I started playing rugby league as a 6-year-old boy but it wasn’t until I reached the age of 14 that I really thought I could make it as a professional rugby league player.
Now 14 years later, I’m very proud and privileged to have achieved a Grand Final winner’s ring, three Challenge Cup Final appearances, 1 League Leaders’ Shield, an England cap and selection in the 2013 Super League Dream Team, plus various other accolades. However, the journey wasn’t all singing and all dancing, it took plenty of blood, sweat and tears and a large amount of LUCK.
It all started when my elder brother Robert asked our father Peter to start a rugby team. My dad played semi-professionally for Carlisle Border Raiders – he was asked to join just six months after he first started playing for amateur side Aspatria at the ripe old age of 27 – and there were only four of us at that first training session. The other three were Robert, my cousin Ryan Moore and his friend Richard Campbell.
It soon snow-balled and within a couple of years we had age groups ranging from under 9’s to under 16’s. It wasn’t to last long though, the club folded and after a year spent playing rugby union I joined Ellenborough Rangers, where I spent two years.
By this time, Robert and I had decided we wanted to play rugby league professionally and my father warned it would require many sacrifices and plenty of hard work. He was right. He oversaw training sessions for us in the gym and on the track and it wasn’t uncommon for one of us to be sick at the end of training. It was hard work and my dad always said that being outside of the hotbeds of rugby league in Yorkshire and Lancashire meant that we would need to work harder than the players who lived in those areas to attract the attention of professional clubs and scouts.
We also moved clubs to Hensingham RLFC, a very well run club and one which attracted attention from the professional sides.
My father was doing everything he could to make our dream come true, even writing to then Leeds Rhinos head coach Daryl Powell to arrange a trial for Robert with their under 17’s academy. Being two years younger, it was around the same time that I was selected for the under 15’s regional side to face St Helens, Widnes, Warrington and Barrow.
I scored a try and impressed in a defeat to St Helens and unbeknown to me, they sent a scout to watch me play against Widnes the following week. My dad got chatting to the scout, called Harry Wellens, at the side of the pitch whilst watching with my brother and in true dad-style he even landed Robert a trial with St Helens’ under 18’s!
I scored two tries, kicked a drop goal and got man of the match that day and as a St Helens fan I was over the moon when my dad told me in the car on the way home that they had sent somebody down to watch. They sent somebody else the following week against Warrington, Peter Farrell, and this game went even better. I scored four tries in another man of the match performance and was asked to join St Helens’ scholarship.
I was the happiest kid on the planet. I spent four games in the under 15’s and was then called up to the under 18’s to play alongside Robert under Keiron Purtill, later to be my coach at Huddersfield Giants and for the England Knights. My second game was the Academy Grand Final against Leeds Rhinos at Headingley and although we lost, it was awesome to play alongside my brother and he scored three tries and was voted man of the match.
A few weeks later, I signed my first professional contract with Castleford Tigers, a two year deal. I had a fantastic first year, winning the Academy Grand Final by beating St Helens to avenge that defeat 12 months earlier. The following season, I was promoted to the first team in the Championship before being sent on loan to Workington. I had three great years with Town, winning National League Two Young Player of the Year in my first two seasons, but I still wanted to fulfil my Super League dream.
No top clubs had come knocking so I made a DVD with my coach at the time (Dave Rotherham) and sent it to Huddersfield. They must have liked what they saw because they offered me a three-year contract!
We finished third in a whirlwind first year and got to the Challenge Cup Final. In 2010, I was picked to tour Australia and New Zealand and earnt an England cap against the Aussies in Melbourne.
A couple of seasons later, I was struggling a bit. I fell out of favour with the coaches and couldn’t get as much game time as I would have liked. My partner had just given birth to our first son, Noah, and it was a difficult time during my career. I asked to go out on loan and was surprised when Leeds came in for me. I jumped at the chance, rekindled my passion for the game and started playing some good rugby again.
I was lucky enough to play in my second Challenge Cup Final and my first Grand Final with the Rhinos before returning to the Giants the following season where I had the best year of my career, earning a place in the Super League Dream Team and winning the League Leaders’ Shield.
Two seasons later, I found myself out of favour once more and this time I went out on loan to Hull Kingston Rovers and again got to the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley. I’ve since signed a four-year deal with the Robins and am loving my rugby league.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story and I hope it’s helped you realise that if you have setbacks in life, you have to keep working hard and not give up on your dreams.
I could have given up loads of times but believe me if I can do it then so can you!
My favourite quote is the “Harder you work, the luckier you become”. In life there isn’t a miracle cure or an easy way, it all boils down to HARD WORK! 🙂
“Make your own LUCK”