Jon Wells spoke to League Express after announcing that his 13-season Super League career was over. Wells is now a pundit on Sky Sports.
ANOTHER one bites the dust!
After the two-year ban handed to Terry Newton for failing a drugs test and now the retirement of Harlequins wing Jon Wells, the number of current players who played in Super League’s inaugural season continues to dwindle. The group now consists of just six players – Keith Senior, Keiron Cunningham, Adrian Morley, Sean Long, Nick Fozzard and Paul Johnson.
Wells made three appearances in that first summer season, debuting for an injury-hit Castleford Tigers side against the season’s big improvers Bradford Bulls. Coming off the bench into a side that included Lee Crooks, Dean Sampson, Colin Maskill and man-of-the-match Frano Botica, Wells helped his side to a 26-23 win over the likes of Robbie Paul, James Lowes, Steve McNamara and Brian McDermott, who went on to coach Wells in London.
“I remember we had three wingers out before I got picked!” Wells recalled.”We won as well, and it was great to be involved in something like that, playing with guys that I’d grown up watching.”
Wells played for the Tigers until 2002, figuring in 128 matches. The highs and lows came in the club’s magnificent 1999 season, in which Wells was a near ever-present, playing in 27 Super League matches.
They were just one game from appearing at the game’s two big showpiece occasions, at Wembley and Old Trafford, stealing the headlines with superb play-off victories at Wigan – in the first-ever game of Rugby League played at Wigan’s JJB Stadium – and Headingley. But if the league provided glorious failure as they were eventually beaten by champions-elect, St Helens, the Cup only served up heartache, courtesy of Wells’s future employers.
In a sensational ebb-and-flow Challenge Cup semi-final at Headingley, London Broncos scored an injury-time try through Steele Retchless to leave Castleford devastated. They lost 33-27. Wells was an unused substitute but it cost him a chance of figuring at Wembley.
“I remember after the match, Mick Morgan, the Cas legend, came up to the younger players in the team like myself, Andy Lynch and Danny Orr,” said Wells. “He said we’d get another chance at another final – he was sure of that. Well Danny did, but I didn’t! It was as close as I got.
“But making the play-offs and playing so well in them was a real highlight. There were an awful lot of highlights back then.”
Wells remained a Cas regular until his departure to Wakefield in 2003 and although the giddy heights of 1999 were never emulated, the Tigers remained a force in the competition and were regular victors over the big sides. Matchwinning braces against Leeds in 2000 and 2002 maintained the winger’s popularity on the terraces and although he never found himself towards the top of the Super League tryscoring charts, he racked up 49 Super League tries in his Tigers career.
In 2003, Wells moved on to Wakefield where he played just one season.
“It didn’t go as well there as I planned,” said Wells. “I moved there after speaking to Adrian Vowles who had gone as player-coach at the back end of the previous season. But I had a couple of decent games against London and [Broncos coach] Tony Rea called me up.”
Wells moved south for the 2004 season and spent six seasons in the capital, scoring 19 tries in 44 league matches.
“That was a big challenge for me and it was one I was determined to make a go of. Looking back, I’ve got no regrets moving down here at all.”
The highlight came in 2005 – the last season of the London Broncos – with Wells scoring 13 tries as the side made the play-offs. But in their Harlequins guise, the club have never made the play-offs and don’t look like doing so this season although Wells, as his ‘Rugby League World’ columns would indicate, remains upbeat.
“We’ve been in worse spots since I’ve been here,” he argued. “The problem is the game is halfway through a franchise system and there’s a lot of pressure from the powers that be. Harlequins is on trial everytime we play. We have a very loyal core of supporters but also a lot of undecideds who need a result in order to come back.
“We’ve got a horrific injury list with key players affected. Look at Hull FC in 2008. They really struggled with all their injuries, but they came good in the end [finishing fourth].
“I’d like us to be judged when we have a near full-strength side.”
As for the future: “I don’t fancy coaching but I’d like to do something with the admin or media side of things. If not, I’ve got a couple of things up my sleeve, which I won’t go into now!
“It’s been a great journey and I’ve made a lot of friends along the way.”