‘My Life in Rugby League’ for League Express with Wigan’s Mark Calderwood in 2008. That year Calderwood went on to be selected in the initial Scotland squad for the World Cup before being enticed into the England squad at the last moment. He moved to Hull in 2009.
When did you start playing Rugby League?
I moved to Leeds when I was three from London, where I was born. I’d always played football until I was 13 and then gave Rugby League a try with my mates. I started with Leeds a couple of years after that but thought I’d missed my chance and decided to work for KFC instead. Anyway, I managed to get back into the Academy side and played under Dean Bell, who was a great coach, and alongside guys like Matt Diskin, Chev Walker, Rob Burrow and Danny McGuire.
Do you remember your Leeds debut?
Yes, it was against London at the start of the 2001 season and I was on the bench. It was round one and we were on Sky. It was pretty memorable because we went 18-0 down but came back to win 50-18. I made my first start against St Helens in the Challenge Cup semi-final at Wigan in a game that we narrowly lost. I was lucky enough to score though, finishing off a length of the field move under the posts that involved Chev Walker, who made the initial break, and Brett Mullins. We had a lot of injuries that season and I played 30 games, nine off the bench scoring 12 tries.
Dean Lance was sacked that season and Daryl Powell came in. Do you think Daryl got the job too soon?
I don’t think so. He did a decent job and he gave a lot of young players a go, which is often overlooked and most of them have gone on to have excellent careers. We did well under him in 2003, getting to the Challenge Cup final and finishing second behind Bradford, who were fantastic that year winning the Challenge Cup and the Grand Final. We were unlucky in that Cup Final, only losing by two points, in a game where we both scored three tries. We kicked ahead from a scrum and I was running on to it, only to be pulled back by Lesley Vainikolo when I’d have scored but nothing was given and we felt pretty hard done to after the game.
You played very well in 2003. How did it feel to miss out on a Great Britain place to Richard Horne, a halfback playing out of position on the wing?
It was hard to take and a lot of people thought I might make the side but I was happy with how I went that year, scoring 25 tries for Leeds. I also played for Yorkshire against Lancashire at Odsal that year, when we won comfortably and I played for England against an Australian Test side in London, only losing by four points.
Tony Smith took over for the 2004 season and you played under him for two seasons. Did you expect success to come so quickly?
Well not many people tipped us to win the Super League in 2004 but, as a squad, you’re always confident. We knew what we could do and we went out and did it. I particularly enjoyed the Grand Final against Bradford, not just because we won, but because of my battle with Lesley. I think people expected him to get the better of me but Kevin Sinfield’s kicking game was excellent that night and we didn’t give him a chance to run at us. In Tony’s second year, we reached two finals but lost them both which was hard to take, especially losing the Challenge Cup final in the last minute to Hull at Cardiff. But we won the World Club Challenge against Canterbury!
Why did you leave Leeds?
Myself and my manager weren’t happy with what the Rhinos offered us so I looked elsewhere and decided to move to Wigan.
After a few months at Wigan you were rooted to the bottom of Super League, involved in a relegation battle. You obviously didn’t anticipate that!
That’s right, I certainly didn’t. It was hard to take in what was happening to us and I’m not sure Ian Millward could get his head around it either. Things just weren’t going for us and we had a lot of injuries to cope with as well.
Were you worried for your future when Brian Noble came in because Brian was one of the Great Britain coaches who had ignored your claims for a Test spot?
I was a bit but it’s always natural for players to be worried when a new coach comes in. It happens a lot. We won our first game under Brian at Huddersfield but then lost six in a row, including a Cup game at Salford. But our end of season form was superb and not only did we avoid relegation, we almost made the top six. Brian made a big difference to us, especially in defence.
They say it’s worse to lose a semi-final than a final. Having experienced both in the Challenge Cup, do you agree?
Yes, I can understand the argument because last year’s Challenge Cup to the Catalans at Warrington was devastating for us all. It didn’t help us that everyone else seemed to be writing the Dragons off but they blew us away in the first half when nothing went our way. We turned things around in the second half though, but we’d left it too late to come back and win. But I’d love to have another chance to get to Wembley and hopefully we’ll make it this year. If we beat Whitehaven, we’ll be in the quarter-finals and anything can happen from there.
You might not have completed that comeback against the Dragons but you turned around a 24-point deficit in the play-offs at Odsal.
I remember thinking at half-time that we just had to avoid a 50-point defeat so to actually turn it around and win was unbelievable. We hit some great form at the end of the season, beating Saints to get into the top six and then winning away at Bradford and Hull in the play-offs. We’ve proved we can win games when it matters – don’t forget we beat Leeds in the Challenge Cup at Headingley – and hopefully we’ll be in the play-offs again this season.
Have Wigan proved they’re not a one-man team this season?
Yes, we’re in second place and we were without Trent for a few weeks, including for the win at Leeds, but we weren’t a one-man team last season either. There are a lot of good players here. He’s obviously a very special player though and I love playing with him.
Do you think Trent will leave and go back to the NRL as recent reports are suggesting?
Trent has spoken to some of the lads and he’s said he’s staying so you’ve got to take his word.
Your contract expires this year. Are you in talks over a new deal?
No. I’ve just come back from injury and I just want to see how I react from that. I need to get back playing every week and playing well, scoring some tries and getting some confidence back. We’ll see what happens then.