabri and Toowoomba, Murphy made his NRL debut with the Canterbury Bulldogs in 2000 before moving to the NZ Warriors and playing 43 first grade matches.

Following his stint with the Warriors, a series of twists saw Murphy go to France, the UK and then back to France chasing the rugby league dream.

“At the end of 2004 I was finishing with the NZ Warriors and was in contact with Justin Morgan who was coaching Toulouse. He told me his team already had the quota spots full but gave me the number of Steve Deakin who was coaching UTC in Perpignan who became the Catalans Dragons.

“I agreed to join UTC in their preparation for Super League but had to change my visa as I was only on a holiday visa. I spent a week in Dublin in a hostel for £20 a night before my visa was approved. Widnes helped me fast track it. I played the last five games for Widnes with a memorable win over a very good Wigan side.”

Justin Murphy playing for New Zealand Warriors

Between 2005 and 2008 Murphy played 68 matches for UTC/Catalans including Catalans Dragons historic first game in Super League in 2006. In that year Murphy made the Super League Dream Team and was Super League top try scorer. A Challenge Cup Final at Wembley in 2007 and a chance to represent his adopted country capped off a fruitful playing career in the northern hemisphere.

“To have the opportunity to represent a passionate, proud and historic country like France was something I am very grateful for.

“I played for France in the 2007 end of year Tests against Papua New Guinea and New Zealand. It was a successful campaign with two victories over Papua and narrowly losing at the end in what would have been a historic win over NZ in Paris. To play in a World Cup is a wonderful experience with many good memories.

“When I arrived in France in December 2004 I had one suitcase. I met my wife, a local Catalan girl and got married in 2007 then had our 1st child in 2009 so at the end of 2009 decided to move back to Australia with a bit more than one suitcase.”

The story doesn’t end here as Murphy was enticed back to the South of France in 2019 to take over the coaching duties at Elite 2 club Toulon.

Unfortunately the Covid pandemic saw the Elite 2 competition cancelled, however, Murphy has found a new coaching home at Elite 1 Club St Esteve XIII Catalan who currently sit third on the competition ladder.

Murphy believes these are exciting times for French rugby league and is upbeat about the game’s future in France.

“At the moment with a new President for the Federation and Catalans and Toulouse going well, it is definitely an exciting time for Rugby League in France.

“The quality of players in the French competition and the standard of the games has certainly gained exposure and generated interest. It would be great to convert that into another professional competition but it still needs work with TV and media exposure and also expanding into some of the bigger cities like Montpellier, Lyon, Toulon and Paris. The product is as good as the Top 14 Rugby competition.”

St Esteve XIII Catalan rugby league club

And if you are wondering, a language barrier is not an issue for this seasoned traveller.

“Every session is in French and we have a very young group who are willing to develop. My wife is French and my children speak French at home. It is important that I communicate in French because many players don’t understand any English.

“I am grateful t return to Catalans Dragons and enjoying the challenge of developing the players.”

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