‘My Life in Rugby League’ for League Express with Graham Holroyd, then of Halifax, in 2008.
You must be happy with your early season form, winning the Northern Rail Cup player of the month in Rugby League World magazine.
Absolutely, winning something like that is a real honour. We’ve had a good start to the season and the Melbourne game gave us a lot of confidence which we’ve carried into the cup games. We’ve been able to rotate the squad which has kept things fresh and we’ve been lucky to avoid injuries. We’re now looking forward to kicking off our National League campaign against Sheffield.
How did the Melbourne game go?
When they told us we’d be playing them, everyone was buzzing and we were focused on it straightaway. It’s not every day you’re going to be up against Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk. It was just a shame Greg Inglis and Cameron Smith were unavailable. It was a great occasion and we gave a great account of ourselves. Hopefully, the people who turned up to watch will come back. To go 6-0 up was a dream, and we held our own for the first 25 minutes or so. We shook them up a bit but I think they got a telling off at half-time and turned it on after that!
How does it feel to be the elder statesman in the side?
I’m playing with lads now who were about three when I made my debut! I’ve been about a bit but I’m enjoying it and I’m at my home town club which is great. A lot of people thought I was mad to go back after what happened in 1999 but I think I’ve turned that around and I’ve got a lot to thank Matt Calland and Martin Hall for. The team spirit is excellent here too.
What have been the highlights of your career?
Making my debut live on Sky in March 1993 against Sheffield Eagles and scoring two tries. There were a couple of places up for grabs because Garry Schofield and Ellery Hanley were in France with Great Britain. I’d been told that I coming on at half-time it went fantastically. Then, there’s playing at Wembley which I’ve done three times. First for the Great Britain Under-19s in 1993 against a Kiwi side that included Henry Paul and Joe Vagana, then in two Challenge Cup finals in 1994 and 1995 against Wigan. I also toured Australia with the GB Academy in 1994 which was a wonderful experience. But if Halifax can get to the Northern Rail or Grand Final, that would top it all. We were one short last year, losing to Widnes and want to go all the way in 2008.
After your debut did you get much more first-team action?
Yes, I stayed in there but only playing for short spells. I was also playing Academy and A-Team games, sometimes playing for all three in a week! I played more regularly in 1994 and it was great to play alongside, and learn from, Garry Schofield. If you can’t learnt from someone like that then you’re never going to make it. Patrick Entat was also at the club, another very good player who taught me a bit. After 16 years in the game, you know what you’ve picked up from other players and you pass it on to others.
Why couldn’t Leeds win anything back then?
Wigan! They were unbelievable weren’t they? I lost three big finals to them in my time at Leeds and they were the stumbling block we couldn’t get over. Martin Offiah’s incredible try at Wembley will always stay in my mind.
What do you remember of the early Super League years?
The first year was a disaster at Leeds, when we finished tenth out of 12. We’d lost Garry and Ellery as well as Dougie Laughton, our coach. The average age of the backline dropped to about 21 and we were in a huge transition. But Dean Bell turned things around in 1997 before Graham Murray took us to the Grand Final in 1998. We had stability and experience by then and Iestyn Harris and Adrian Morley were in great form. But Jason Robinson’s try in the Grand Final was a killer. We’d been in control until then but that try broke us and we lost 10-4 but, looking back, I’m happy to have been a part of the inaugural Grand Final.
Did the signing of Harris ultimately spell the end of your Leeds career?
Well, we played together for nearly two seasons but, yes it probably was because we were both stand-offs. He was a great player and dominated the competition in 1998 playing some brilliant Rugby League. I moved on to Halifax because I wanted to be a first choice stand-off but after six months they went into administration so I went on the lookout for another club and ended up at Salford but struggled with injuries. It wasn’t the best time of my life, with my dad dying but with a wife and family of my own now, it’s rejuvenated my career.
What went wrong at Halifax?
There were always a lot of rumours going around about the money I was on. They’d had a great year in 1998, finishing third, only just losing to Leeds and Saints in the play-offs. But they hit financial problems and John Pendlebury and some key players like Gavin Clinch left. Kids like David Hodgson had to step up and did well but the club had to let players go to get some revenue in. I’d signed a three-year deal but after six months it was going badly wrong. It was the lowest part of my career, especially as I’d grown up a Halifax fan and had watched them in Wembley finals. For it not to work out back then was heartbreaking but I think I’m making up for it now.
Then, as you say, your time at Salford wasn’t much better.
It was spoiled by injuries. I had a metarsal injury, a dislocated elbow and I did my shoulder in my first game for them, in Mark Lee’s testimonial, putting me out for four and a half months. My confidence was down and, in my personal life, I was on a rollercoaster with my dad dying of a heart attack on Christmad Day but then my son was born three weeks later. It’s fair to say my mind was on other things for a while. We were then relegated in 2002 and I missed the last couple of games. If we’d beaten Cas at home we’d have stayed up but we didn’t and we were down. Relegation is a horrible thing to experience.
Did you enjoy playing under Tony Smith at Huddersfield?
Definitely. He’s an excellent coach as he proved last year. Again, it was great to learn from someone like him and Brandon Costin who was probably the main man at the club but I didn’t get too much game time there unfortunately and Doncaster came in for me and I loved my time there.
You played under St John Ellis who sadly died on New Year’s Eve in 2005. What do you remember of that day?
We trained that morning and I can remember him calling us back after we’d finished. He had that sort of sense of humour where he’d make us walk 100 metres back to him after we were on our way to the showers only to tell us to have a good day! So I ignored him and went off with some of the other lads. Then next thing I knew he was being resuscitated on the training ground having collapsed. We found out later that he’d died and it was just unbelievable. There were 18- and 19-year-old kids at training who had only just joined the clubs and it stayed with us all for a long time. Then our kitman, Jack, died shortly after. It was a terrible time and I still don’t think Doncaster have fully recovered. It’s such a shame Singe didn’t see us moving into the new stadium. Having said, that Ellery is a great coup for the club and they deserve success.
Was going back to Halifax a tough decision?
Well, I turned them down at first so I suppose it was. I was talking to Leigh, Widnes and Swinton and then there were rumours about Hull who had some injuries at the time. But I agreed to speak to Martin and I agreed to go and see him and I knew I had a score to settle and to put right what went wrong in 1999. There was unfinished business for me here because I didn’t want to be remembered as the player who played badly at his home-town club. There’s a lot of talent here at Halifax and I’m made up to be here. My focus now is to achieve some success with the club and hopefully make the Ireland squad for the World Cup.