Just 3 weeks ago, Massey was at the SCG Members Pavilion, chatting to a room full of Kangaroos legends, sharing his thoughts, opinions and insights from his half a century of time spent within Rugby League ranks.
It was the Centenary Kangaroos reunion, a night where the undefeated 1986 Kangaroos squad were also inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame. That side – featuring the likes of Wally Lewis, Peter Sterling, Brett Kenny and Mal Meninga, to name but a few – is one of the best in the game’s history.
But Massey has no doubt that the current version would beat them.
“I haven’t got any doubt about it. That was a great team, they had a great coach in Donnie Furner, and they’re entitled to be in the Hall of Fame, but the [current] team would beat them.
“Not that those players wouldn’t all be champions today, I’m not saying that. But I’ve been involved in teams that have won premierships in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s â€¦ and know the teams now would beat the teams of the ’80s.
“I believe the coaching, the technology, weights and all the other training that’s come to light, the [current Kangaroos] would beat them.”
Massey, off-sider to Jack Gibson for two decades, predicts strong challenges from New Zealand and England but reckons the large Manly contingent will be a bonus for the Australians.
“I believe the [Sea Eagles’] grand final team would have beaten any grand final team in the 50 years I’ve been watching football,” Massey said. “They beat a champion team by 40 points.”
Massey spoke fondly about the “old days” when teammates meant as much to each other as family. How “five to 10” of the current Kangaroos squad would go on to become legends of the game. That Sonny Bill Williams was a “disgrace” for leaving his teammates in the lurch. How his biggest fear is that today’s players value money over friendship. But mainly he spoke of the brotherhood that rugby league players share.
“Rugby league is about playing for your mate and your team and your coach,” Massey said.
His sentiments are shared by Brian McClennan, the coach who orchestrated one of the biggest upsets in rugby league history – the Kiwis’ 24-0 win over Australia in the 2005 Tri-Nations final in Leeds. A year later, he almost repeated the dose in Sydney, only to be thwarted by a piece of Johnathan Thurston magic in golden-point extra-time.
The affable Kiwi gave an insight into just how courageous his injury-ravaged side was the night it pushed the Kangaroos to the limit.
“There were a lot more people down [injured] than people realise,” he said. “Motu [Tony] was concussed even before he got knocked out by [Willie] Mason. We tried to get a message out to go for the drop goal but he didn’t even know what was going on.
“Nigel Vagana was trying to pull Frank Pritchard’s arm back into its socket. Then the bloke who went on the field, Nathan Cayless, he went down just before extra time. The trainer went up to ask him if he was all right. He said, ‘Yep, I’m ready to go back on, mate’ [even though he was already on the field].
“It was pretty brave.”
Now Wayne Bennett, the man whose Australian side was outplayed in Leeds three years ago, is charged with recreating that bond of brotherhood – for the Kiwis.
Bennett, the assistant coach, gave them his first big post-match speech after their Anzac Test loss this year. His message was simple: “We can’t keep treating Australia as an older brother. We need to treat them as equals.”