‘My Life in Rugby League’ for League Express with Harlequins’ Rob Purdham in 2007. Purdham is now enjoying a testimonial year with the club, but suffered the agony of losing his brother, Garry, in the West Cumbrian shootings in June 2010.
What’s been the highlight of your Rugby League career Rob?
Beating Workington Town in the 1998 Challenge Cup with my amateur team Egremont Rangers at Whitehaven’s Recreation Ground. We won 18-0 and I scored the first try in front of the Kells End. The crowd and the noise were amazing that night. We used to play in front of 500 or 800 supporters sometimes with Egremont but the Recreation Ground was packed that night and it was amazing. We then played the eventual winners Sheffield but I was playing for Great Britain BARLA and wasn’t allowed to play against the Eagles although it was great experience for the lads to play against Keith Senior and others. The year before, we’d won the National Conference Division so they were great times and I was in that team with my brother Garry and some of my best mates.
How did you get into Rugby League?
I used to play football as a kid but someone suggested I try Rugby League so I went along to Egremont as an eight-year-old. There was a game every week and it just went from there. My brother, who’s now at Workington Town, is a year older and he was at Egremont too.
When did you sign for Whitehaven?
It was at the end of 1998. Workington came in for me and Garry but Whitehaven were on the up at the time and it seemed to be the place to go so we joined them. It was a different level of rugby obviously and it was a good learning curve to play with guys like Aaron Lester, Leroy Joe and David Fatialofa. Other than the Kiwis, we were all local boys and it was a good time to play for them. It was tough because I was still working on the family farm and had to combine that with training which was a lot harder in the pro game; a lot more weights. Kevin Tamati was the coach at the time and then Paul Cullen took over after a while. Both coaches taught us a lot about the game and, of course, both had been very good players themselves.
Paul is often credited with instigating the revival in the club’s recent fortunes. Were you aware that something special was beginning at the club at that time?
No, I wasn’t really. For the first couple of years, it was still one big division below the Super League and we were only finishing mid-table. The year I left, it was split up how it is now with two divisions. They got off to a good start that year but I left shortly after to go to London.
How did that move come about and did you settle in quickly?
I was playing out in South Africa with England Under-21s with the likes of Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow and Danny Sculthorpe. Damian McGrath was on our coaching staff and he was also down at the Broncos. He asked if I’d like to join them down there. I said I’d love to but didn’t know if anything would happen. Then, when I got back home, I got a call of Tony Rea and I signed for them in December 2001 after just two games for Whitehaven in the new NFP season. It was tough at London – I was as skinny little runt playing in a man’s league but I put on some size pretty quickly. The training was tough as well. I thought I was fit but in Super League everyone was miles fitter and faster so that took a bit of getting used to. When I first signed I got straight on a ‘plane to Australia with the squad for pre-season which helped me get to know everyone there and made the transition easier. There were some big names at the club at the time, some great blokes who were down to earth. I roomed with Jason Hetherington and there was also Jimmy Dymock and Billy Peden who’s back here now on the coaching staff. He’s as fit as the players even now!
What has Brian McDermott changed since he took over the Head Coaching role?
He tells us that Rugby League isn’t a complex game and to do the simple stuff well. He’s got a great work ethic himself and he puts that across to the players. He wants everything to go right in training to make it easier to for us to take it into games.
What’s it like to captain such illustrious players like Henry Paul and Scott Hill?
I was very proud to be offered the captaincy and it’s great having such good players at the club. There’s plenty more than those two as well. They’re very level-headed, they accept that I’m captain and they help me out a lot. Henry’s great – he never shuts up!
Why do the club seem to play better in away matches and not at home?
Well, we’ve started well in a lot of our home games. We just haven’t been able to put in many 80 minute performances and that’s frustrating. It’s not that we can’t play at home. We’ve just done some stupid things at times.
Does the travelling help you to bond and contribute to your away performances?
I think it helps but it’s not too much of a factor and we haven’t thought too much about the home and away situation. We haven’t had a real stinker of a performance anywhere this season.
How do you see the future of Rugby League in the Capital?
I hope it goes from strength to strength. Some of our supporters are pretty fickle and stop coming when we’re losing and then jump on the bandwagon when we’re winning. So we need a successful side who might win some trophies if we want to see The Stoop packed out and we feel that things are moving in the right direction on the field. There’s a huge potential fanbase here obviously and the publicity we’d gain if we can be one of the leading sides would be great. We’re also producing some good youngsters and I’d tip Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook to be a future Great Britain prop. He’s coming on in leaps and bounds and has made a big difference to us lately.
You’ve made two successful trips to France recently. What do you think about the state of French Rugby League?
Yes, we beat Pia in the Challenge Cup and then we really put it together against Catalans in the Super League. We played well in that game and even bombed a couple of tries although they came back at us in the second half. All in all, things seem to be going well down there for the game. I don’t know if I’m speaking out of turn though but how can a Super League team in France improve the British game? They aren’t going to produce players for the British team so why isn’t there another team in another area of this country like the Midlands or Cumbria?
How would you work a Cumbrian Super League side? Would you merge the existing clubs or start a brand new club?
If there was a Cumbrian side in Super League, it wouldn’t take them long to produce local players of Super League standard. If Whitehaven, Workington and Barrow didn’t want to merge then they could stay in the lower leagues and act as feeder clubs with a new club altogether in Super League. They probably wouldn’t merge as a lot of people are set in their ways up there and none of the clubs are strong enough to make a go of Super League on their own. There’s so much good talent going to waste in Cumbria because talented lads can’t afford to have a part-time rugby career as injuries could affect their work, depending what they do. If there were full-time options for players, a lot more young lads would stick with the game and make it at the highest level. Rugby League is missing out on a lot of very good talent.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
Probably my parents with getting to games and doing so much for me. As I’ve got older, Tony Rea and Jimmy Dymock have been great in London. They’ve helped kick me on to the next level.
Did you have any Rugby League heroes as a youngster?
Ellery Hanley. He was good at everything and was at the top of the game for so long.
What are your aims for the future?
To carry on playing rugby so I don’t have to go back and work on the farm! I’d love an international call-up and to win something with Harlequins.