Written by Callum Walker
Hailing from Baulkham Hills, New South Wales, Brett Delaney became a household name in one particular area of West Yorkshire.
A nine-year stay at Leeds began in 2010 after a five-year stint in the NRL with Parramatta Eels and then the newly-formed Gold Coast Titans. It was at the Eels where the 6 ft 2 powerhouse made his debut as a 19-year-old against St George Illawarra Dragons in 2005 – a game he remembers vividly.
“That was great. It was my debut year so I was just a young kid,” Delaney told Everything Rugby League.
“When you’re a young kid, you are fearless and don’t really look back on things and appreciate it.
“Obviously, I was only in there because of injuries to players such as Timana Tahu.
“I only played two games in 2005, debuting against the Dragons when we were first and second.
“Just to get that debut against St George was special.
“Mark Riddell came down the short side and I drew the fullback on the inside and I scored.
“That was a big moment; to score on debut was surreal. I should have made my debut earlier as I got reserve grade player of the year, but I was only 17.”
One of Delaney’s main mentors was veteran coach Brian Smith, who he claims revolutionized Rugby League as we know it.
“I came through the grades at Parramatta and the system back then was great, Brian Smith revamped it all.
“It was ahead of its time; he was the one that came up with the ‘six o clock pass’ and drills that are still worked on now.
“Brian Smith himself was ahead of his time, what we learnt back then through Brian was really good and it set the path for me.”
A switch to the Gold Coast Titans after just two seasons of first-grade with the Eels was the chance for Delaney to stake his claim as a regular in the 17.
“I was offered to stay at Paramatta, but I was stuck behind Origin and New Zealand pack players like Nathan Hindmarsh, Nathan Cayless, Glenn Morrison etc. in the second-row.
“I went to Gold Coast for an opportunity, but the opportunity was in the centres.
“I didn’t care when I was 20, I would play anywhere just to play first-grade.
“I played two years in the centres and it worked out well for me.”
When it came to the 2009 season, Delaney helped the Titans reach third place, but he had played the majority of his career so far at centre – despite coming through the ranks in the back-row. That, along with the desire to win trophies, was at the crux of his decision to cross hemispheres at just 24 years of age.
“I had an offer from the Gold Coast at the start of 2009 to sign a four-year extension, but my ambition was to win a trophy.
“In my last year too, I tore my hamstring when we made the semis.
“My mate Tim Smith had just done a stint at Wigan and came back and said I would suit the English game with my personality on and off the field.
“I didn’t want to go back to Sydney because it was a fishbowl; I was limited to a few Sydney clubs.
“I told my manager to get me to England and that I didn’t care what club.
“Of course, I wanted a top team as I was in my prime just then – I came off the back of playing for the Prime Minister’s XII as well as City v Country and had had two really good years. I was playing the best rugby of my career.”
It was Leeds where Delaney ended up but had his friend, Danny Buderus – who was currently at the Rhinos – not given him a call, then another club in West Yorkshire may well have succeeded in winning the race for his signature.
“Steve McNamara at Bradford rang me and spoke about the club; they were interested, and I went back to Brad Meyers at Gold Coast who had spent two years at Bradford and asked him what it was like.
“But, Leeds had come off the back of two Grand Finals, they were ambitious.
“I remember Danny Buderus rang me – I was in a nightclub!
“I ran outside and he virtually convinced me to come to Leeds and the next day I said to my manager “let’s go to Leeds”.
“Gold Coast was putting pressure on me to sign, but I was unsure and all over the place at 23.
“It’s a big decision to move across the world on your own, but I was chasing competitions and medals; I sat down with my father and he said you play the sport to win.
“Gary Hetherington rang me up at midnight and told me there was a spot at Leeds and asked questions such as how many years do you want? It was one of the weirdest phone calls of my life but, looking back now it was one of the most important calls of my career.
“I left the money up to my manager; it was a family environment and they made me feel comfortable and I hadn’t even signed then.
“The first day I walked into Leeds and everyone shook my hand and everyone welcomed me. There were internationals eating breakfast and they got up, said hello and made me feel like at home. That blew me away. Kev (Kevin Sinfield) jumped out of his seat and came and welcomed me. That made me feel like I made the right call. Day one cemented in my head that I made the right decision. The people that worked for the club too, the support staff, the ground staff it was one big family. I felt so stable and secure and I was halfway around the world.
“I got myself in a bit of strife at the Gold Coast that year and perhaps needed a fresh start to get away from some of the stuff I was involved in.
“I was still learning so I thought why not go to England and Leeds? After I said yes to Gary, the contract was there to be signed the next morning, it was that quick.”
His dream for success is what Delaney saw potentially coming true at Leeds.
“In five years of first grade I had been in just one semi-final and I thought I was in this game to win.
“I’m a winner and thought what better way to win things than to join a club that has come off the back of three Grand Finals.
“There was pressure on Leeds and whether they could keep that success up. I had belief in the club and the squad that we could do it.”
Even then though, it was centre where the then incumbent Leeds boss Brian McLennan viewed Delaney’s strongest position. As such, the decision to bring in Brian McDermott at the end of 2010 following McLennan’s resignation was key in convincing Delaney to stay in the UK.
“Brian McLennan rang me and I spoke to him. There was an opening at Leeds when Lee Smith left. I played a year at centre and I was ready to go back home.
“But ‘Brian Mac’ came in and spoke to me and said to me “I want to play you back row – I know you’re a natural back-rower”.
“It was the best thing that happened; Mac revamped my career.
“I was at a crossroads about returning home and who knows what would have happened?
“He was my saviour in a way – he played a big part in me winning competitions, Challenge Cups and World Club Challenges and staying at Leeds for nine years.
“He was great for me, we got on really well and he was very approachable as a person off the pitch. I learnt a lot from him.”
One year stood out in particular for Delaney in his time at Leeds – 2015. It was the first time a club had won the treble – the League Leaders’ Shield, the Challenge Cup and the Grand Final – since Bradford Bulls in 2003 and it has not been achieved since. And, for the Australian, he can’t see anyone replicating the drama that went with the triple scoop that year.
“That treble year was ridiculous; I don’t think it will ever happen again in the way we won it.
“We won the Challenge Cup and then went to Catalans; we had a hard run to the Grand Final.
“It’s hard to explain unless you’re part of that circle you wouldn’t understand what we had to sacrifice to go through as a club and individuals. You’ve got to peak and drop again and then peak and drop again.
“The League Leaders’ Shield was won in the last 15 seconds, the helicopter had to turn around. It was crazy.
“We were then written off for the Grand Final, but we came through it. It was really special.”
In an honest revelation, Delaney admitted that he should have retired a lot sooner than 2018. Instead, the enforcer attempted to get back on the field after a number of serious injuries with both Leeds and then Featherstone – the latter whom he was set to play for in the 2019 Championship. Whilst it was a shocking eye injury suffered in 2018 that eventually forced his hand, the Australian suffered from horrific knee problems prior to that.
“I was told to retire for an eye injury, but I was being stubborn; medically I shouldn’t have been playing.
“I’ve got blurred vision and double vision in my left eye – I fractured my eye socket and broke my nose midway through the season and now I’ve got plates and screws in my left cheekbone.
“The nerve that makes your eye focus is dead; I’ll never get that back.
“I was signed to Fev (Featherstone), but obviously with my eye, it was impossible to carry on so, unfortunately, I had to retire.
“I wanted to try and play and I really appreciate Mark Campbell and Davide Longo at Featherstone for giving me the opportunity to try and continue. They supported me throughout.
“I was struggling with my knees and looking back I played two years too long. I should have retired at the end of 2016, but I wanted a testimonial; I wanted to be the first Australian to get a testimonial at Leeds.
“That was my aim, but I knew for the last three years of my career I was a shadow of the player I was.
“If people had known what I went through just to get on the field those last two years, they would empathise.
“I was no way in shape; there’s no cartilage in my knees now after I did both of my MCLs in one tackle in 2017 – one was 98% torn and the other 99% so they both nearly ruptured. They held on by a piece of hair.
“I wanted to try and go round again; that was the big picture but I was missing the smaller things.
“My knees wouldn’t let me react laterally because I had nothing in them; I was eight weeks in braces and that was the hardest rehab I’ve ever had in my life.
“The doctors weren’t sure they would heal, fortunately enough on the inside of the knee, they repaired.
“I came back after about 14 weeks; I had them both strapped up for games and training.
“Then I tore my hamstring the week before the semi-finals. I came back against Wigan, but only played half an hour before starting against Huddersfield and it tore on 17 minutes, but that was through lack of running and me pushing myself.
“My legs were in a brace for so long and obviously I couldn’t straighten them.
“I wanted to get back as quickly as possible, but I missed out on the 2017 Grand Final.”
Rugby League careers tend to leave players with lasting problems, and the consequences for Delaney have been incredibly difficult.
“The next year after ten rounds my eye got hit, but I didn’t find out until nine months after.
“The eye injury was a seven-week turnaround, but it got infected and my eye was basically pushing itself out from the back of my eye socket.
“It had to be operated on to release the pressure and I didn’t get my vision back; they didn’t tell me that I might not get my vision back at the start which I was angry about.
“I asked for a second opinion and I’ve seen eye specialists and pupil specialists since then,
“Leeds did their best and I can’t thank them enough.
“It’s still going on now; I’m currently working with a guy called Martin Higgins who used to be a physio at Leeds.
“He’s studied optometry the past five years and he’s given me glasses that don’t give me double vision.
“When I glance down, if I was looking at someone from their chin down, it was all blurry to me.
“I’ve been living like that since I retired in 2018 – I wear these glasses for two hours a day, three times a day.
“They’re like Harry Potter glasses! They’re not like normal glasses and they look stupid, but they help me with my eyesight.
“When I’m on the computer or working on the phone, I tend to wear them because I can see a lot better; it’s crazy the work he’s done.
“It’s all come from my concussions and being knocked out a lot.”
For Delaney, the path to recovery includes working with the up-and-coming stars at Headingley, something which he is immensely grateful for.
“Fortunately, Leeds have given me a job both in the foundation and a coaching role in the scholarship and academy systems, doing a bit of mentoring for the younger guys which I really enjoy.
“I just like being back involved and I’m trying to give as much back to the club as possible.
“They’re my second family and they’re certainly my family over here.”