‘My Life in Rugby League’ for League Express with Huddersfield’s Andy Raleigh in 2007.
How are you enjoying your rugby at the moment?
I’m enjoying the season and we’re vying for a place in the play-offs which is great. That’s definitely something that I’ve set my sights on because I’ve never played in them before.
It’s been a strange season at Huddersfield hasn’t it?
In those first seven that we lost, we were close to winning all of them. We only lost those games by a few points so we knew we weren’t far off but it was still disappointing to be losing. The performances weren’t terrible. We just weren’t getting the results.
How did you first get into Rugby League?
I played at junior school and the first club I played for was St Joseph’s in Huddersfield but I originally played a lot of soccer. My brother had played a lot of rugby though and because he enjoyed it I gave it a go. I played in Sunday leagues as a teenager and then for Huddersfield Academy while I was at college. Then I went to uni in Newcastle, played for them and came back one summer to play for the Giants’ 21s side.
You must have been a stand out player in the Student League.
I went alright. In my last year I got Student Player of the Year and in my first year I was fortunate enough to go on tour with Great Britain students to Australia and New Zealand. That was when I made some good contacts in the semi-professional game and I ended up at Sheffield Eagles. Mark Aston had watched a game between GB Students and the Police, he had a chat with me and, when I finished uni, I went to Sheffield.
Didn’t you also play in Russia with the student side?
Yes, we went to Russia in my last year at uni. We went to Kazan, which is an overnight train journey from Moscow to play their national side, not just their students. That was with England Students and the other Home Nations also toured. It was a pretty tough series of games.
How did things go for you at Sheffield?
I did two and a bit years there. I finished my degree in the May or June and went to the Eagles for the back end of that season to play in the Under-21s side. I got some first team games after that. My first full season went really well and I was nominated for the Young Player of the Year award which Danny Brough ended up winning. The big game that I played there was the play-off final against Keighley which was massive for everyone, especially with it being televised which was new for a lot of us. Even now, you can tell that some lads are more nervous with TV games! We’d beaten them three or four times that year but lost in such a close game in that final. I think I got through 40 tackles so I didn’t get much of the ball.
When you were at Hull KR you picked up a few individual awards.
Yes, things went well for me there. Harvey Howard signed me and the club had a great set-up. I did some development work there, coaching in local schools etc which meant I had a full-time contract there; combining that with playing.
Was that was the beginning of Hull KR coming good?
Yes, probably. The side that Harvey put together was a class side. He brought in James Webster and Byron Ford, Kane Epati and David Tangata-Toa. They were good lads who brought a lot to the club. Then Justin Morgan came in and he was a great coach.
How did you feel when Harvey was sacked?
It was strange because we didn’t really know what had happened to Harvey and losing a coach like that was something I’d never experienced before. Harvey was popular with the players and he taught me things that I still do today. James Webster took over for a while before Justin came in and James made it a smooth transition for the club. He did very well. I suppose it’s a tough job for a player to coach his mates but I don’t think we lost a game when he was in charge. He knows what he’s talking about and he did it on the field as well. The boys realised it was tough for him to play and coach so we really pulled together.
Was the National League Cup Final win over Castleford the big highlight of your time there?
Definitely! We’d played Featherstone the week before and had a good win so confidence was high going into the final. There were three sides vying for promotion that year – Cas, us and Whitehaven so to beat them wasn’t just great because we won a trophy but also because we knew we could beat them when it mattered on a big stage. I managed to score which made it even better! At the time it was the highlight of my career.
What did Justin bring to the club?
He was a great thinker and he analysed things so well. He knew what he wanted to get out of training sessions and had maybe taken a lot from playing under Brian Smith. Technically, Justin was a great coach.
Was it a tough decision for you to leave the club?
Yes and no. I had a brilliant time there and their support is just fantastic. Every time I watch them play now, their fans are superb and they’re good to me as well. I really enjoyed playing in front of them. It surprised me when I moved to Hull just how big rugby is over there and the back five pages of the local paper is all about Rugby League. I’d made friends too and there were some great people at the club, so in those senses it was a hard decision to leave but I’d set a goal to play in Super League and to get an offer from my home town club to play Super League was something not many people would turn down. It was the right move, I settled in quickly and it’s gone well for me at the Giants.
Were you a Huddersfield fan as a kid?
Yes, I used to go and watch them but I also watched a lot of Castleford games because my mum knew Nathan Sykes. I watched him play Academy, Alliance and then he moved into the first team and played with some great players so Cas was my first experience of watching rugby regularly.
Tell us about last year’s Challenge Cup run.
Beating Leeds in the semi-final at Bradford was fantastic. Maybe Leeds were a bit overconfident but we played well and we just clicked. Sometimes that happens and everything goes right for you. The final was amazing too, even if the result wasn’t. I can remember the build-up: worrying whether I’d get picked to start, sharing a room with Eorl Crabtree and just talking about the game. I coped with the build-up OK I think and was just looking forward to the big day. To play in 65,000 people was a great experience. We made a great start in the game but St Helens were a class side – they still are! – and they came back.
Which players impress you in training?
I remember when I first signed, I was amazed at the things that Brad Drew and Robbie Paul could do in training. On one freezing day, Brad was wearing thick wooly gloves but was still throwing inch-perfect 30 yard passes. He’s an unbelievably talented player. I was also impressed with the Wigan lads when they signed in my first year. The skill levels from some of the players were beyond what I’d experienced before.
What are your ambitions for the future?
I’d love to play representative rugby for England and Great Britain but that’s the same ambition as all professional players will have. Club success would be fantastic too. Having tasted a Challenge Cup final, we want to play in more finals with the Giants. I signed another three-year contract extension this season so that takes me until the end of 2010 and we’ve got some great players here.