‘My Life in Rugby League’ for League Express with Huddersfield’s Paul Reilly in 2007. Reilly is now retired from the game.
Congratulations on making Rugby League World’s team of the month for April. Your switch to the wing is going well isn’t it?
The wing is the last place I thought I’d end up! It was a bit frustrating at first because I didn’t think I’d be involved as much and I was a bit negative about it at the time but I had a word with Jon (Sharp) and kept at it and I’m enjoying it. I thought this would be my last year but I’m going to carry on now for another year or two. I’ve spoken to my wife and my dad and I feel that I’ve got much more left in me.
How do you explain the season’s turnaround for the club?
In our eyes, we prepared well in pre-season and thought we’d win some early games. It didn’t happen and maybe some frustration kicked in but it’s hard to put my finger on what was going wrong and I still can’t answer it. We’ve got some excellent players and we weren’t losing by much. We were defending well and after we won our first game, we had the best defence in Super League according to the table. The York game in the Challenge Cup was probably a turning point. People say it’s a game we were always going to win but we got a lot out of it and a bit of confidence returned after that. We knew we were too good to be at the bottom despite what a lot of the media were saying.
As well as your move to the wing, there have been some other positional changes involving Chris Thorman and Brad Drew. Did those moves surprise you?
Yes, I thought they were a bit weird but it’s proved to be great thinking. Moving Brad into the halves has given us an extra ball player and Chris has been superb.
Compared to a few years ago, there aren’t any weak clubs down there so, in reality, whoever goes down is going to feel aggrieved. Do you think there should be more than 12 clubs in the competition?
Yes, I’ve said that for a few years. Relegation might be very exciting and last year’s game between Wakefield and Castleford is a great example but only 12 teams doesn’t really work especially when teams play each other more than twice. Let’s have more teams and everyone plays each other twice.
You went on a great run in April but do you think the club gets the publicity it deserves?
Not really and it’s not just this season. You see these clips put together of highlights at events like the Super League launch and we’ll barely feature on it. Then there’s the Cardiff weekend where four games were televised but not ours. Hopefully we’ll be on telly a lot more when we’re in the top six.
How did you end up playing Rugby League when you were younger?
I owe it to a mate called David Holmes, a Hull KR supporter. I was always a big sports fan, mainly soccer, but he got me into rugby and I took to it pretty quickly. I played for Moldgreen when I was 14 and played first team at a young age against teams like Millom. Ever since I started playing, I’ve had goals and I’m happy to say I’ve completed most of them, including playing for England which was fantastic. My next goal, now I’m a winger, is to top the tryscoring charts!
What happened after Moldgreen?
I went for a trial at Halifax and stayed there three or four weeks. They said they were considering signing me up at the end of the year but, before I knew it, Daryl van de Velde had me in his office and I was on the bench for Huddersfield in a game at Hull. That was the first time that it hit me that things were getting serious. Ben Barton got an injury and I was on the field pretty quickly. I’m normally laidback but I was very nervous that day. That was 1996 in the division below Super League and I was a regular from then. Daryl left after then and we had quite a few coaches in and out of the club. The following year, I had some personal problems which meant I had to take a step back. I was playing second team after then but Malcolm Reilly came in to coach the club and got me back into the first team. Then, it kicked back into gear for me. I got the player of the year award and I was enjoying life a lot more.
Soon after that, the club controversially merged with Sheffield. What were your opinions on that?
I was just glad it was mainly based in Huddersfield and that we didn’t merge with a club and end up at their end. We got on with the Sheffield lads who came over but it didn’t really work out and I was glad in a way when we reverted back to being Huddersfield Giants again and a lot of people were relieved.
Talk us through some of the highs and lows of your Huddersfield career.
There have been so many highlights. Stepping on the pitch for the first time was big as was winning man of the match on my home debut for my home town and also winning player of the year. I was man of the match in our Grand Final win and I’ve been coached by guys like Mal Reilly, John Kear, Tony Smith and now Sharpy. He’ll end up being one of the top coaches in Super League soon. The low points have been relegation of course but getting back into Super League when we didn’t lose all year was brilliant.
Then there was last season’s Challenge Cup. Tell us about the semi-final win over Leeds and the final with Saints.
I remember being absolutely terrified walking onto the pitch for the final. I’m not usually a nervous person but it was a problem that day and it was a reason why lost. I was so drained and if a few more of us felt like that then Saints had a massive advantage. They’d be used to an occasion like that and we weren’t. If we get to another final then we’ll do a lot better because of that experience. We started well and gave our all.
As for the semi-final against with Leeds, everyone was buzzing beforehand and, looking back, you could tell something special was going to happen. I think we wanted it more in the end and to beat the likes of Leeds at any time is an achievement but to do it in a semi-final is fantastic. If we’d have played like that in the final, we’d have been very close to St Helens.
What do you remember of your tackle on Ade Gardner? That was one of the tackles of the season.
A lot of people have mentioned it since and told me how good they thought it was but I’d rather you were asking me about a 100 metre try that won the cup! It’s great that people mention it though.
What do you make of this season’s Super League?
There have been so many shock results haven’t there? Other teams have won games that have been surprising. Who’d have thought Catalans would have won at Odsal and that’s just one that springs to mind. Super League is miles better than it was two years ago.
Who’s the best player you’ve ever played with?
Steve McNamara probably. I learned a lot off him. He was a good player but he was great off the field and it’s great to see that he’s involved in the Great Britain set-up. I played with him for a couple of seasons and he was especially good in our NFP season. He was a massive influence on everyone at the club.
Who’s the best you’ve played against?
I always enjoyed playing against Paul Wellens because you want to test yourself against the best in your position.
Who’s the best coach you’ve played under before Jon Sharp?
Tony Smith taught me a great deal. We had a few differences at first that saw me loaned out to Batley. Although I didn’t think it at the time, that turned out to be one of the best things that happened to me and Tony’s brought so much to my game. John Kear is up there too – look what he did at Wakefield last year. But Tony just shades it!
Which young Huddersfield players should we look out for in the future?
Two spring to mind. Firstly, Tom Hemingway. He’s been here a while and he’s unfortunate that Robbie Paul and Chris Thorman are in his way but he’s an excellent player and the club have never been afraid to throw him in when needed. Also, at fullback, there’s a local lad called Leroy Cudjoe. He hasn’t had a chance yet but it would be great to have another Huddersfield lad play for ten years and get a testimonial.
Did you have any reservations over the signing of Ryan Hudson and what do you think of his form so far?
No reservations at all. I’ve known him for a long time and I remember him being understudy to Danny Russell who was superb here. He moved on and his name popped up all the time because of how well he was playing. It was great for him to come back and he’s been fantastic this season. What he’s achieving now is well deserved and I’d have him in the Great Britain team.