First published in Rugby League World, Issue 388 (Aug 2013)
Jamie Jones-Buchanan could be in direct competition with Danny Tickle for a World Cup shirt come the end of the year, but that didn’t stop the pair sitting down to discuss the Hull FC man’s varied career
Playing for your country is always a tremendous honour and having that opportunity again against the Exiles in June was no different. Half of the battle with so much competition, particularly in the back row, is staying fit and looking after your body to give yourself every opportunity to be eligible and in form. That is definitely the case when there is competition from superb back rowers such as this month’s interviewee, Danny Tickle.
The Hull FC man – who was the starting back rower in the 2012 Exiles fixture – has in recent months suffered a string of bicep and knee problems, despite having a lengthy career relatively free of injury.
I have known Danny for a long time and followed the goal kicking forward for most of my career, having played with him on an England A tour to Fiji and Tonga back in 2012. It was great to sit down with him and have a Micheal Aspel-style chat recalling some of the key moments of his Rugby League career.
It has recently been announced that Ticks will be moving back to Lancashire for the 2014 season, and he has highlighted family and settlement issues as some of his reasons for switching to Widnes following a positive six years at Hull.
Looking back at his career he’s been on an interesting journey, including a quick climb to he top, experiencing the highs of lengthy spells at two of Super League’s biggest clubs, and the depths of adversity following the sudden and tragic death of his father in 2004
“When I was younger I always had a rugby ball in my hand,” Tickle said. “So did my brother who’s 18 months older than me, and it was often a case of us being out on the field with a rugby ball when all the other kids had footballs.
“My brother went off to Golborne Parkside, but with him being older I only trained with them. When he started playing under-8s and 9s I would go with him and enjoyed it, I just progressed through the club from there.
“All my family where St Helens fans and we were season ticket holders, it was quite strange really when I eventually went on to sign for Wigan. We were at Knowsley Road whenever we could be, after school with my mates, uncle and my dad.
“It was always rugby for me. A few friends played football and I tried being in goals once but it changed when I got picked for Wigan town team out of primary school. I was in a team with Sean O’Loughlin and Shaun Briscoe, and it was then I buckled down and decided to concentrate on something that I enjoyed doing.
“At a young age everyone wants to kick goals and whoever scored the try had a go at goal. Me and my brother were always competitive and would see who could take it back the furthest or right out to the touch line to see who could kick from there. My brother was talented and was always ahead of me, he had a few scouts out watching him at the 13-14 age groups but then he got run over by a car. He snapped his tibia and fibula and never really recovered.
“Goal kicking was something that was spotted early in me. I was quite talented and when I got picked for Wigan town team Frano Botica was the Wigan goal kicker at the time. He came down to show us a bit, and now as a goal kicker I sometimes teach some of the young kids. Having Botica come down was a big encouragement at that age.”
Fax of life from Scott
Few people have me clawing the skin off my head more than the education secretary, Michael Gove. The headaches that Gove and his minions must create with their constant upheaval of the educational system must be accountable for half of the paracetamol sales in the UK.
Whilst everyone should have the opportunity to receive the best education, we are never going to be able to feed it to everyone, or standardise human beings because we are so diverse and all have different strengths at different times.
That’s why I love the stories of those through sheer hard graft and humility make the very most of their opportunities when and where they happen, whether in or outside a target driven system.
Not everyone is academically enthused at an early age but they can still be passionate about following their dreams and ‘Ticks’ was no different. Tickle learned his trade quick playing only a few Academy and Alliance games for Halifax before quickly finding promotion to the first team.
Having spent so much time with the senior players learning his trade, he accredits the experience and environment he was provided with early on at Halifax as a key factor in his speedy professional growth, rather than the accredited processes most are subjected to.
Not only was he a key Super League player at the back end of his teens he was also coveted by two of the biggest clubs in the game.
“When I was at school I was always told that I had the talent to go on and be a professional rugby player if I wanted to,” he said.
“It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested in school, it was just a case of sometimes not being bothered enough, and would only enjoy certain lessons like PE and maths. I wasn’t badly behaved, I just lost interest in lessons and sitting in exams.
“When I was 15, I ended up leaving school without doing my exams and John Pendlebury, who was the Halifax coach at the time, knew a friend of mine who came down and scouted us. That’s how I ended up at Halifax and moved in with Mick Scott.
“Mick was someone who had played at Wigan and was the current Halifax Academy coach. Although my parents had been my main inspirations in my career in helping me find my feet and encouraging me to do what I wanted, Mick Scott was the one who lead me down the right path to being a professional.
“He helped me to do the right things, eat the right things, my meals were cooked for me and the club paid for it all. David Hodgson had earlier moved in with Mick Scott and ended up at Wigan, then I moved in with Mick and ended up at Wigan too, so if you wanted to sign for Wigan then you had to move in with Mick Scott!
“Mick would be up at five o’clock in the morning and would drive round doing the lotteries then was down at the Shay early on. I was also with Steve Walsh a lot who was the conditioner at the time, and I got £30 per week to clean the gym in the morning before training with the first team.
“It was really good experience going from Academy and Alliance to experiencing what it was like to be a professional and be in that first team environment.
“After I had trained with them I would hang around and go off into town for a feed with a few of those older players then they would go home. Damian Gibson and Brett Goldspink had an apartment nearby and I was always around the senior players. After that I would train again at night with the Alliance, it was rugby 24/7 for me and I loved it.
Millward call, Maurice intervention
“I played about 25 games for Halifax in the 2001 season and half way through 2002 Wigan came in and agreed a fee. Halifax were going into administration at the time, struggling financially and offloaded a few players, I was one of them. Nigel Wood who was the chief exec’ at the time told me St Helens were interested, and it was actually Ian Millward who came in first.
“Having been a Saints fan along with my family I jumped at the chance. I’d had spoken briefly with Millward around the Yorkshire versus Lancashire days when Millward was the Lancashire coach and I agreed to go but never actually signed anything. “Around the same time I was training with England A and getting a lift from Sean O’Loughlin, Ricky Bibey and Briscoe over in Wigan, when I had phone call from Maurice Lindsey. He asked me to go over, have a chat and I signed that morning. My mum and dad were actually abroad and I had told them at the weekend that I was signing for St Helens.
“Come Monday morning they had read in the paper ‘Tickle signs for Warriors’. I don’t think it went down well at home.
“I don’t like to look back and dwell on any previous decisions whether right or wrong, but I suppose if I had have gone to Saints there might have been chance to have won quite a lot of silverware because they did go on and win a fair bit.
“It was just case of Wigan being a quality club who has always attracted high quality players. Wigan have a great history as well as a great ground and training facility, and that all played a large part in the decision to go there.”
When Tickle chose Wigan, still a youngster back in 2002, he was going to a huge club with the tutelage of legends like Andy Farrell to look forward to. He recalls the wealth of experience he was subjected to, as well as the disappointments of both Grand Final and Challenge Cup losses.
The biggest loss however was to be that of his dad in 2004, something no sportsman in the world would easily cope with how to cope with.
Dealing with tragedy
“In my time there, the one person who stood out as the best to play alongside was Andy Farrell – he was a champion leader, trainer, professional, and he achieved so much in the game. Everyone who played with him looks up to him.
“As a back rower he was great to learn from, and there where other top quality back rowers there too in Mick Cassidy, David Furner and at the back end Brian Fletcher. Gareth Hock was also coming through and showed enormous talent as a youngster. It was always hard to maintain a position at Wigan because we had a formidable back row.
“I would have obviously liked to have won something at Wigan. I played in a Challenge Cup final and a Grand Final in 2003 where I went on to score the first try but unfortunately was on the losing side against Bradford. We picked up a few injuries on the day but Bradford had a great team and Paul Deacon’s kicking game was outstanding.
“The year after we made another Challenge Cup final against Saints and were on the losing end of that one too. Sean Long kicked us to death and Paul Sculthorpe and Keiron Cunningham were world class performers in a very good team.
“It started great at Wigan. I signed a two-year deal, then a second two year-deal, but in 2004 I went through a real sad time when my father died.
“He had gone out on a job in Israel with some work mates and drowned in the sea. It was a real tough tome for myself and my family were all shaken up by it. In 2005, the year after I had a real good season at Wigan, and whilst I tried to not think about the loss of my dad I had a tough time of it.
“Then in 2006 Wigan signed Brian Fletcher, who was a world class player and who it was an honor to play alongside, and Gareth Hock was on top of his game.
“I wasn’t playing as well as I thought I should have. Looking back now I should have put more effort into it – I relaxed a little and wasn’t playing as well as I could have been.
“Maybe some of that was due to my dad, it was hard but then as a professional sportsman you have to get over things like that. Toward the end of 2006 Wigan hadn’t had a good season. Brian Noble was coach at the time and we had just signed Stuart Fielden, but we were running tenth and looked like finishing at the bottom of the table.
“We had a decent finish to move up the table, but Maurice came to see me and said I wasn’t wanted for the year after. That’s where Hull FC came in.”
Being so close to winning trophies at Wigan, Tickle was still hungry for silverware, so a move to Hull – the 2005 Challenge Cup winners (at my expense!) and 2006 Grand finalists – was the obvious choice.
As far as Rugby League goes if there’s any town or city outside Wigan who could possibly love the sport more then it would have to be Hull, and with the strength of the amateur game there will always be a volcano waiting to erupt.
“Peter Sharp and Richard Agar were coaching at the time and along with a few other clubs they came in for me,” Tickle said. “They had won the Challenge Cup in 2005 and made the Grand Final in 2006, they were going places and I wanted to be involved in a winning team.
“Every season since that 2006 Grand Final we have said we are going to be competitive and ‘this is the season’ but it’s never quite happened for us. We get so far and have always seem to lose out in the big games and have never seemed to have it in us.”
Tickle is still hoping to lift a trophy with Hull before the end of the year, but after that, he will move back to Lancashire after agreeing to join Denis Betts and his old friend and former teammate Kevin Brown at Widnes.
“There’s been a lot of talk over the last couple of years about different clubs coming in for me and me trying to get a move back over to Lancashire,” he said.
“I have enjoyed my time at Hull met a lot of good friends. But I have twin boys now at eight years old just starting to get into rugby, and traveling to Hull every day there’s going to be situations where I cant take them or watch them.
“My kids love coming to watch rugby. My daughter is probably more into it than my twin boys. With them going to a school in Wigan and having the Wigan players going into school, them and all their friends are Wigan mad. It’s Sam Tomkins this and that and I get a bit of stick off the kids myself, but they do like to see me play – when I’m fit.
“I think I will let them find their own feet, but knowing them I think it will be rugby when they get older. They’re learning the game but whatever they want to do I will be there for them.
“If I’d stayed at Hull, in four years I maybe could have a testimonial with a big financial reward but it’s not all about that – I want to be close to my family. I was always happy to see my contract out at Hull but now an opportunity to move back and be with my family has come up and start thinking about when I am going to retire because it could be sooner rather that later.
“It’s been hard getting involved with things outside rugby because I spend a lot of time traveling on that motorway but I would definitely consider getting involved with the kids and giving something back. There are limited opportunities to stay involved in the game though.
“Everyone has done the personal training and Level Two coaching but if I could turn back the clock I would have gone back to college and done my exams, got the qualifications and got a career behind me.
“I’m having to do that myself now, we have had a careers advisor come in and speak to us about what we want to do when we retire. I’ve had a chat with her and want something behind me so I have started to do a bit of accountancy.
“I don’t know if I will enjoy it but it’s another possible career path for myself, its just like the attitude you need to be a rugby player, whatever effort you put in you will get out and anything’s achievable. It will be tough because I have not been to school for a lot of years but it’s no different to anything else, if you can learn and study see how far it takes me.
“I wouldn’t say you take things for granted but as a professional sportsman you know you’re going to get paid every month and some advice I would give to a youngster is to do something whilst your playing. We all get time to do it but over the years players are out on the golf course or always thinking about rugby.
“I maybe should have done this years ago but if I can get this done in the next three years hopefully that will take me to 33, will get something behind me and I can see how it progresses.”
World Cup targets
Despite a career relatively free of significant injury, Tickle suffered a major bicep injury and knee problems which have seen him miss the back end of last season and much of 2013 campaign.
He has been in great form whist he has enjoyed full fitness over the last 18 months so it’s understandable that his recent injuries have at times caused frustration and tested his resolve.
I am under no illusions that had the likes of him and Sean O’Loughlin been fit for June’s Exiles fixture then I might not have had one of the rare opportunities he speaks of here in making the most of any time in the St George’s shirt. Interestingly, representing my country with Ticks and Lockers started way back in 2002 when all three of us where on a John Kear-led England A tour to Fiji.
“What a trip that was. To get picked for England, whether it’s Academy or the full England squad they’re the moments you cherish.
“We all came together and it was a great group of lads who went at a young age. I still see the likes of Mark Calderwood now and again. Going from England Academy we played Australia in a test series warm-up when Martin Gleeson was promoted to the first team squad.
“They’re the times when you have to stand up and compete in those games in order to go on into full international. I was involved in a few England set-ups under Tony Smith and missed out on the final squads. I was competing with a lot of back rowers then but whoever gets the call up deserves it.
“My first real England call-up was for the England-Exiles game last year. I was overwhelmed when Steve McNamara phoned me up. I was quite humbled really. I have always said to myself, if you’re playing well for your club then there’s a chance you might get an opportunity and it’s what you do with that opportunity. It was a stand out moment of my career to get that phone call.
“With the World Cup, I have always said there’s a lot of back rowers competing and there’s still the boys from Australia to come back into the squad. Just to be named in that ETS squad is a privilege. For myself now it’s about getting fit and ready and giving myself the chance to kick on and find some form like everyone else will be. The back row is so competitive, its probably one of our strongest positions but we will see.
“I have always said I would like to win something before I finish – a Challenge Cup, a Grand Final or maybe a World Cup! I have been runners-up a couple of times in the major finals.
“If I can get back fit and playing for Hull the lads are going well at the moment and it’s pleasing that we have fit troops on the field. If we can keep them out there then hopefully this year we can achieve something.”
Six Book Challenge
As part of the Reading Agency’s “Six Book Challenge” – in conjunction with England Rugby League – I’ve been asking the interviewees what their last read was.
The Six Book Challenge is aimed at getting adults back into reading by making the time to read just six books, pieces of online literature or magazine articles, thereby keeping alive high quality viral memes, currently under threat by degenerate social media ideas.
The book Tickle told me about was right up my street as well.
“The last book I read was a mind set book ‘Start With Why’ by Simon Sinek,” he said.
“I it got off one of my conditioners – it’s one of those where you question what is the meaning behind “why” things are, and how and why different people approach things differently.
“I’ve started to read a lot more, and maybe I should have read a few more mindset books a few years ago! It’s a good way to relax if the kids aren’t running about or if I’m not on the M62 going to Wigan.”