A chat with big Jon Bruce
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 alongside regular visits by former teammates.
Connections from all across the rugby league community have been to visit Jon.
These include Director of Rugby Mark Aston, Hall of Fame inductee Gavin Brown, Roll of Honour inductee Richard Pepper, the club’s first captain post-merger Chris Robinson as well as Wayne Flynn, Lee Bettinson, Guy Adams, Andy Brent, Glen and Wayne Freeman, Ian Brown and Jeff Wittenberg.
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 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.
"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. “You b*****d!” I remember him saying!"
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.
By Dan Fowler