A Chat with Big Jon Bruce
An interview with Jon Bruce, former Eagles' player and Club captain
This interview was carried out by Dan Fowler of the Sheffield Eagles media team in February 2023. It has been produced here with permission of the Club.
It was produced to coincide with the presentation of Jon's heritage certificate during half time of the Sheffield Eagles v Batley Game on 17th February 2023.
Sheffield Eagles cult hero Jon Bruce is currently facing his biggest battle, having recently been diagnosed with terminal back and brain cancer.
Brucie is being cared for at St Gemma’s Hospice and the prop has been overwhelmed with the support he has received there as well as from regular visits by former teammates.
Eagles Director of Rugby Mark Aston, Hall of Fame inductee Gavin Brown and long-time statistician Richard Pepper have been to see the big man.
After the Merger
Jon was a part of the original Eagles team post-merger, scoring the club’s first try against Lancashire Lynx, and it’s a time of his life he remembers well.
“I was on the verge of packing in and just playing amateur,” he said.
"I was busy at work, had a few lads working for me.
“I got a phone call out of the blue from Tubby (Mark Aston) asking if I wanted to go down, so I said yes.
“When I went, I knew half of the lads that were there anyway and I thought it could be alright here. They didn’t offer me the world because they didn’t have the world and I didn’t deserve the world.
“At the end of the day, Tubby is Tubby. He’s the best coach I’ve had. I don’t particularly want you to be putting this in any programme because he’s a big headed **** as it is!
“Him and Howard (Cartwright) were the best coaches. I really enjoyed being around the place. I got to a stage where I didn’t like rugby league. But when I was at Sheffield, there were a car full of us - we had a laugh going down, training was good and it was a great feel.
“The first year I think we underachieved with the team we had. It’s always hard when you throw a team together.
Best Time they Had
"The lads who have come to visit me from around that time have all said the same thing - that Sheffield was the best time they had.
“It was the best five or six years I had in my life in rugby league.
“The club during that time were setting the foundations. Building, building and building. Then they got promotion, won a few trophies in the Championship and that all comes from the first few years of foundations.
“It was hard work as well but still enjoyable. Howard Cartwright was a different breed altogether.”
A well-known story from that Lancashire game was the demise of Tubbs’ teeth, or at least a few of them.
“When Mark got his teeth knocked out by the ball, I was stood right next to him when it happened,” Jon chuckled.
“I saw his teeth in the mud, so I stood on them and pushed them further in.
“He didn’t see me do it so I told him after the game.
Despite the circumstances, Jon continues to look on the bright side.
Although he cannot be at tonight’s game between two of his former clubs due to COVID, he’s setting his sights on getting to a home game soon.
“They gave me three months in January but I think I’ll be a bit longer than that,” he said.
“I can’t come on Friday because I’ve got COVID.
“But as soon as I’m alright, I’ll get a home game in before I do clog it.
“You might think I’m talking b******s but I’m not blasé about it, I know it’s coming and what’s going to happen to me.”
Jon is highly regarded by all that played alongside him and those who got to watch him in the Red and Gold.
Chris Minchella, father of former Eagle and current Super League star Elliot Minchella, is a good friend of Jon’s and he set up a fundraiser for St Gemma’s.
A sponsored walk took place over the weekend and the current JustGiving total stands at almost £2,000.
“I’ve known Chris all my life and he said they’d be doing a sponsored walk for St Gemma’s Hospice,” Jon said.
“It has been two to three weeks and they’ve raised £2k online and when they did the walk with the bucket, they raised two and a bit thousand.
“I’m absolutely blown away because I feel so humble to have friends and teammates like this. It’s so emotional but it’s really sad. What a set of guys.
“I must have made some sort of impression for people to be doing this!
“I’m at St Gemma’s and they are absolutely outstanding, they are the top of their game.
“They’re all brilliant and the guys have picked up on it when they’ve come to visit.”
If you wish to donate to St Gemma’s, you can do so HERE.
Presentation of Jon's Heritage Certificate
Every player who has ever played for the Sheffield Eagles is given a heritage number to mark the point they played for the Club. The Sheffield Eagles Heritage Project, is going to produce certificates for all players and present them over the next year.
Jon started his career in 1996 for Doncaster before playing for Batley in 1997 and then back to Doncaster in 1999. He played his first game for Sheffield Eagles on 28th September 1999 against Lancashire Lynx as part of that historic first game as the new Sheffield Eagles, following the merger with Huddersfield. That first game saw the Eagles win 33-20 including Jon scoring a try. Jon went on to play 129 times for the Eagles, making 89 starts and 40 times from the bench, scoring 8 tries in total. Jon deserves his place in the Eagles’ history just for being part of the new Sheffield Eagles but it goes beyond that. For those that watched him play they’ll never forget the impact he made as a forward with his runs down the field and no nonsense tough tackling. He played his last game for Sheffield on 19th September 2004 against Hunslet having played 177 games in his career scoring 12 tries.
Unfortunately Jon was not well enough to be present at the match but his son Jacob was there to accept his certificate as heritage player number 231.
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