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Josh Reynolds: Heartbreaking exit to loyal return

NRL veteran Josh Reynolds’ career has come full circle, returning to where it all started with the Canterbury Bulldogs.

Portrait of Josh Reynolds

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Josh Reynolds: Heartbreaking exit to loyal return

Josh Reynolds broke the hearts of many Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs supporters – and his own – when he made the decision in 2017 to leave the NRL club he had grown up in, for the Wests Tigers.

“I wanted to stay in that club for my whole life,” he says. “I grew up in the area around Belmore, watching the Bulldogs. I started playing when I was 13 and, when I got my first jersey in the development squad, that did it.

“I knew a lot of people at the club, and I felt like everyone involved was my family. I’ve never been anywhere that’s felt like the Bulldogs,” he explains.

But, across his seven seasons with the club and 138 NRL games, the Bulldogs hadn’t won a premiership and they were looking for a change. Rumours had been swirling that the club was looking to sign Kieran Foran and, when he heard they might be signing him, that tipped Josh’s hand.

“The Dogs were looking for a bit of change of direction. We'd had some success but we 
didn't win it. And that's what a big club like that wants. So, I had to put my big boy pants on and have a look elsewhere because even though it hurt, it is a business,” Josh says.

“Loyalty is rare these days, let's be honest,” he adds, “and that's from both parties. Players have done some things that clubs don't like and clubs have done some things that us players don't like. 

“You see it all the time; some great players have been great servants for their club and they're getting shopped around to a new club because there's a new kid on the rise. And I think the sooner you come to terms with the fact that you're just another number, the easier it is.

“Eventually when I got my head around it, I knew it was a business decision from them and I'm fine with that now,” he adds.

Signed to join Wests Tigers

After the 2017 season ended, Josh was signed by Ivan Cleary to join the Wests Tigers. However, he didn’t hit the groove he had experienced when playing for the Bulldogs. “Ivan signed me, then he packed up six months later and went to the Panthers with his son,” he explains. 

This left Josh feeling vulnerable, as the incoming head coach, Michael Maguire (Madge), signalled that no playing spots were secure. “Madge said: ‘Look boys, the spots are up for grabs. My spot, anyone’s spot. And I’m going to put in whoever I feel is best for the role’,” Josh explains. 

“That was a bit hard to cop. I’d done my hammy (hamstring) and Benji Marshall was just on fire, so it was hard for me to get back in the team and find my motion. Every time I tried to get back in, I’d get a shot and I’d be injured again. It was a bit of a rollercoaster, but I think what happened to me at the Bulldogs had hardened me to realise that this is just another one of those things.

“I wasn’t blaming the coach. I wasn't blaming myself because I know I was doing everything I possibly could to get my body right and get back in that team. So, sometimes, it just isn't meant to be,” Josh confides.

Despite the injury frustrations of his time with the Tigers, Josh has no regrets. “I made some really good mates, it opened my eyes to a new club, and the experience and the friends I got out of it is the best thing I'll take from that move,” he says.

Move to Hull FC in 2020

Brett Hodgson, a Tigers assistant coach during Josh’s time, took up the role of head coach at English league club Hull F.C in 2020. He approached Josh and asked him to join him as a player. After a lot of thought about the opportunity, Josh requested and got an early release from the Tigers and continued his league career in the UK. 

“I had a fair bit of off-field stuff going on that wasn’t helping at the time,” Josh explains. “For me personally, when my mind and my off-field life isn't good, my footy's always been a bit off. So that made the rollercoaster extra dippy.

“I was keen to join Brett because I needed a fresh start away from the Sydney limelight,“ he says. “It's a lot sometimes when you’ve got stuff going on and I thought it would be a good start for me. I think Super League was a good choice for me at the time. I was like, ‘why not?’ Go to the other side of the world, get paid, do what I love, and give it a go.” 

Despite an on-fire start with Hull as their highest paid player in its history, Josh then experienced a slump in form, which didn’t live up to the expectations of the club management and supporters. 

“I went to Hull and told them I didn't want to be there for the last year of my deal and they were okay with that,” says Josh. “I was over there with my fiancé, and I was pretty much going to retire. I said, ‘I think I’m done. Let's go travel Europe for a bit and then we'll head back home’.”

Loyalty to Bulldogs paid off

After some time spent travelling with his fiancé, Josh returned to Australia to continue rehabilitation of an ACL injury. Despite feeling like it was time to hang up his boots at the end of his stint with Hull FC, he continued to feel the pull of his code.

In 2022, he signed a $1000-a-week train and trial contract with the Bulldogs. His renewed passion and energy for the game paid off and, in 2023, Josh was elevated to the Top 30 squad for the Canterbury club. In April 2023, aged 34, his loyalty to his boyhood club was rewarded when he made his return to first grade, playing off the bench for the Bulldogs in their 15-14 win over the Cowboys.

“I love the Bulldogs because it's my home and – other than my immediate family – they are my family. I can honestly say that I could tell people at the club some of my wildest secrets and feel safe that they've got my back,” Josh says.

“And that's all you want in life, isn't it? You just want people who, when you go onto the field, they've got your back, and off the field when you're going through tough times. We've got a lot of really good people at the club who want what's best for you and not just themselves.”