Anthony Mullally offers his apologies for being a couple of minutes late for the start of this interview. A truck had blocked one of the narrow streets on the route to his home in Carcassonne, delaying his return for this scheduled Zoom call.
Navigating the arcane one-way system of the historic town around 50 miles east of Toulouse is one of the smaller challenges Mullally has faced since seizing a long-sought opportunity to play rugby league in the south of France last September though.
The biggest has perhaps been learning to speak French – he describes his progress as “tres bien” – although that was something the 29-year-old was fully prepared for, being attracted to the region by the lifestyle and the opportunity to experience a new culture both on and off the rugby field.
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And while his original hope of one day moving to Catalans Dragons has not been fulfilled, Mullally is enjoying the opportunity to combine playing in the domestic Elite 1 competition with AS Carcassonne alongside pursuing some non-rugby interests.
“I’ve got a good four or five years left in me and I could still play Super League if I wanted to do, but I’m at a point where even though I love rugby and I’m grateful for everything it has given me, it’s not the sole thing in my life anymore,” Mullally told Sky Sports.
“I still get purpose from it and still enjoy it, but I’m diversifying into other things for after rugby. Coming to France gives me that extra time to do that and obviously, I’m in a beautiful little town in the south of France.
“I’m doing weekly French lessons and I can tell the boys what I’ve been up to, what I’m doing and ask them questions about things, but I can’t have a fluent conversation yet – give me another few months and I’ll get there.”
Mullally has never been afraid of expanding his horizons though. Indeed, the former Widnes Vikings, Huddersfield Giants and Leeds Rhinos prop was one of those who joined the Toronto Wolfpack revolution and helped the Canadian club win promotion to Super League in 2019.
That meant he was also one of the players left facing an uncertain future when the Wolfpack’s finances were hit as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, forcing the club to pull out of Super League ahead of last August’s season restart and subsequently being rejected for a return in 2021.
By that point, Mullally had already agreed a move to Carcassonne on a one-season deal, having spent the post-lockdown summer in Cornwall living in his camper van, pursuing his passions of surfing and getting back to nature while doing some part-time work as a landscaper.
“When Covid first happened, I bought a van, did it up, and I went down to Cornwall when they were sorting out when we could come back to training and everything like that,” Mullally said.
I’m at a point where even though I love rugby and I’m grateful for everything it has given me, it’s not the sole thing in my life anymore.
“I was doing a bit of landscaping to pay the bills and I didn’t have a mortgage because I sold my house in Leeds the other year, so I came to Cornwall because I love surfing and being among the elements in nature.
“I was in my van, surfing most days and doing a bit of work, and then I started on some events stuff which has opened up a different side of things for me, which is great.
“The more rigid structures we have of how things should be, the more set up we are for disappointment, so I just try to be fluent around these structures. That’s kind of how I live my life.”
While many of his former Toronto team-mates have secured deals with Super League or Championship clubs, Mullally is likely to stay with Carcassonne beyond the end of the French domestic season, which runs from October to June.
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That will, Covid-19 restrictions permitting, allow him to return to Cornwall this summer and continue working on providing outdoor retreats for those who want to escape the stresses and strains of modern life.
“I’ve started retreats just to encourage men to get back into nature and try to disconnect from the crazy technological age we’re in, and create a space for men to be authentic and talk about what they necessarily think it is to be a man,” Mullally said.
“It just came to me, going through a change in myself with breaking down some old constructs in my mind of how I thought things were and how I want to be perceived. You’re still seeing it now in society.
“It’s more about reconnecting with who we are and being in nature, I feel when we are there with a group of men it brings back something we can tap into. Also, an extended amount of time in nature off-grid rewires us to how we are supposed to live, so that’s the emphasis of it.”
For me, it’s just about enjoying rugby again and being here playing is definitely bringing it back.
Aside from games still being played behind closed doors due to the ongoing pandemic, life on the rugby side of things is going well for Mullally at Carcassonne too and regular weekends off during the season mean he has been able to go surfing as well as explore the countryside in the Pyrenees.
The 11-time French champions are currently third in the table ahead of this Saturday’s match away to leaders St-Esteve XIII Catalans – the Dragons’ reserve team – and 2017 Super League Grand Final winner Mullally could hardly have asked for somewhere better to be.
“They’re a proud club and a proud culture as well, and you can see it around the town which is really nice,” Mullally said.
“To be honest, I didn’t really know what the standard was like and I assumed it was good. It’s tough, really physical, and the French boys are very passionate and love rugby.
“For me, it’s just about enjoying rugby again and being here playing is definitely bringing it back.”
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