Bluff and counter-bluff: How Ray French helped mastermind Mal Meninga’s move to Saints

A number of English clubs were desperate to sign Mal Meninga but it was Saints, helped by former player and commentator Ray French, who won the Australia great's signature
A number of English clubs were desperate to sign Mal Meninga but it was Saints, helped by former player and commentator Ray French, who won the Australia great's signature

Mal Meninga’s move to England is remembered as one of the most successful ever yet the transfer itself was full of plot and counter plot as Saints faced stiff competition for his signature from other clubs.

But in the end St Helens-born RL TV commentator Ray French, who was in Australia covering the 1984 Great Britain tour, swung the deal Saints’ way.

Mal Meninga in action for Australia, stopping Great Britain's Gary Connolly in his tracks

Mal Meninga in action for Australia, stopping Great Britain's Gary Connolly in his tracks

“Saints had said to me they’d signed Mal just before I went out to Australia for the 1984 Great Britain tour,” Ray recalled.

“I was staying at the Pacific Hotel in Manly, but when I came down for breakfast I saw a Leeds’ representative who said he had signed Mal.

“I then made an excuse, left the breakfast table, and raced upstairs to phone Mal.

“He assured me he’d only sign for me and to meet him in Brisbane in three weeks’ time for the second Test.

Ray French was worked as a TV commentator when he helped convince Mal Meninga to sign for Saints

Ray French was worked as a TV commentator when he helped convince Mal Meninga to sign for Saints

“When I got up to Lang Park I bumped into Wayne Bennett and he said: ‘Ray, Leeds are here, what do you want me to do?

“So Wayne distracted them by taking them out to the field for a chat.

“While he was doing that I grabbed Mal and he signed in the clubhouse.”

French believes he hasn’t seen a better and more influential player than Meninga during his 60-year association with the game.

“He was fantastic for us, there had never been anyone like him before over here and there hasn’t been anyone since,” he said.

“There is also a humility to Mal. He has no edge to him and his word is his bond and we remain great friends to this day.”