Early in his Cruaders career in 2010, I spoke to Michael Witt for League Express.
AT 26 Michael Witt is playing for his fifth professional rugby club in three countries, but in just four games at the Crusaders the flamboyant halfback with the deadly kicking game has already established himself as one of Super League’s most potent attacking threats.
Witt burst onto the scene as a 19-year-old rookie in 2003 with Parramatta, coming close to winning the Dally M Rookie of the Year award, which eventually went to Billy Slater. He has since played for Manly, New Zealand Warriors and the New Zealand-based rugby union side Otago.
Southern Hemisphere players have regularly struggled to settle immediately into Super League and cross-coders returning to League have often taken time to settle back into the 13-a-side game, so cynics who weren’t too excited by the Crusaders unveiling of Witt as their chief playmaker could be forgiven for thinking it might take some time before he played his best football.
How wrong they were!
In the side’s third game, after defeats by Leeds and Wigan, his five high kicks completely mesmerised Salford’s right-side defence and a magnificent touchline conversion, added to his earlier try, edged last year’s wooden-spoonists to an unlikely 18-16 win over the previously impressive Hull FC.
Witt claims to be loving life in Wales having signed a two-year deal with the Wrexham based outfit.
“I’m really enjoying myself here,” said Witt, “and I’m glad I chose to come over here. It’s a big change and one I’m really enjoying.
“The challenge was the big thing for me. It was always an ambition of mine to play in Super League and I didn’t want to take too long for it to happen. I’m happy with the decision I made. I’ve played with a few of the guys here from the NRL so that’s helped me settle in.
“I only played rugby [union] for 12 months, and maybe I’ll get back into it one day, but the opportunity to play Rugby League on the other side of the world was too good to turn down.”
An immensely difficult off-season saw the club relocate from South Wales to Wrexham, while introducing a new set of coaches and rebuilding their playing squad by signing 11 new players with more on the way.
“It’s not been the easiest pre-season but we all trained with the right attitude, willing to work and that’s credit to the coaching staff,” said Witt.
“The Salford win was just what we needed. We didn’t play for the full 80 minutes but we did enough. The bombs worked a couple of time so we carried on with them. There’s no doubting we had a couple of lucky bounces, but Vince Mellars was great underneath them that night.
“It was our first win and we wanted to get that out of the way to give us something to build on. To then back that up by beating Hull in the next game was great for everybody here.”
The club won three just three games last season and look set to beat that figure convincingly in 2010.
“We want to win as many as we can but we’ll have a lot of tough games in this league” said Witt. “The goal is to just keep on improving and if we continue to improve we’ll get a fair few wins under our belts. We’ve got a very good team of coaches here and that was a big attraction for me. I knew a lot about Brian Noble and Sharpy and Iestyn are doing an excellent job.
“We’ve also got a lot of good players – but it’s not just the overseas players or the older players. Some of the local players look to have very good futures in the game and Elliot [Kear] has played really well so far. But there’s others too and every time we train they seem to improve.
“Hopefully we can build on the start we’ve made.”
The Queenslander failed to scale the heights of his wonderful debut season in the NRL, being released by the Eels after his second season and only playing 20 games in two seasons at Manly. He featured more heavily for New Zealand Warriors after his 2007 signing but was released having figured in 43 games just into his third season. But Witt claims to have no regrets over his stop-start career down under.
“No not really, it was just one of those things that happens in professional sport,” he said. “You move around a bit and I played at three clubs. I enjoyed my time at all three and learned something from each. I’ve picked up a lot of experience along the way and that’s helped me along the way.
“I’ve played under a lot of smart coaches and I picked up so much from Jason Smith, who had just retired, at Parramatta. He’d played halfback and I was lucky enough to spend some time with him. And I played under Brian Smith, who is a great coach and he taught me a lot.
“Coming into the limelight at a young age is hard to deal with I suppose and I was having to tell a lot more experienced players than me what to do. But I loved it because it was always something I wanted to do.”