Hazem El Masri gets the feel of the early 2000s in Canterbury.
Not only in the physical presence of many of his colleagues in the 2004 premiership, but also in their impact on the next generation of Bulldogs.
The launch of the NRL’s multicultural tour this week was a premiership meeting for the Bulldogs at Belmore, who have long been leaders in the field.
Sonny Bill Williams helped host the event, weeks after he returned to Belmore again to talk to the players and present jerseys to the Canterbury starters.
Willie Mason also spoke alongside Al-Masry, with both of them from the Canterbury support team.
Andrew Ryan, Mark O’Melly and Roy Asutasi are also in the football department, with the Bulldogs showing promise ahead of Sunday’s clash with the West Tigers after last week’s shock Melbourne.
“Having them here to teach the next crop of Bulldogs is great, and they will learn a lot from their experience as well,” Al-Masry said.
“When I first came into the club and saw the likes of Terry Lamb, Billy Johnston, Steve Foulkes, Torphy (Mortimer), Jim Dymock and all the boys, I just thought, ‘Wow.’
“Just having them come up and address you and say hello and direct you was awesome.”
It is only fitting that the public meeting of the Bulldogs falls on a multicultural week.
Canterbury pioneered the space with their first multicultural match 30 years ago against Parramatta at Belmore.
The Lebanese-born Egyptian was also at the forefront of one of the league’s truly multicultural teams at the turn of the century, training during Ramadan as one of the first Muslim stars in the National Football League.
“We learned about each other’s culture and nationality,” said Al-Masry. “It brought us closer to each other.”
“I had probably the most turbulent time, I think, of any footballer.
“It all started, for example, with the Premier League war, when you first got into the arena, and then we had the salary cap and Coffs Harbor stuff.
“Then, as a Muslim, there was 9-11, the Bali bombing, the Skaf brothers and the Cronulla riots. Just go, ‘Whoa, somebody hit the off button.'”
“I was like an open book to everyone… I loved being part of this team, learning and learning at the same time.”
Together, this group now unites in an effort to revive the Bulldogs.
James Graham were also regular returnees at Belmore, while Terry Lamb and Michael Potter were among the other club legends who remained on the staff under Phil Gould’s stewardship.
“The club is focused on the future, that’s important,” Graham said.
“But it’s great that they’re connecting with the past and honoring the past, and caring for the past.
“It’s all about helping and developing this next generation and helping them become the best player they can be.”
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