Kevin Penny spoke to me for League Express when he went on loan to Harlequins in 2010 from Warrington.
HE was supposed to be the next Martin Offiah, or, given that he played for Warrington, the next Brian Bevan. He may still one day be regarded as a great winger, but so far the career of Kevin Penny, the scintillating young winger who took Super League by storm in 2007, has not quite gone to plan.
He now finds himself on a month’s loan at Super League’s bottom side, Harlequins, having long since been regarded as first choice at the Wolves.
Penny made his senior debut in 2006 but it was the following year that he burst into the limelight with a series of magnificent tries that had the purists purring. He was a throwback to the days when a winger’s job was just about scoring tries – not catching bombs and putting in the hard yards from dummy-half – and the crowds loved him for it.
He scored 13 in 13 games in a blistering second half of 2007, and won a place in the Great Britain train-on squad, although he missed out on the final 25 that played New Zealand. Still, it was remarkable progress for the youngster, who just a year earlier had been playing Academy internationals against the likes of young Aussies Israel Folau and Mitchell Pearce.
But after 26 tries in 39 Super League starts, Penny has found himself in the Under-20s at Warrington with Chris Riley, Chris Hicks, Matt King and Ryan Atkins firmly established in the three-quarter line. Last May he was loaned out to Championship side Widnes along with Steve Pickersgill, where he was reunited with Paul Cullen, the coach who gave him his first Super League start. He scored 11 tries in as many games, picking up the Northern Rail Cup along the way with two tries in the decider against Barrow.
“I can’t say I’m happy with being on the outer at Warrington but things don’t always go your way and you have to keep working hard to go to the next level,” said Penny.
“I’ve come down here to play Super League, rather than Under-20s. I’ve got a lot to learn and a long way to go so I’ll be taking it each day as it comes.”
The game which sums up the early part of Penny’s career came in 2008 in a Challenge Cup classic at St Helens which Warrington lost 40-34. Penny scored a magnificent second-half try which edged his side into a 24-22 lead before making a crucial error which gifted an easy try to Paul Clough.
Of those perceived weaknesses, he said: “I’ve worked at hard at all areas of my game and just need a chance to play at this level.
“I’m not looking at the past though. I’m looking forwards because rugby careers don’t last long.”
On the face of it, Penny may get less chances with ball in hand in London given how Harlequins have struggled this season, although he doesn’t see it that way.
“No, I don’t agree with that,” he argued. “There are a lot of very good players in this team, but they’ve been unlucky with injuries.
“Harlequins have gone through a difficult time this season but every team in Super League struggles at some point and injuries have obviously been a big problem.
“But it was only a year ago Harlequins hammered Warrington [60-8] in Tony’s second game in charge so things can turn around quite quickly. Players are back from injury now so hopefully we can get some wins on the board.
“It’s been good so far – I’ve been welcomed with open arms and I’m enjoying it.”
Penny, who is contracted to the Wolves until end of 2011, has made a huge sacrifice to resume his Super League career, in leaving behind a young family. His agent is Offiah, who he clearly looks up to.
“It’s been tough because I had a very good pre-season and was looking to start the season, but I picked up a knock against Leigh in a friendly,” he said.
“I’ve spoken to Tony Smith a few times and I fully accept that he has difficult decisions to make. Him and Martin have given me a fair bit of advice and have helped improve my game. When this opportunity came up, I had to take it with both hands. It’s just up to me now to do the business on the field.
“When Martin spoke to me about going on loan, I had some thinking to do purely because I have a fiancée and a one-year-old at home. But we knew it was a chance I had to take and my fiancée was really supportive. I’m lucky to have a great family and I can’t thank her enough for her support. It will be tough down here without them but it’s something I’ve got to do.”