‘My Life in Rugby League’ for League Express with Luke Robinson in early 2007. A great bloke to talk to, Robinson now plays for Huddersfield Giants and was England’s stand-out player in their 2010 Four Nations campaign down under, postponing his wedding to represent his country.
What was your Rugby League involvement as a youngster?
I played Under-8s at Siddal when I was seven. It’s gone full circle for me now because I now coach them in the National Conference.
How have you adapted to coaching them?
I enjoy it although it can be frustrating coaching some of your mates at times! Sometimes they don’t listen. We train twice a week and they play on Saturday. I make most of the games unless Salford are in London or France or have a Sky game. Apart from that, I’m there every week.
How old were you when you realised that professional Rugby League was a possibility?
Wigan got me as an 11-year-old along with Gaz Hock and a few others. Clubs went through a silly phase back then of signing players at such a young age. It was a strange experience at such a young age and I was a Wigan supporter anyway, always getting my dad to drive me over from Halifax to watch games. I used to go over every three weeks to train until I was 16.
Were you a big-headed 11-year-old after you had signed for Wigan?
No, not at all! I tried not to tell anyone and I’d get mad at my parents who seemed to tell everyone. You can’t keep a secret though and it got around. I can understand how some kids would get big-headed but my family wouldn’t let me. They’d have knocked me back down straightaway.
So things stepped up at Wigan when you turned 16?
It was actually as a 15-year-old that I moved over to Wigan. I had the opportunity to go to Bradford which would have meant I could have stayed at home and my mum wanted that of course but my heart was set on Wigan. I went to live with a family that I’d only met once. They treated me well and I still go around once a week. I played Academy in my first season and then moved into the Under-21s. I was starstruck playing for them because of guys like Simon Haughton. I played in Andy Farrell’s testimonial against Hull and then made my first team debut in 2002 against Warrington.
That was the year you played for England Academy against the Australian Schoolboys in the first series they ever lost. What do you remember of those two games?
We gave them a bit of a hiding in both games and were never going to lose. Look at the forward pack I was behind: Ryan Bailey, Bob Beswick, Jon Wilkin, Gaz Hock and Jamie Langley. It was a great team. I used to think that the team we beat were a bit weak but I went through the list recently and loads of them are in the NRL so we beat a good team. Looking back, it’s one of the highlights of my career given that they hadn’t lost in 30 years or so. Mike Gregory, who was at Wigan with me, was coaching us and it was great to be a part of.
You became a regular in Wigan’s first team in 2003, even scoring a hat-trick in a big comeback at St Helens.
Yes, that game was my first game back after an injury as I’d broken my hand in the Challenge Cup semi-final against Bradford. The Bulls gave us a bit of a towelling that day and Jimmy Lowes and Scott Naylor still remind me about it now! The season went well with me coming off the bench a lot and Mike Gregory came into replace Stuart Raper as coach. Then, in the build-up to the play-off game at Leeds, Adrian Lam snapped his cruciate so I had to start that game and the final. Looking back, I’d have probably preferred him to play with me as a sub which had been a successful combination in the unbeaten run we’d gone on to get to the play-offs. We lost to Bradford and Jimmy and Scott are always putting their hand up asking where my winner’s ring is. We had a good season apart from them spoiling it!
Rob Burrow appeared to be in the same boat as you back then as you were both regarded as impact players rather than starting halfbacks. Was that frustrating and are they different roles?
Yes it was a bit. They used to bring me on for a stint at hooker and the same seemed to happen to Rob at Leeds. If a game was won, I’d get to play at seven but if it was tight, they’d throw me on as a hooker but, to be honest, when you’re young you just want to play and I’d have played anywhere so I was happy to be behind Adrian Lam and learn from him but there’s only so much time you can do that for. At Salford, I’ve had much more gametime and all of it at seven which has been great. Who knows if that would have happened at Wigan?
How did your loan move from Wigan to Castleford come about?
If you go on loan from Wigan then that normally means that you’re finished there and when Denis Betts took over from Mike, I got dropped whereas Mike had wanted me to stay at the club and sign a new contract. I got frustrated in the Under-21s and Castleford and Widnes both came in for me. I knew it was better for my career to be playing in the Super League and I chose Cas because I knew more of the boys there than at Widnes.
What was it like at Cas and how did you enjoy working under Ellery Hanley, albeit very briefly?
Cas was the worst time of my career. As a club, I really liked them but, on the field, there were big problems and some players weren’t performing so it wasn’t a good place to be at. There were tensions too between some of the players and coaching staff. As for Ellery, he came in for my last two or three games. He’s got such an aura about him, grabbing your attention as soon as he walks into a room which is no surprise as he’s one of the greatest players ever to play the game. He had such a presence but not even he could get the best of them. There was only one place Cas were going and that was down.
When you were back at Wigan did you think you had much of a future there?
My loan period at Cas ended strangely. I’d trained with them ahead of a game at Wigan but Denis ‘phoned me up and told me I’d be playing for Wigan in that game and not Cas! It was very strange and I felt bad for Cas considering I’d trained with them that week and I even scored the first try for Wigan. I stayed in the team, playing pretty well and we got into the play-offs but lost to Leeds in a semi-final. I didn’t think I had a future there though and nothing was said about it so my agent made some contact with Salford. I met Karl and he seemed an ambitious coach. They’d just signed David Hodgson and I decided to sign.
What is your opinion of Wigan letting so much young English talent drain away over the last few years?
Well they’ve let go much better players than me. Like Sean Long for instance. Stephen Wild and Martin Aspinwall have gone on to play for Great Britain too. There’s a lot of pressure at the club because they’ve been so successful in the past and they’re striving for success again but sometimes it can backfire when you strive for success so quickly. Sometimes you need to work your way to the top rather than look for a quick fix. But they seem to have a good coach there now in Brian Noble and maybe he can start to get the best out of them. Let’s face it, they’re the richest club, they spend loads more than Salford and they should be at the top. Players need time to gel and they seem to have new halfbacks, props and backrowers every year but with the quality they have, it won’t be long before they start winning things again.
How do you see the future at Salford?
We set pretty high standards but to go from being a promoted club to ninth, to fifth to winning the competition is unrealistic. We just need to carry on getting better and better. Hopefully this year, with the players we’ve signed, we can have a good shot at the Cup and get into the play-offs again but this time perform better, unlike Odsal last year. I’d like to think that if we get there again, we’ll do that.
Can you see yourself wearing the Great Britain number 7 jersey soon?
When I was a seven-year-old at Siddal, all I wanted to do was to be a professional player and then play for my country. I’ve had the honour of playing for the Under-18s but if you ask any sportsman, they all want to represent their country and I’m no different.
Do you think recent coaches have neglected players from the less fashionable clubs?
Well it might sound like I’m saying this because I’m at Salford but, yes, that’s been the case sometimes. Look at David Hodgson. He was absolutely robbed last year. He was awesome right through the year and if he’d been playing for Saints, Bradford or Leeds he’d have made even more breaks playing in an even better team so he’d have probably been picked. Super League is changing though and levelling out so hopefully that will open some doors.
How do you view the international scene at the moment?
Australia are the best team in the world unfortunately. I feel sorry for our lads – well I dont feel sorry for them actually, they get to play for Great Britain – having to play so many games and there are also so many overseas players in our game – convicts as we call the lads at Salford – whereas nearly everyone at the Aussie clubs are Australian. We make it so hard for our International side.