The man they call “The Mad Dog” is preparing for his 16th season of NRL footy, in what will also be his last NRL season as a rugby league professional.

The Knights veteran, who will celebrate his 36th birthday in May, as McDougall is now the oldest player in the NRL following the retirement of Steve Price.

McDougall, who made his first-grade debut in 1995 for the Eastern Suburbs Roosters, in a time when the NRL was yet to be born and the Super League revolution came into fruition.

Over the course of his amazing 16-year career, McDougall played 186 NRL games, and won two premierships with Newcastle, a club in which he holds the club record of 83 tries.

McDougall also represented both NSW and Australia in his illustrious career, and he had success both at club level and representative level.

McDougall, who arrived at the Knights as a youngster in 1997, was an ambitious player, and his team-mates were unsure of him, and how to interpret him.

In the autobiography of Andrew Johns, Johns recalls: “Doogs came to Newcastle that year and we had no idea what was about to hit us – what a strange kettle of fish he was.

“Doogs was before his time – to him the game was all about size and power. He wanted to get as big as he could and was playing at 102 kilograms.

“All he used to eat was protein . . . he’d eat upwards of 200 egg whites a week just for protein, so he could build muscle.

“And he was ahead of his time with the way he trained. We’d be doing endurance stuff and he’d be shaking his head refusing to do it.

“He’d be training purely for speed and power, which is the way it’s done today.”

When he started his career, McDougall very rarely conformed to the accepted training protocols and procedures of that time.

Fast-forward 16 years into the future, and McDougall is viewed as a role model not only for Knights fans, but also for the NRL and young kids aspiring to play the game.

In his five-test career, Mad Dog says how most players enjoyed “a pie and six beers” after a game, but he realised, “I’ve got to look after my body, because at the end of the day that’s what gets me paid”.

“I took pride in my preparation and did a lot of things back then that are now standard practice,” MacDougall says.

“I stretched, I wore Skins, I looked after myself by not drinking alcohol after we played, and I was careful with what I ate.

“Back then, it was probably frowned upon, and seen as a bit strange.

“But the young guys these days don’t think twice about any of that stuff. The professionalism has just gone to another level.”

Like every player, McDougall has had his hardships. Those seasons were sometimes, things just never seem to fall your way.

Mad Dog has to this day, only averaged a miserly 12 games a season, which is just under half the season.

Despite the downfalls however, for McDougall, the surgeries that he had on his knee and his achilles tendon are actually beneficial in the long run.

“As blessed as I have been in my career, in terms of winning grand finals and playing rep football, it’s pretty well documented that I have been unlucky in that I had some pretty severe injuries,” he says.

“While they were major setbacks, I always had the mentality that if I could overcome those challenges, they might help prolong my career.

“That’s what it’s done . . . I’m getting up towards the 200-game mark, and some of the guys who started after me have played a lot more than that.

“The wear and tear on my body hasn’t been as bad as some other players have experienced.”

Perhaps the biggest shock in McDougall’s career came in 1997, when he was banned for 22 months for using banned substances, effectively two seasons, in 1997 and 1998.

What made this all the more interesting however, is that whilst McDougall accepted the punishment handed down to him eventually, he argued that the medication he was taking contained the banned substance, and it was for a rare condition he had.

Despite his personal hardships however, the one underlying factor as to why McDougall is still in the game of the NRL is very simple. He loves footy.

Whilst McDougall no longer plays representative football, and has not done so for five years, he still thrives on the challenges of the NRL facing star centres such as Steve Matai and Michael Jennings.

He almost always gets the better of his opposition number however despite his opponent being younger.

“I’m proud of it,” he says.

“I’ve been one of the older guys in the comp the last few years and I enjoy taking on the younger guys.

“Maybe in 10 years’ time, I can tell my kids that I used to play against some of the guys that are just starting out their careers now.

“It’s always good to come up against great players from different generations.”

McDougall and his three brothers – Ben, Scott and Luke were destined to play rugby league from the time they were born.

Whilst many footballers contemplate life after footy once they have retired, McDougall took the initiative and made plans throughout his career as to what his next adventure would be.

McDougall, along with his wife Belinda, bought a franchise that is in charge of selling exercise equipment.

Their stores, titled GoFit, are now a national business, with 100 stores located around Australia, proving that McDougall, apart from being a handy footballer, is also quite a savvy businessman.

The norm for footballers is to use whatever spare time they have as their leisure time, in which they might play golf, have a bet or two on the races, or similar things.

For McDougall however, that’s the last thing on his mind when he has free time.

“I’m doing my master’s of business,” he says.

“Football’s been good to me, and allowed me to do a couple of uni degrees.

“I’m just upgrading my credentials before I go out in the real world.”

Another driving factor for McDougall to stay on for one more year was the desire to play at the Knights newly upgraded, Energy Australia Stadium on April 3rd against the Dragons.

“All off-season, when I’ve been doing all that hard training, I’ve been looking forward to that first home game,” he says.

“I’m just really excited about playing at the new stadium.

“I love playing at EnergyAustralia Stadium. I’ve got a great record there, a great strike rate.

“Now that they’ll have that new stand there, hopefully we’ll get some full houses like we used to.

“I just can’t wait for it, to be honest.”

McDougall is also eager to make the finals in his swansong year, an achievement which has eluded him for seven straight seasons.

“I’d say I’d be more than happy to finish this year,” he says.

“I know I could play longer if I wanted to, but I just want to take it game by game and enjoy this year.

“I really just want to finish on a good note.

“I thought last year, after the career I’ve had, I wouldn’t have done myself justice to finish in August.

“I want to finish in September, and I think I owe it to myself and the club to leave when we’re a contender for the premiership again.

“Definitely my focus is on playing in the finals. I’m confident we can do that this year and I’d be happy to walk away then.”

By ricky

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