A frustrating few weeks on the sidelines

It has been a difficult couple of weeks for me, having picked up a groin injury against the Catalan Dragons in round five. I find not being able to train with the team incredibly frustrating and it’s quite lonely when you’re coming back from injury as you have to do all the little things to try get back to fitness. It’s all part of the process, though. Obviously you want to get back as quickly as possible and back into the side but I’ve got nothing to worry about – the team has been doing just fine without me!

I injured my groin against the Catalan Dragons and have missed two games so far.
I injured my groin against the Catalan Dragons and have missed two games so far because of it.

We’ve had a few injuries, the likes of Luke Walsh and Jordan Turner, who are pivotal to our success, and we also picked up a few suspensions. But in the face of that adversity we picked up wins against a good Wakefield side and Leeds Rhinos, who are really strong. It’s given us a lot of confidence and shown us just how much depth our squad has. I’ve missed two games so far with my problem. It’s a strange feeling having to watch from the sidelines, it’s very frustrating as all you want to do is get back on the field and muck in with the lads.

Sentiments aside
I grew up as a Rhinos fan but it wasn’t weird watching them against the team I play for. I’ve always loved Leeds and, apart from when they play us, I want them to do well. At the end of the day, though, St Helens are my team now and I’m a Saints fan. There has never been a conflict of interest. All my family are Leeds fans and a lot of my mates are. If I’d have said as a kid I was going to end up supporting Saints I don’t think it would have gone down well at all, but it’s Rugby League and, although it’s competitive, there’s never any animosity towards rival fans, I don’t think. It’s a respectful sport, a family sport.
Whenever I play against Leeds I get bombarded with messages from people back home. They normally read: “All the best for tonight, hope you do well, just make sure you don’t win!” That’s just how it goes, really.

I thought Sia Soliola had a brilliant game against Leeds.
I thought Sia Soliola had a brilliant game against Leeds.

Vital victory
I think it’s hard to put into words just how good a win that was against Leeds last week. With the disruption we had in the build-up from the injuries and suspensions, many people had written us off. But the performance we put in was outstanding. We had nine or ten players out and naturally that puts you on the back foot, but the boys used that, it spurred them on. They knew they could make it a contest and they went out and proved that. I thought the younger lads who came in really stepped up, Andre Sevelio in particular, who made his debut in the front row. He’s a big lad, loves to run it in, and he’s got a big future I’m sure. All the young lads that played impressed me. Luke Thompson played his first game of the year and was superb, while Greg Richards – who is my housemate – was also brilliant. I was suited that he got a start and I thought he stood up to the physical and dominant Leeds pack really well.
It’s easy to forget sometimes that these lads are still teenagers. The way they apply themselves and their sheer stature is unbelievable.

Staying grounded
Although I’m a few years older than some of the lads that I’ve mentioned, I feel very much in the same position as them. I’m still new to the professional game, this is only my second full-time season and I only had one part-time season prior to that. I still feel quite young in that sense.
Even though I’m nearly 24, the other lads of a similar age to me in the squad are more experienced; they’ve been around a lot longer than me. Some have been around the first team for nearly seven years and Jonny Lomax, who was born the same year as me, has over 100 Saints appearances under his belt and is looked upon like one of the senior players.
I still feel like I’m one of the fresh faces about the place.

My path
It’s fair to say I was a bit of a late bloomer, only making my Super League debut in 2013 as a 22-year-old, but I am more than happy with the path I took. I feel like coming into full-time Rugby League at that age was probably the best thing I could have done, that way I experienced the best of both worlds.
I’ve been to university, I’ve lived away from home, I’ve gone through the student lifestyle, all of which I wouldn’t have been able to do if I were playing full-time at that age. I’ve got a degree now, which I’m happy about, I’ve got stuff in place that I wouldn’t have if I had had started playing full-time at a young age. Obviously it’s brilliant that they’re there so young but I am happy with the route I have taken. I got to play with my best mates until I was 21, the lads I’ve played with a lot of years at amateur level, so the social side of that was brilliant. I’m happy I’ve come the way I’ve come.
It’s each to their own really; I don’t think there is a right way to do it. Obviously I am here now and I am happy and grateful that I was given the opportunity as late as I was because a lot of people won’t be as lucky.

Super seniors

Greg Richards (right) is my roommate and I thought he had a blinder against Leeds.
Greg Richards (right) is my roommate and I thought he had a blinder against Leeds.

I want to pay tribute to some of the senior boys for how they performed against Leeds. I thought Sia Soliola was immense and really led by example. James Roby was superb as well, he made 58 tackles and countless hit-up. To do that over 80 minutes is unbelievable and credit to the boys who led the way. Paul Wellens and Lance Hohaia in the halves were also excellent and directed us around the park really well.

Wonderful Wellens
It was great to see Paul Wellens matching the Super League appearance record. He’s someone who everyone looks up to and it’s massive testament to him. He’s a great bloke and a real leader. It’s mad – he’s 34 and playing some of the best Rugby League of his life. He’s adapted to a role he’s never played so well, and is pivotal to our success. He can play absolutely anywhere on the park so it’s awkward when we split up into backs and forwards at training. He has to mix it up a bit. I heard Terry O’Connor say on Sky Sports’ broadcast that the only position he hasn’t played was prop forward, but he had a stint against Warrington in the first game of the season so I think he’s covered every position on the park!

I want to express my sincere disappointment and sympathy at the news that Newcastle Knights forward Alex McKinnon could be looking at life in a wheelchair following a freak accident against Melbourne Storm last week. I find it both depressing and shocking when something like that happens to a Rugby League player, it’s easy to forget how tough the sport is and what the boys have to go through. I know the Rugby League community is fully behind him and my thoughts and prayers go to him and his family. I hope he defies all the odds, because he’s a Rugby League player and that’s what Rugby League players do. To be honest, I don’t like to look at stuff like this in too much detail. It’s depressing and it’s quite scary. I just hope he can overcome it and live a normal life.

Shout out
Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my friend Andy Daw at Pro Athlete Supplementation (PASonline.co.uk) for helping me out with some great new supplements. I’m not just saying this – they’ve really improved my workouts and the best thing about them is they’re batch tested which is vital for anyone in my position who gets tested on a regular basis. You need to know what you’re putting in your body. I’d recommend any players to give them a go.

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