Iestyn Harris (2)

The first seven of the following questions were put to Iestyn for Rugby League World after it was announced that the Crusaders had been awarded a Super League licence – Harris was still a Bradford player at the time. The rest are from an interview in 2007 for the ‘My Life In Rugby League’ series for League Express.

What was your reaction to the licence decision?
I was in the gym training with the Bulls when the news came through and I was absolutely delighted to hear that Celtic were in. It’s fantastic news for the sport in Wales that the game at the highest level will be there from next year. A lot of people have been trying for a long time to make this happen. I also think it’s great that the RFL kept it under wraps until the announcement because these things normally leak out.

However good the news is, do you still have regrets that it’s taken this long for the RFL to go with a Welsh Super League side?
They missed a huge opportunity in the mid-’90s when there were still a lot of high-profile Welshmen playing in the top flight. The following in Wales was huge then and I’d have been very interested in playing for a Welsh side back then. But it’s better late than never and, as the club have pointed out, the hard work starts now for them.

Have you spoken to the club about a move there?
I spoke to them briefly before the licence decision was made but without knowing whether they were in or not, there wasn’t too much point in saying too much. It will be worth talking to them again now.

How confident are you that the Crusaders could compete in Super League at first?
They have a reasonable squad already but it’s a different kettle of fish in Super League. They won’t want to be coming last so they’ll probably look at making nine or ten really good signings. Whether they’re Australian or home-based players, we’ll have to wait and see. But I think everyone knows the importance of having local players in the side and I’m confident they’ll start to come through at that level too. As for how well they can do, nobody would have believed that Catalans Dragons would be third at this stage of only their third season.

Irrespective of where you are, are you looking to play or coach next year?
I want to carry on playing. I’m feeling pretty sharp at the moment and have been happy with my recent form. I’m not yet at the stage when it takes you a long time to recover from games. That’s when players know it’s time to finish. But I do want to progress in coaching at some point too.

Are you definitely leaving the Bulls?
Yes, I think so. I’ve enjoyed my time at the club but it’s probably time to move on, especially if I want to get into coaching . I think it’s best to do that away from where you’ve been playing.

Do you see yourself as a stand-off or a hooker now?
I don’t mind really. Playing nine has added another string to my bow and I’m still comfortable playing at six or seven.

How did you get into Rugby League?
I have memories of going to watch my dad play for Saddleworth Rangers when I was eight or nine and there was a young team training on the nearby pitch and I joined in. My dad was three when my grandfather moved to Oldham from Wales in 1946 where he captained Newbridge. A mate persuaded him to trial at Oldham and he ended up being selected.

At what age did you start to believe you could earn a living from sport?
Not too long before I went to Warrington which was when I was 15. It was only just prior to that that I started getting representative honours and I began thinking something could happen. Then I signed a schoolboy scholarship at Warrington, played Academy at 16 before making the first team at 17. I was pretty lucky that Warrington were big into their youth system so I was at a good club at the right time.

How do you remember your time at Warrington?
I loved my time there. The years under Brian Johnson and Clive Griffiths were great. It was a superb club but I didn’t enjoy things as much under John Dorahy and Alex Murphy. The club changed. We were going forward until then. Things are difficult sometimes and if you’re not happy then I don’t think it’s right to stay. Things were said; some true and some not but the top and bottom of it is that I didn’t have a problem with most people at the club. I still enjoy watching them and I’m friends with some of the players there.

You then signed for Leeds in 1997. The year before they had been a club in crisis. Did you expect them to be competitive so soon?
No, not at all but we clicked quite quickly. Gary Hetherington and Paul Caddick had only taken over the club at the end of 1996 and brought in a lot of new players and I was just a part of that re-shuffle. Then Graham Murray came in and was the glue that pulled everything together. Suddenly we were a force to be reckoned with overnight and it was good to be a part of that. Getting to the 1998 Grand Final was special although losing is a bad memory.

What do you remember about the Challenge Cup win the following year?
The Challenge Cup win was something I’d dreamed of. I’d been to finals as a kid so it was wonderful to play there and fantastic to lift the trophy, especially as it was the last game of Rugby League to be played at the old Wembley. It wasn’t until the second half that we started to take control of the game and then we knew we were going to win so we could appreciate everything around us and soak it all up.

Things went downhill though after the loss of Graham Murray and some big names like Godden, Glanville and Morley didn’t they?
They did but that was because they weren’t replaced properly. As for the coaching job, it’s a big job to coach Leeds and the club didn’t bring the right people in. A lot of players went who were at their peak and things drifted apart. Graham leaving was a big part of that. We should have been kicking on to Grand Finals etc but we fell away. It was tough to take because I loved playing for Leeds and the club was close to my heart but I didn’t gel with the coaches after Graham.

Did Leeds under-use Terry Newton because, after the signing of Lee Jackson, Terry was only getting 20 minutes a game?
Yes. I was disappointed because, at the time, Terry was a 19-year-old lad showing real potential and they brought in Lee who was 31 or 32. He should have been learning off Lee, not being pushed out. Leeds made a few mistakes at that time and that was a big one. As a result, Adrian Morley’s nose was put out of joint because Terry was his big mate and it was one of the reasons Adrian left. It was the big downside at Leeds at that time; players were allowed to leave that shouldn’t have.

Yes, you refer to that in your book. There was Brad Godden too.
Yeah, Brad was on fire and was one of the top three centres in the competition but when he went in for contract negotiations, they just said that there was no money for him. It didn’t send out a good message as to what the club was all about.

After playing union in Wales, you then came back to League with Bradford Bulls in 2004. Were you close to re-joining Leeds instead?
I spoke to Leeds at length about going back and it may have been my first option at the time because I’d been there before but then I spoke to Brian Noble who told me where the Bulls were heading and I wanted to be a part of that. At Leeds, Gary Hetherington didn’t seem too interested. They were offering me a drastic reduction in salary compared to what I’d previously been on there and they were only going to offer me 12 months. Bradford offered me four-and-a-half years and just seemed a lot keener to take me on. It only went sour when Leeds and Gary Hetherington realised that I was going to Bradford. It took me a while to settle back in but although we reached the Grand Final and I got into the Great Britain squad, I always felt that 2005 was the big one for me. We won the Grand Final that year and that’s the pinnacle for Rugby League players now, especially for me having lost there in 1998 and 2004. That would be the highlight of my career so far.

How do you look back on your Great Britain career?
I played some good games for GB but never got the opportunity to win things, like a lot of British players, because Australia have dominated for so long. The two Tri-Nations in 2004 and 2005 have been highlights because International Rugby League has gone up a few notches since I’ve been back and it’s good to see space during the regular season put aside for internationals. Things have been frustrating for GB for a while now. We’ve had some good wins like in 2004, topping the group, and the big win over the Kiwis in 2005 but we lost one final 44-4 and didn’t even make the other. Same again last year. That win in Sydney was great but they couldn’t kick on.

So, are our players burned out from too many Super League fixtures?
Yes, I think so. The NRL finishes earlier and they have a bigger break before the Tri-Nations and we’re pushed into playing five Tests on the bounce if we want to win it.

Who has been the most influential person in your career?
My father started me off playing the game but, professionally, it would be Clive Griffiths who was in the coaching set-up at Warrington. He also coached me in the Welsh team. He’s had a lot of influence over my career and I still speak to him a lot now. Playing for Wales was great, especially in the 2000 World Cup. For 50 or 60 minutes we gave the Australians the fright of their lives in that semi-final.

Who is the best coach you’ve played under?
I’ve played under some really good coaches and Steve McNamara is right up there with them at the moment. He’s got unbelievable ability as a coach and will be one of the best in the future. Graham Murray was fantastic and his man-management was top class and then Brian Noble as well. They’ve all had different attributes but I’d say Steve McNamara is the most complete coach I’ve played under.

Who are the best players you’ve played with?
Shontayne Hape. He’s unbelievably underrated. Give him the ball with no room to work in and he’ll make something out of it. There aren’t too many players like that.

How did your book sell?
It’s gone okay. I’ve sold about five or six thousand which is pretty good for a sports autobiography. Rio Ferdinand only sold about 9,000 but I didn’t do it for the sales. A lot of sportsmen do it for something to look back on.

Were you disappointed to lose the Bradford captaincy?
Pretty disappointed. Steve spoke to me and said 2006 was a tough year for the club and that he wanted me to have a stress free season. I was disappointed but Paul (Deacon) will do a great job.

You’re one of several great players to come from Oldham. What do you make of the club’s recent demise?
It’ll be a long hard slog for them. They’ve got some decent people running the club in Chris Hamilton and Sean Whitehead but they’ve not got their own identity now they’re at the football ground. They’ll need a five or ten year plan to get the good times back.

Are you confident going into 2007?
People are writing us off, predicting us to finish seventh or eighth but we’re confident. A lot of the top teams are pretty similar, it’s just down to luck and injuries from there.

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