‘My Life in Rugby League’ for League Express with Wakefield’s Jamie Rooney in 2007. Rooney now plies his trade for Barrow in the Championship.
Congratulations on your form so far this season. Did you expect things to be going so well?
No, I didn’t to be honest. I’m pleased with how things have gone for me but credit goes to the team as a whole obviously. Hopefully we can all carry it on.
Having said that, your injury has come at a bad time. What have you done and how long will you be out for?
I’ve got a little tear in my quad but although the papers are saying I’m out for four to six weeks, I’m hoping to be back for the Easter weekend. I’ve missed enough games through injury in the past and I don’t want to miss many more. I need a week of intense treatment and hopefully that’ll work but if I feel anything I’ll pull out. I’m not stupid enough to come back soon and miss the rest of the season.
Is there added pressure on you now people are linking you with a Great Britain jersey?
Not really, I just love playing Rugby League. It’s everyone’s dream to play for their country and if myself and Wakefield can keep playing well, then Great Britain will come along and hopefully Tony Smith will look at me. It would mean everything to me and I’ll do everything in my power to achieve it.
You’ve been chosen in the Rugby League World Team of the Month for March which is a strong indication of your form.
That’s brilliant. There’s some great competition there like Trent Barrett, Danny McGuire and Leon Pryce so it’s very pleasing.
How big a part have the club’s new signings played in this season’s good start?
They’ve played a big part. Matt Blaymire has come from York in a move that a lot of people thought may have been a gamble but John Kear obviously saw something and it’s paid off as it did with Peter Fox. They can achieve international honours one day. Then there’s Tevita Leo-Latu who came at the end of last season and I didn’t know too much about him but you could tell he was going to be a handful. He’s a quiet lad off the field but he’s making a great impression on it despite us having a few other hookers at the club. We also picked up Brett Ferres who’s another young British lad. He’s got the potential to be even better than David Solomona, who he replaced. Ryan Atkins has been made permanent here now and he’s got the potential to be one of the best player’s in the game. He’s got a lot to learn still but he can also play for his country one day. Then there’s Richard Moore whose off-field antics have been questioned in the past but John’s sorted him out and he’s lost some weight. He’s really knuckled down this year and he’s playing really well. We also signed Danny Sculthorpe who’s been injured but we all know what he can do. I played with him a few years ago in a NFP side that beat out Super League counterparts and I was really impressed with his skill levels then. He’ll add another dimension to us.
How did you get into Rugby League?
I lived in Featherstone which is a rugby village and my brother played for the local side. I gave it a go as a six-year-old and loved it. Featherstone Rovers had watched me and signed me when I was 14 with a professional contract starting when I was 16.
How have you ended up at Belle Vue?
I made my Featherstone debut when I was 18 in France in 1998’s Treize Tournoi. I also had a loan spell at Castleford in 2001, playing four games, but they obviously didn’t think I was good enough for Super League so I went back to Featherstone. Then Wakefield, with Shane McNally as coach, came in for me and I’ve got a lot to thank him for.
What have been the highlights of your Wakefield career?
Making my debut at Leeds Rhinos in front of a packed house just after thay’d played in the Challenge Cup final, when we were beaten by a point. Also, staying up last year was something special, especially that last game against Cas. I didn’t play too much in 2004 when the club had a really good season under Shane so it would be good to make up for that this year.
When John came in did you really believe that you had a chance of avoiding relegation?
It does cross your mind because it’s your livelihood. John brought a lot of belief into the club and we started to play for each other and really believe we could do things. We’ve carried that on to this season I suppose.
Did you gain satisfaction in relegating Castleford?
Not really. Being a Featherstone lad I was brought up on the rivalry but on the day itself it didn’t matter who we were playing, we just had to win.
You then went on to play for England after the Super League season.
It was a great experience. I’d played for them in 2003 after my first season in Super League but have missed out with injuries since. Winning the Federation Shield was great and hopefully I’ll be able to do it with Great Britain this year.
Great Britain appear to have little cohesion at times so is it tough to have to fit into a new system at short notice with new players?
No, I enjoy it and it’s a challenge to step out of your comfort zone and perform in different circumstances. It improves you to watch and train with other players so you can see how they do things.
You have an excellent kicking game. Are you naturally gifted in that area or is it something you have to work hard on?
It’s something I’ve enjoyed since I was six and I do it every day. It’s a big part of my game and I never get sick of practicing my kicking. It involves turning up earlier and staying behind later because training sessions are about teamwork and not for someone to work on an individual skill like kicking. It’s worth putting in the extra hours and hopefully it’s paying off.
Who’s been the biggest influence on your career?
My family, especially my father who passed away when I was 16. He took me to all my matches as a kid. Then, Tommy Smales at Featherstone has been like a father figure and pointed me in the right direction when I’ve needed it.
Who were your favourite players when you were young?
Watching Featherstone, I’d say Deryck Fox who played in my position. I admired him a lot and would love to achieve what he’s achieved.
Who’s the best coach you’ve played under apart from John?
I’ve played under a lot of good coaches. Jon Sharp coached the Featherstone Academy and he got me on the right track. Peter Roe did a lot for me too at the club as did Ian Fairhurst. Then there’s Shane McNally at Wakefield who gave me my Super League chance.
Who’s the best player you’ve ever played with?
David Solomona. He’s one of the best players anywhere. There’s also Gareth Ellis. Two players with different assets but probably on a par at the moment.
How can you explain that Solomona leaves Wakefield and, without him, you’re up at the top of Super League?
He was world class but we’re not so reliant on him and we’ve all had to chip in a bit extra. Maybe we’ve over-compensated for him going!
Who’s the best you’ve played against?
Gareth Ellis at Leeds. Rob Burrow’s fantastic too but you’ve got to respect every professional player. They’ve all got their own qualities.
Who are your best mates in rugby?
Danny Evans at Featherstone when I first started out. I’m mates with everyone at Wakefield. They’re a great bunch and easy to get along with.
Your son Brennan has Cerebral Palsy. How have you coped with that as a young parent and what’s the latest with your plans to take him to Poland for treatment?
Yes, Brennan has Cerebral Palsy. When Erica, my partner, and I first found out we were devastated. I remember travelling to work when I found out. I missed a few games in order to get myself right. We were watching a TV show one morning and they featured a little boy like Brennan who was taken to Poland and he was able to walk afterwards so we want to get him there for the treatment and for him to have a better chance in life. We’ve got a few things planned to raise funds to take him to Poland including a Comedian’s night on the 24th of May, a race night on the 13th of June and a Sportsman’s Dinner on the 27th of July where we will have various items to auction like Ricky Hatton’s gloves and a David Beckham signed shirt. There’s also the possibility of a Ladies’ Night in September at the club. If I ever get to play for Great Britain then it’s for Brennan because he’s my biggest inspiration.