If helping to keep Leeds in the Premiership in the 2010 was one of the highlights of my career getting relegated the year after was without doubt the worst moment – and I include the turbulent six weeks when the two clubs I was at, Orrell and Rotherham, went bust.
We went into the game against Northampton needing to win to stay up at Newcastle’s expense and were leading 24-3 and looking good until Saints came storming back.
I think the coaches got selection wrong that day. We had some players on the pitch who shouldn’t have been there and our bench wasn’t as strong as it could have been.
I travelled back home to St Helens by car rather than on the team bus as I was due to go to a wedding that night when all I really wanted to do was shut myself away. It took quite a while to get my head around that loss.
Looking back, the club’s failure to sign a marquee 10 cost us. We were linked with Derrick Hougaard of Saracens but the club didn’t want to pay the money being talked about for a non-international.
Ceiron Thomas, who played a huge part in keeping us up the year before, could have done a job for us but unfairly he seemed to get a lot of the blame for our poor start to the season when, in reality, it was more to do with the players we’d recruited not having the desired impact.
Stuart Lancaster signed me for Leeds from Glasgow and I had four good years at Headingley. Sadly, I never got to play for Stuart because he took up a role with the RFU shortly afterwards. Had I known I wouldn’t have cancelled my honeymoon in Bermuda that August! I’d done so under duress because Stuart was concerned I’d miss most of pre-season. In that first year at Leeds we won promotion to the Premiership – the first time I’d achieved that having had two near-misses at both Worcester, my first Union club after switching codes from St Helens, and Orrell.
After a final year in the Championship with Leeds, in which the senior players were overlooked for long periods, I packed in pro rugby and returned to the north-west with Fylde. It was so refreshing to train under Brian Ashton and play rugby for enjoyment rather than for your livelihood. I retired at the end of last season and now coach King’s School, Macclesfield as well as being joint head coach at Sandbach.
I’m pleased with the way my career went although I should have turned down Orrell and stayed at Worcester. I was sold Dave Whelan’s dream of having three clubs from one town in the top division in different sports: Wigan RL, Wigan Athletic and Orrell.
But the money ran out and the club was sacrificed to bankroll Wigan Athletic’s promotion to the Championship. I was really angry because I felt everything was in place for us to give it a real push for the Premiership after finishing fourth and then second. Quite a few of us, including Nick Easter, secured moves to Rotherham which was another disaster as the owner pulled out and the RFU refused to sanction a South African buy-out. A lot of us were left in limbo until my mate Andy Craig got me a trial at Glasgow. I got a contract and only a few months after being unemployed I found myself playing in the Heineken Cup.
-As told to Jon Newcombe
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