Paul Clough, Saints’ home-produced back-rower spoke to me for Thirteen in 2005 when he was just emerging as a young first-teamer. Jason Emery, whose knowledge of Academy Rugby League is untouchable, wrote the introduction and provided me with the questions to ask Paul.
St Helens’ Paul Clough recently capped a remarkable rise when he made his first team debut against Hull FC, coming off the bench at Knowsley Road.
Just a week prior to his debut, the solidly built Clough captained the England Academy to a superb victory over the French under 18s, playing at loose forward. Clough scored a try and featured in several others.
Still just 17, Clough has represented his country in youth teams for the past three years and he also scored the match winning try in this years Lancashire Origin Academy victory over Yorkshire at under 18 level.
His strengths are his powerful running game and exploiting weaknesses in opposition defences. He is a rarity in the modern game in that he can play the full 80 minutes at high intensity. His attitude is first class and if dedication is anything to go by he will make it all the way to the top.
Starting out as a prop, Clough is quite fast and mobile for his size which has enabled him to be used more as a backrower of late which suits his running game on the edge of the ruck.
The former Blackbrook Royals star is the younger brother of Salford Reds’ exciting hooker John Clough (currently at London Broncos on loan) who also represented his country as a sixteen year old, completing a momentous achievement for the family.
Congratulations on making your debut for Saints against Hull. Was it a tough encounter?
Yes it was but everyone around me was really helpful. It was the fastest fifteen minutes of my life but I don’t think I let myself down.
How did it feel to be playing alongside such greats of our game like Cunningham, Sculthorpe and Lyon?
A dream come true. I’ve watched guys like that all my life and it was awesome.
Which first-teamers, in particular, have helped you with your development?
I’d say Keiron Cunningham and Mark Edmondson. They’ve helped me out and given me advice with difficult situations.
It’s been a couple of months for you. Besides playing against Hull FC, you captained the England Academy team to a huge win over France. That must have been a great honour.
It was great. We won easily but we were very professional right to the end. Captaining them was a real honour. I was a bit nervous because I was younger than the other guys.
Apparently Daniel Anderson puts in a lot of time with the youngsters. How have you found him so far?
Yeah he’s been really good. He trains with the Academy and also gives us a lot of advice when we train with the first team.
Do you train full-time with the first team squad yet?
Yes I do.
Last year you trained with the Great Britain Tri Nations squad as part of the RFL’s elite Link Program. Can you tell us about that experience?
It was really good. All the senior players were really helpful even though I hadn’t met any of them before. They didn’t shy away from any of us. We all got stuck in and had a good training session. There were about thirteen lads of our age.
Prior to that you led the St Helens development squad to a historic unbeaten tour of Australia. What was it like taking on the Aussies on their own turf?
It was fantastic playing in Australia against awesome teams. The lifestyle and the weather are great there.
In the second game, there was a big brawl which resulted in the game being called off. Do you remember much about it?
We got on top against a pretty rough team. They didn’t like the fact that we were getting on top with our rugby skills so they turned a bit nasty and we didn’t back down. Unfortunately the game got abandoned.
Game three was against a strong Penrith Panthers team and you were inspirational. That must have given you great satisfaction to beat one of the best junior teams in Australia.
Yeah they’d beaten New Zealand a few weeks before and it’s incredible for any club side to beat a national side so we knew we were up against a good side in Penrith and we beat them. They were very professional, talked a lot and they were well organised.
What other youngsters can we keep our eyes on at Saints?
Well Scott [Moore] has already played first team and then there’s Sean Weed. He was man of the match in that Penrith game and went really well on tour. There’s also Ste Bannister who’s really good, Ian McGillivray and Chris Frodsham but it was a real team performance that got us through the tour.
Keiron Cunningham nominated you as “one for the future” in an interview for this magazine. He said you are so dedicated and hard working. That must be very flattering.
Yes, I was priveliged to read it and a bit shocked. It was a great for someone of that calibre to say that about me and it’s great that the hard work I do doesn’t go unnoticed.
You played loose forward when you captained England but often prop or second row at Saints. What is your favourite position?
I don’t really have a favourite position but if I had to choose then I’d say prop.
How long are you contracted to Saints for?
For two more years. I signed a four-year deal when I was 15.
Who were your favourite players as a youngster?
When I was younger then Chris Joynt and Anthony Sullivan.
Who do you look up to in the modern game?
Keiron Cunningham who’s been a great role model and he’s really helpful to me, and for guys in my position then Shane Webcke.