The former Great Britain and Wales international Karle Hammond, who played in three Challenge Cup finals, looked back on his playing career with me for a Rugby League World article in 2009.
You played Super League in London and internationally for Wales. Can you ever see Rugby League truly expanding at the highest level?
We’re seeing now with the Crusaders and with London how hard it is so I’m not sure. There’s so much talent in the north and more funding has to be made available for it to come through properly. They should concentrate on where the game is strong and help more players develop and improve the link between BARLA and the professionals. Money has to be pumped into the kids’ game first and foremost. At kids’ level, there isn’t much difference between the game in England and Australia. The big difference is that the kids in Australia get the help and funding to professionalise. Working on that is what the game in England should look at.
Where in Australia do you live?
I’m about two hours of Sydney in St George-Illawarra territory in a lovely little area which is perfect for us, as opposed to Sydney, because we’re a big family. Dean Callaway, who I played with at London Broncos, fixed me up with a job as a fitter at the steelworks. I’ve been here for a couple of years now and we love it. It’s a permanent move – we sold up and wanted a change in lifestyle. We came over with three kids and now we’ve got a fourth – our own little baby Joey, who will be two in jersey. We’re hoping for some rivalry between the oldest and youngest – maybe they’ll square up in an Ashes series!
Do you miss England?
I miss my family but apart from that, since I’ve been away, it’s been more of a sentimental thing more than anything else. I love thinking about the history of where I’m from and stuff like that. I loved everything about my lifestyle in England but we wanted a change and Australia, through Rugby League, had always had a big influence on me. I always watched Aussie tapes and in 1995 I came out and played for the Roosters under-21s and reserve grade.
Are you involved in Rugby League over there?
I’m about to get involved with skills and defence at Shell Harbour Sharks who are in the Illawarra group. It’s semi-professional. They feed up to Shell Harbour Dragons who are basically the reserve-grade to the Dragons in the NRL.
Was 1996 the best year of your career?
Definitely. Saints had always been the bridesmaids but we turned it round that year. The outside backs in the team were superb so playing stand-off for them wasn’t the hardest job in the world. Shaun McRae’s man-management was unbelievable and he had all the players singing off the same hymn sheet. Playing at Wembley was everything you could imagine and more. The game was an absolute rollercoaster and I’ll always remember being the sticks after Bernard [Dwyer] had scored for Bradford, thinking that was going to be a bad place to lose. We were 26-12 down but Bobbie’s kicks turned things round. I’d have been happy to retire after that game! But we went on to win the Super League thanks to a long run of wins and I found out during our Mad Monday celebrations that I’d been called up to the Great Britain tour as a late replacement. It was a year I’ll never forget.
Why did you leave in 1998?
I’m not sure. In hindsight I wish I’d never left. But I was one of those guys who always got unsettled and wanted a new challenge. At Saints, I was one of the players who did the work that went unnoticed because there were so many stars but I wanted more of a playmaking role. I spoke to Malcolm Reilly at Huddersfield and also to Hull. London was a bit left-field, a move that not many made and it was a chance to play with Martin [Offiah], who I’d idolised when he played for Widnes. I chatted to Tony Currie at the Broncos and liked the family environment of the club. It was a good move for me. It was better than playing for a club near Saints, wishing I’d stayed there. We got to Wembley in my first year – my second in three years – but we got out butts kicked by Leeds.
You missed the Welsh World Cup campaign of 2000 through injury.
It was one of them chances I should have took. I broke my thumb and ripped the tendons at the end of the season for the Broncos. Even now it still plays up. It would have been great to play because the boys did superbly and pushed Australia all the way in that semi-final.
You endured a stop-start career after leaving London. What happened?
When you finish playing, you realise your mistakes and you make some of those with your heart rather than your head. To go back to Widnes for the second time was a big mistake because they weren’t in Super League. I’d been away from my family while I was in London and I thought it would be nice to move back and help Widnes get into Super League. But I damaged ankle ligaments in the first trial game, came back too soon and wasn’t enjoying my football. I wasn’t playing well and the club was still the way it was when I left. There were problems with the pen-pushing side and the playing side. Hopefully that’s gone now because with that stadium and the support they have, they should be in Super League.
Why did you finish playing at 28?
I just stopped enjoying my football. At Widnes, we were playing for playing’s sake and there was no ambition. That didn’t happen until Neil [Kelly] came in after I’d left. I went to Salford but my right ankle dogged me there. I went to Halifax where things went well at first but began to feel stale. I was training and playing with no real feelings. I spoke to my family and made a decision to retire in 2002 at 28. It was a bit crazy but I’ve always been laid back. My wife swears I’ll come back in my next life as a deck chair!