Richard Mathers ■ View from the Back
The sensation was familiar, not least because I hadn’t played a competitive game since September. The day after Boxing Day I could barely move, but I couldn’t have been happier. Back in the team environment I so enjoy, I made my Wakefield bow at, of all places, Headingley Carnegie, where it all began for me.
We were solid and, not surprisingly given so many new faces around the club, a little uncoordinated. But the first hit-out will do us good. We need as much time together and on the field as possible to make us a force when it really matters.
That’s also why the camp we went on in North Wales was so important, a vital part of us getting to know and learning to rely on each other in terrific surroundings.
It came as a huge and unwelcome shock to be told a couple of months ago that I was surplus to requirements at Castleford.
I’ve been around the sport long enough to know that each new coach has his own opinions, way of preferred working and need to make their mark. But after over 20 solid appearances last season, I wasn’t expecting to be cut out of the plans in such drastic fashion, especially with a couple of years still left on my contract.
As I’ve written before in these columns, the game is about camaraderie, team work and mate-ship; that’s what keeps us going and drives us, not just the 80 minutes fans seen in battle.
To suddenly have that taken away and to be told to train virtually alone was the hardest, most stressful part. To be kept isolated and in a virtual vacuum placed a tremendous strain on not just me but also my family, whose support throughout the uncertainty was magnificent. So it was a massive relief to get the call from Richard Agar.
I’m still a Cas player, initially out on a year-long loan. But what disappoints most is how the matter was handled and that it did drag on for so long. It created real difficulties as I have close friends in the Tigers’ dressing room, but they didn’t know if they would be compromising themselves if they made contact while the new regime at the Probiz settled in.
Still, we made the best of things. I stayed as positive as I could and followed the same sort of early morning routine as much as possible, running alone in Roundhay Park and lifting weights in an effort to stay fit, productive and available.
Richard spoke to me in some depth about what he was looking for. He has a terrific reputation as a thinking coach and it’s exciting what he has planned, but he needs some experience to bring it together and I’m really looking forward to contributing.
Fresh adventure: Tim Smith and Leeds’ Zak Hardaker grapple for possession rlphotos.com
New year, new start Wakefield Trinity Wildcats player RICHARD MATHERS says it’s good to be back in the action at the start of his year-long loan from Castleford
It’s great to be wanted, although I don’t feel as though I have a point to prove to anyone. I’m solely concerned with making the Wildcats successful and gaining the respect of my new team-mates.
It’s a new start for most of them as well as me and, with the Chairman here now spending the salary cap, there is - quite rightly - an added expectation which we relish, but it will take time to gel.
I’m confident we can be competitive. There is a lot of guidance within the group and on the pitch in key positions. I saw Tim Smith close up at Wigan and he has great ability at getting a team around. And Ali Lauitiiti was sensational in my time with him at Leeds. He is an undoubted star of Super League with a genuine x-factor that all successful clubs need.
As pleased as I was to get back in the action on Boxing Day, it was also a difficult time personally. The last time I played in such a fixture was when I was trying to break through at the Rhinos in 2003, just after my mum - who was such an influence on me - had passed away on Christmas Eve.
The festive season is a tough time because of that. But now, with a daughter of my own - who came to the game - I have to enjoy and make the most of the present.
“It’s great to feel wanted, although I don’t feel as though I have a point to prove to anyone...”
Not so friendly welcome: Richard Mathers goes back to Headingley Carnegie rlphotos.com
6 Forty-20 January 2012 Five Drives... and a Kick
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REMEMBERING MIKE KEIRON WINS GREGORY AWARD
In a cosy hospitality suite at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, the walls are decorated with the images of one of the greatest players ever to wear the primrose and blue.
From the action shots of him at Wembley scoring a try against Wigan, to the evocative watercolour paintings capturing his steely gaze, great moments in Mike Gregory’s career with Warrington are celebrated and remembered. And so, visitors to the Mike Gregory lounge are constantly reminded of what he did as a player. But on this occasion, they are here to witness what he is still doing, four years after his death at the age of 43.
This is the annual presentation of the Mike Gregory Award, set up to reward those who have worked hard to achieve and help others to achieve within the sport of rugby league. And this year’s recipient - the former Great Britain and St Helens player Keiron Cunningham.
“This is a massive honour. I always held Mike in high regard and I always looked at him as a very close friend. To me he is one of the legends of the game and to be associated with his name is always good,” said Keiron, who is now an assistant coach at St Helens after retiring from playing in 2010.
Presenting the award to Keiron was Mike’s former team-mate Paul Cullen, and his widow, Erica, watched by Mike’s parents and his sons, Ben and Sam. Erica said: “I am grateful to Keiron for saying he had many memories [of Mike]. I think it is so endearing - and especially with the boys being here - to hear other people speak about their dad in those terms.”
As well as the trophy, Keiron received a cheque for £1,000 from the award fund, set up with the money Mike won in an out-ofcourt settlement against Wigan Warriors after he fell ill.
“That’s going to go into some amateur rugby league projects I’m involved in,” said
Keiron. “It’s all well and good being a Great Britain international but we all started somewhere and you become a little more thankful and humble about that when you are out of the game.”
This is the fourth year of the Mike Gregory Award. Previous recipients include Kevin Ellis for his work in Welsh rugby league, the 2008 World Cup-winning England Wheelchair RL team, and Doug and Barbara Wilford for their ‘Study Rovers’ scheme at Featherstone.
Plans are also underway to create the Mike Gregory Academy, which aims to give financial support to players or others in the rugby league community. Organised through the Rugby League Players’ Association, bursaries or donations would be awarded for educational or development purposes. The funding would come from organisations and partnerships which have worked with the RLPA over recent years. Erica endorsed the
Proud moment: Keiron Cunningham receives his award from Erica Gregory and Paul Cullen
Champion spirit: The Mike Gregory award is in its fourth year
SWPix.com plans, saying it is exactly the sort of scheme Mike would have supported.
“We talk about pursuing a dream absolutely pursue a dream, but have a fallback position. When Mike left St Helens there was a period of time when he didn’t have a job. I had a job in pharmaceuticals and we had the boys and the house, and he was thinking ‘Will I ever get another job?’.
“Luckily another coaching job came up and everything was fine, but that period made him reflect on his life choices and what he would say to his children as they grew up. And it was ‘follow your passion but don’t neglect your studies’. This [Academy] is just fabulous, and helping disadvantaged children or anyone with a passion to follow a dream was just what Mike would have wanted.”
Keiron Cunningham echoed her enthusiasm for the plans, explaining how the extra income would be a great incentive for less well-off young players. He said: “There is no better incentive to some kids than finances. I think I was on £20 a week when I first started at Saints, it was ridiculous but you just get on with it. I didn’t want to go out and work, I wanted to train every day.
“Luckily, now the kids will be able to train but on the back of doing an educational programme in an area they love, which is sport, and they get paid for doing it as well which is fantastic. The GMB are the frontrunners in all of this. We’ll look back in decades’ time and think ‘this is where it all began’.”
January 2012 Forty-20 7