JOE Vagana reckons the Bulls could have lived with the NRL’s finest during their Super League prime.

The New Zealand legend remains one of the most popular overseas heroes at Odsal, after a hugely-successful eight-year stint with the club.

Vagana appeared in five Grand Finals with the Bulls, winning three of them, as well as lifting the Challenge Cup and twice being part of the team crowned World Club champions.

And he believes Brian Noble’s elite squad would have held their own against the best teams in Australia.

“At the time, we always asked ourselves that,” he said. “We’d back ourselves to be in the finals and give it a good run.

“When I first went over there, I was still in my prime years. I was 24 or 25 at the time and still had a bit of juice.

“Guys coming over to UK were in their prime, not in their last one or two years to make a couple of dollars. That changed the game and made it lot more competitive.

“It tightened up and made it a great game with a lot of stiff competition.

“But as a playing group, we always told ourselves that we could do this in the Aussie comp.

“That week-in, week-out mentality gets you into the finals of any competition and we believe we had it.”

Vagana, who joined the Bulls from hometown club Auckland Warriors in 2001, was voted into the club’s team of the century, after an Odsal career that saw him play 242 games and score 19 tries.

He still looks back fondly on his glittering time in West Yorkshire.

Speaking on the Top of the Props podcast in New Zealand, ‘Big Joe’ added: “It was an unreal experience. I signed for three years and ended up staying for eight.

“It was the family environment at the club that kept me there. The Paul brothers were there, as well as Tevita Vaikona, who I grew up playing with in the junior Kiwis.

“There were a couple of Aussie boys like Mick Withers, who’d played at the Balmain Tigers, then Shontayne Hape and Lesley Vainikolo came – they formed a lethal combination over the years.

“We tasted some success, lifted some trophies, made some finals and made some memories.”

Vagana still cherishes the honour of being named as one of the best players to represent the Bulls in the modern era.

He said: “Like any player will tell you, you first off play for yourself and being the best you can to not let your team-mates down.

“But the fans are next because they are backing and supporting you. They definitely let you know if the club have bought the right person or not.

“I was quite lucky to have a great bunch of boys around me and to get a pick from the fans was another special moment.”

Vagana announced his retirement when he left the Bulls in 2008, and still stands by that decision.

He said: “My body was saying no but my mind yes.

“The club wanted me to carry on a couple of years, and even offered me a role to get to my testimonial.

“But I wanted to leave by my own accord rather than being pushed out. It was a tough decision but an easy one, because it was the right time.”