Richie Myler

Warrington’s Richie Myler did this interview for Rugby League World in 2010.

IT’s hard to believe that Richie Myler is still a teenager.

Actually if you bought this issue of Rugby League World in the first two weeks of it being on sale, then he’s still a teenager for Myler turns 20 on 21 May.

For one so young he has been through a considerable amount already – mainly good, but not all. He already has four international caps to his name and an impressive five tries from those games. He is the proud owner of a couple of winners’ medals from his Salford days. His departure from the Reds dominated the headlines in the second half of last season and he went on to command a six-figure transfer fee for his services. And he’s already been playing senior first-grade Rugby League for two-and-a-half years. Not bad for one so young!

And, no, he’s not related to those two champion Mylers; Frank, the former Great Britain captain and coach, and Tony, the mercurial former Widnes and Great Britain stand-off. But he is the great nephew of Dougie Laughton, another former captain of Great Britain and coach of Leeds and Widnes, and he is the step-son of the former Warrington player Rob Myler.

Richie’s love affair with our great game started in the usual fashion, as a young kid taken down to his local amateur club.

“I started playing Halton Hornets when I was about six,” he recalls. “I always wanted to become professional and it was when I was about 11 that some interest came along from Widnes.

“I was on a scholarship with them and then signed at 15. There was also a little interest from Warrington when I was younger, but nothing later on. I first played in the Academy at 15 and there were some good players in the team who are now in the Championship.”

Representative honours were soon on their way.

“I played for England Under-16s along with Joe Westerman, Gary Wheeler, Liam Farrell and Shaun Ainscough in France. It was a great experience and I enjoyed it.”

Myler went on to make his Widnes first-team debut just a few months after his 17th birthday in an end-of-season clash with Batley Bulldogs, before making a second appearance in a key play-off match with the competition’s eventual winners, Castleford Tigers.

“I played in the last game of the season at Batley and then played against Castleford in one of the play-off games,” he remembers. “I got about 20 minutes on my debut – it was a bit nerve wracking but I think I did OK. I came on after about 55 minutes against Cas but the game was already over to be honest. They were well ahead.”

Myler was thrown into the senior game alongside some hardened pros like Mick Cassidy, Dennis Moran, Joel Penny and Ian Watson and adapted quickly to lefe with the first teamers but financial problems at the club saw him move on to Salford, who had just been relegated from Super League.

“I’d trained with the first-teamers at Widnes all year so I felt OK playing with them. It wasn’t too daunting, but unfortunately there were money problems at the club and I wasn’t getting paid. Salford came along and I went there.”

Myler’s first year at the Reds couldn’t have gone much better with him going straight into the number-seven jersey for a debut away at Rochdale in the National League Cup where his try helped the Reds to a 54-12 win. He was never once a substitute during the campaign and more than played his part in Salford winning that National League Cup, where they hammered Ellery Hanley’s Doncaster 60-0 in the final with Myler scoring twice. They also collected the Minor Premiership and the Grand Final, where his extra-time try sealed a 36-18 win over Celtic Crusaders. But best of all for the Reds, they discovered midway through the season that their application for a three-year licence to compete in Super League from 2009 had been successful. Every box had been ticked for Salford and Myler, whose contribution was a highly credible 25 tries in 32 games.

“I reckon I was fortunate to play so much because Robbie Paul got injured so it gave me a chance to play,” he recalls modestly. “When he came back we played alongside each other and that was a great experience for me because he taught me a few things. It was the same with Malcolm Alker, it was great to play with two guys who had experienced so much in the game.”

At the end of the National League season, he was a surprise selection in Tony Smith’s England squad to face Wales as a pre-World Cup friendly, even though Smith made it clear Myler wouldn’t be on the ‘plane to Australia. Ultimately, he played against the Welsh because Leeds and St Helens were unavailable for the match due to their Grand Final commitments but, nevertheless, it was a tremendous honour for an 18-year-old lower-division player. I refer to 2008 as the year Myler ‘made it’ in the game.

“I wouldn’t say I’d ‘made it’ at that point,” he counters. “I put a good foot forward but I don’t think I’ve ‘made it’ even now. The England call-up was a shock but Tony told me straightaway that I wasn’t going to the World Cup – it was just for the Wales game. I really enjoyed it even though it was a bit daunting at first. The other players were great with me.”

England beat Wales 74-0 with Myler crossing twice. After that he went back to Salford who, under the coaching of Shaun McRae, were preparing for life back in Super League. The critics had firmly made up their minds that the Reds would be battling for the wooden spoon with the competition’s other newcomers, Celtic Crusaders. In the end, the two sides did finish in the bottom two but the Reds were comfortably ahead of the Crusaders – eight points to be exact – and they notched up memorable wins against the top three sides, Leeds, St Helens and Huddersfield, as well as the scrum-half’s future club, Warrington. The win over Leeds was the club’s first at Headingley since 1977, 13 years before Myler was born.

“I was really looking forward to making my Super League debut all through that pre-season and when I experienced it, I enjoyed playing in Super League – well I enjoyed the first half of the season anyway!” he laughs in reference to the fact that his contract negotiations with the Reds and his eventual signing for the Wolves saw him dropped by McRae for the latter part of the season.

“The win at Leeds was the highlight. It was at Easter and I think they were a bit tired. We went there and played quite well and it was great to be part of the first Salford team to win there in such a long time.”

By this time, Myler was represented by Martin Offiah, the great Widnes, Wigan and Great Britain winger turned player agent. At the conclusion of the long, drawn-out saga of Myler’s move to the Halliwell Jones Stadium, Salford fingers were pointing at Offiah for turning the player’s head. McRae described Myler as “a very naive young man” who “I don’t think has had a lot of assistance in handling the stress and pressure.” Offiah responded in League Express that he was only doing his job and derided Salford’s offer to Myler. “I’ve got a player the move he wanted for more money than he was offered at Salford so I’ve done my job. There was a lot of talk about Salford offering him a fantastic sum, one that would have made him the best-paid player in the club’s history. But all I can say is if that’s the case, no disrespect, but they’re not going to have many top-line players, because it wasn’t that impressive.”

“It was probably halfway through my first year at Salford that I was introduced to Martin,” Myler remembers. “Stuart Littler passed my number on to him. He’s given me a lot of advice about on-field matters as well as off-field. I’m not sure when it was in the year that the contract talks started – probably in the July. I had another year left on my contract and Martin was looking around I think. An offer came in from Salford but I always wanted to better myself and challenge myself so I chose to leave.

“I had a few regrets over the way things panned out but it’s all in the past now. Salford got some money for me and Stefan Ratchford emerged last season as well and played some great stuff for the side. Me and Stef get on well and I was surprised he was dropped by Salford earlier this season.”

Myler received more international recognition while still a regular Salford player with Smith selecting him to play against France in the mid-season Test match in Paris. This time everybody was available and Myler was selected in a full-strength side on merit ahead of the World Cup scrum-half and multi-Grand Final winner, Rob Burrow.

“The fact that it was a full-strength England side was the most pleasing aspect of it for me. We just clicked – they were weakened but we played well,” says Myler in reference to England’s comprehensive 66-12 win. He scored a hat-trick of tries and kicked his first goals in senior Rugby League with a decent return of nine from 12 attempts. He was England’s man of the match in League Express.

Despite not figuring in Salford’s last five matches as McRae consigned him to the sidelines after his departure to Warrington was announced, Myler kept his place in the England side for the Four Nations warm-up in Bridgend against Wales and then for the competition’s opening game against France in Doncaster. Myler scored twice in a crucial spell just after half-time with England surprisingly trailing 12-4 to Bobbie Goulding’s side. Myler’s tries turned the game but, late on, he was the victim of a high tackle from the French vice-captain, Jean-Philippe Baile, who was shown a red card.

“I kept my place for the first Four Nations game, also against France, but I was a bit rusty because I hadn’t played for so long at Salford. Because of the high tackle, I wasn’t fit for the next game against Australia but I was fit for the following week against New Zealand, but just wasn’t picked.”

Now at Warrington Myler is continuing his education under Smith who, after the Four Nations, elected to concentrate solely on the Wolves stepping down from the international job.

“Tony being here was a factor for me wanting to sign for Warrington,” says Myler. “He’s a top coach – he doesn’t need me to big him up because his record does that for him. It’s a shame he’s not coaching England anymore but, on the other hand, it’s probably better for Warrington this way. Our goal is to get our hands on some more silverware. “

There will be further chances for Myler to impress the new England coach, Steve McNamara, given the performances he has displayed so far this season. When Lee Briers was sidelined for a sizeable period with damaged ankle ligaments, there were concerns that Warrington would be a rudderless ship with out him, in an attacking sense at least. But it is credit to Myler and the other ballplayers that, at the end of April, Warrington sat in second place just a couple of points behind leaders Wigan. The scrum-half has contributed eight tries and has had a hand in countless others. A massive 40-20 kick, more like a 30-10, at Hull Kingston Rovers demonstrated a new side to his game. Myler is well on his way to becoming more than just a tryscorer, which a couple of his critics had unfairly labelled him.

“I’ve improved a few things in my game – the 40-20 is a good example of that – but the main thing is I’m playing in a better team with higher-quality players around me which makes my job easier,” he says. “Lee’s not been in the side for a while this year because of injury and we’ve proved that we can win without him which was important for us. We’ve made a decent start to the season but we reckon we should be higher. We’re working hard though and we’ll keep chasing Wigan.”

Myler also received a week’s tuition from the best in the business when the club flew Andrew Johns, widely regarded as the greatest halfback in the game’s history, over for Warrington’s overseas pre-season camp. Johns played three times for the Wolves at the end of the 2005 season and the two parties have maintained a positive relationship over the last four and a half years.

“It was good – he taught me a lot of things,” says Myler. “It’s great for the club to have a good relationship with someone like him. He was with us for a couple of weeks and it was really good for the lads and I think it’s paid dividends. He taught me a lot of little things like setting your mind right.

“But there are plenty of other players here for me to learn off like Adrian Morley, who is a good player and a very good captain. He just leads from the front and sets a great example.”

One of the highlights of the season for Myler was coming up against the Reds for the first time since his move. The game turned out to be a routine 32-2 win for the Wolves with Myler putting in a solid performances despite the expected ribbing from Salford’s fans.

“There was none from the players, but there was a bit from the fans,” Myler laments. “It was a bit hostile and I’ll probably get more of the same when Warrington go to the Willows later in the season. But I’ve experienced that before with the fans at the back end of last year when they knew I was leaving. You just have to learn how to deal with it.”

Myler, however, has no hard feelings towards his old club believing that Salford – and Widnes for that matter – should be granted Super League licences for 2012.

“I think they should both get a licence,” he said. “Salford have got the new stadium on the way and I definitely think Widnes should be there. They tick all the boxes and it’s sad not seeing Widnes in Super League. But I’m at Warrington now and I just get on with it! There’s a lot for me to achieve at here. I signed for four years and it’s good to be at the start of that.”

Myler also has strong opinions on a couple of the issues that featured in last month’s Rugby League World, firmly believing that the kids’ game should switch to summer and defending the controversial dual-registration system which has seen a number of Myler’s teammates playing on a temporary basis for Championship sides – most notably Tyrone McCarthy, Matty Blythe and Lee Mitchell at Leigh Centurions.

“I’ve been quoted before saying the kids should move to summer,” states Myler. “A lot of kids drop out when the weather’s cold, so summer rugby would stop that happening. Hardly any kids want to play in the winter. We’d see more skilful kids coming through as well.

“The dual-registration system is good for the game and I’ll think the players who are experiencing it will benefit from it. Some players get forgotten about when they get past a certain age and it’s good for them to be playing in the Championship instead. Lee Mitchell’s got a good future in the game. There are some good players here in the Under-20s and the Under-18s, like Rhys Williams who has played for Wales. There’s a few more too. If the club believe one or two would be better off playing first-team rugby somewhere else, then I’m sure everyone’s happy with it.”

So what do the experts think of Myler? How far can he go? The obvious person to ask was the king of halfbacks himself, Johns, on the basis of that pre-season camp in Tenerife when he worked so closely with the squad. Johns has worked with a number of Australian halfbacks since his retirement as a player in 2007. The man they call ‘Joey’ didn’t hold back, comparing Myler’s support play to that of Ellery Hanley and Terry Lamb, the former Wests, Canterbury and Australia great – extraordinary praise for a teenager.

“I worked pretty closely with Richie and Briersy while there and I’d seen some tapes of him playing for Salford,” Johns offered. “He’s got loads of potential but it’s up to him now. He’s in the right system and playing under a coach like Tony Smith at a strong club. But, again, it’s down to him to take the next step because a lot of players have potential and don’t necessarily achieve what they should do in the game.

“Physically, he needs to work on his body and he needs to get a lot stronger because halfbacks these days get really targeted and his defence will get stronger as he gets bigger. Playing alongside Briersy will definitely help him a lot too. I get asked about Lee Briers a lot in Australia and let me tell you, he’s a world-class player. At the pre-season camp he threw one pass in particular which only a couple of players in the world could have thrown due to the degree of difficulty but he found the mark. In the NRL I’d only expect Johnathan Thurston or Darren Lockyer to pull that off, or Scott Prince. I couldn’t believe the pass that Lee threw, and Richie will pick up so much working with Briersy. He’s a real top-liner and Richie can only benefit from it.

“I love his support play. He just seems to be one of those players who has great instincts when there’s going to be a break or an opportunity to score a try. I only saw him play once in the flesh and with all due respect that was against Leigh, a Championship side, in a trial match, but he scored four tries in a half I think. It seemed like every time the ball bounced it went into his hands. Guys like Terry Lamb and Ellery Hanley had that – they were always there – and Jarryd Hayne over here has it too.”

High praise indeed!

Rugby League World’s resident halfback expert, Garry Schofield, agrees with Johns’s assessment of Myler the player but added his own praise of Myler’s mental toughness.

“You have to be able to deal with adversity and Richie impressed me a lot last year in a couple of ways,” said the former Great Britain captain. “He responded well in a couple of difficult situations – namely being overlooked from England’s last couple of games – that won’t have been easy. But, also, he was treated appallingly by Shaun McRae at Salford when his move to Warrington was going through and he was very unfairly put on the sidelines by someone who should have known a lot better. That will have made Richie stronger and he dealt with it very well. He got his head down and worked hard for his England place at the end of the season. All players need to have the right attitude and even at this stage of his career, Richie has shown plenty of that. He’ll put a lot of pressure on Sam Tonkins and Kyle Eastmond to get his England shirt back and I expect him to win a lot more caps over the years.”

 

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