After winning the inaugural League Express award for the Super League player-of-the-year award, the Albert Goldthrope Medal, in 2008, Wakefield and Scotland’s Danny Brough was the latest My Life in Rugby League participant. In 2010 he left Wakefield for Huddersfield and although he decalred after the 2008 World Cup that he wanted to play for England, he didn’t gain selection and returned to the Scottish camp for their European Cup campaign.
What does winning the Albert Goldthorpe medal mean to you?
It means a lot and I’m delighted to have won it. I kept rushing out on a Monday morning to buy ‘League Express’ to see how I was doing and every time Catalans had a good result I was worried that Thomas Bosc would be catching me! We’ve had a good season, finishing seventh and making the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup and I’ve had a lot of very good players around me. My form was good in the first 16 or 17 rounds which was reflected in the voting. We had good go forward which is vital to any halfback and Jamie Rooney is a great player to play alongside as well.
What will you spend the £2,000 prize on?
I’ve been told it’s going towards our wedding!
You were also recognised by Rugby League World magazine last year who named you the best player in the National Leagues.
That was great to see. It was a real privilege to come out top of that list but it was also good to see the National Leagues get that sort of recognition because there are a lot of very good players playing outside Super League.
When did you first play Rugby League?
I was nine and playing football in the local park when a bloke came up to me from Thornhill and asked me if I fancied a game for their Under-11 side. So I did and I went OK – I was man of the match in my first game!
When did you start to realise you could go far in the game?
I never thought of that at first, preferring to play for fun and to make new friends. Then at 13 or 14, I started to realise I was pretty good and scouts started to notice me.
When did Wakefield first sign you?
I signed for Wakefield as a 15-year-old and stayed for three years. I remember playing in an Academy curtain-raiser at Oakwell before the first team beat St Helens but didn’t make the first team in my first spell here. I then moved onto Dewsbury where Andy Fisher, who had played here, was coaching. That was a good move for me – we had a good team although not the best. I played 25 games in 2002 and the season finished with a big play-off match at Widnes against Workington to decide who took the last National League One place when the old Northern Ford Premiership was split into two.
Why did you leave?
York came in for me and I felt there would be more first-team chances for me in National League Two. I enjoyed it there – we finished fourth in 2003 and in 2004 we made the Challenge Cup quarter-finals and the play-off final, which we should have won. We were playing Halifax, who had finished second bottom in NL1, and had a decent lead but they scored three late tries to win it.
It was reported that you gave up a good plumbing job to move when Hull came in for you.
That wasn’t really reported right because I was just working for some mates. I was enjoying it but it was an easy decision to give it up to play Super League. I played Under-21s at first but an injury got me into the first team in round seven and I stayed in the team for the rest of the season until I was dropped for Sione Faumuina, who had arrived to play three matches, in the play-offs. The highlight, of course, was the Challenge Cup and playing in all the matches.
Hull were a point behind in the last minute when you were lining up the conversion which won the game. Did you think of Don Fox?
Yes I did! But I also knew that kicking goals is a lot easier now – you don’t have to dig a hole in the ground to put the ball. The whole afternoon was fantastic. I’ve never been so nervous walking out. My legs were shaking and so were Richard Horne’s who was next to me – and he’d played in Test matches against Australia. We thought we’d lost it when Calderwood scored but Cookey scored that great try near the end. There was still time for Leeds to force a late drop out and I thought, “Here we go…” but we held on. The whole event was completely overwhelming.
John Kear recently admitted it was a mistake to drop you for Faumuina in that play-off game at Odsal. Were you upset with the decision?
Not really to be honest because I’d achieved so much in 2005. I couldn’t really complain after playing in most of the Super League games and every Challenge Cup round. But I was disappointed for the team because we’d beaten Warrington in the play-offs only to lost 71-0 at Bradford.
What happened to you after Kear left?
I was just told that I didn’t figure in Peter Sharp’s plans. Castleford came in for me which was a great move for me. We had a very good team with some excellent forwards and I think Terry [Matterson] had been looking for a scrum-half right up to when I joined. But we fell away at the end and Wakefield beat us on that last day to relegate us. They were the better team on the night in all honesty, but we’d had two tries disallowed the week before against Salford which would have stood if the game had been on TV and the ref could have gone to the screen.
Were you tempted to leave Cas at the end of 2006 to stay in the top flight?
I spoke to a couple of other clubs but I enjoyed Cas so much that I wanted to stay and help them get back into Super League. But when Wakefield came in for me during last season it was too good to turn down. With a new baby in the family, I had the chance to sign a three-year Super League deal and I knew I had to sign it. I was sad to leave my mates but that was more important.
How would you assess this season for Wakefield?
It’s been a real roller coaster of a year for us. We started like a house on fire at first but faded. We then overcame our problems to put in a couple of decent performances against two of the top three to end the season. Seventh isn’t bad but we really wanted to make the play-offs. Making the Cup semi-final was the highlight, of course, because it’s always great to play in big games but our start killed us. 18-0 down in ten minutes is a lot to recover from and in the end defeat was hard to take even though I was pleased for Hull where I’ve still got some mates playing.
A couple of pundits believe that you haven’t gelled with Brad Drew. Are there any problems there?
Not at all. I get on with Brad really well and he’s one of my best mates here. We travel to Scotland commitments together where he’s assistant coach. He’s a great bloke but he’s not had an easy year – his dad died and he broke his hand which kept him out for a long time. We’ve got quite a few ball-playing combinations here. Maybe there’s too many little guys here but that’s the coach’s problem!
Has the World Cup been in your mind all year?
It’s been at the back of my mind. It’s a huge honour to captain Scotland and I’ve been proud to play for them since I was a York player in NL2. Now Wakefield’s season is over I can’t wait to get out to Australia. I think we can do well and I’m excited by our squad because we’ve got a lot more Super League and NRL players than usual.
What do you think of the decision to replace Great Britain in future international tournaments with England? It looks like you will be one of the big losers in this controversial move.
Absolutely. I’ve heard that England will kick off next year’s Four Nations at Wembley whereas it should be Great Britain. It’s a real disappointment that members of the Scotland, Ireland and Wales teams can’t play top-level international every year. It’s extremely unfair and it was interesting to read in ‘League Express’ that Keiron Cunningham would have never played for Wales under this ruling. We’ve already been harmed with great players like Lee Gilmour and Richard Horne, who played for Scotland in the last World Cup, now wanting to play for England. Young players who qualify for England and one of the Celtic nations will now all hold out for England.