Dewsbury Rams milestone man Paul Sykes says he wants to carry on playing for as long as he is fit and healthy – and enjoying his Rugby League.
And as the halfback, who turns 41 on Thursday (August 11), joins the exclusive club of those who have made 500 appearances at senior level, the former England (five caps including one at the 2008 World Cup) and Great Britain (one) international, who reached 2,500 career points late last year, remains open-minded as to what 2023 holds.
It’s been an eventful 24th season in all and the seventh at hometown club Dewsbury for the former Bradford Bulls (two spells), London Broncos, Wakefield Trinity and Featherstone Rovers man (his longevity is reflected by the fact that for part of his time in London, the club were Harlequins, while at Wakefield, he was a Wildcat).
Sykes – who played five times for England A before his full international debut at centre in the 22-12 win over France at Headingley in October 2005 – took on additional coaching responsibilities over the winter and found himself in caretaker charge of the relegation-threatened Rams for two games following the departure of Lee Greenwood in early June.
He has remained a regular player under Greenwood’s successor Liam Finn, his halfback partner at Dewsbury between 2019 and last season, when the latter hung up his boots at the age of 37 to become assistant coach to Simon Grix at Halifax Panthers.
Sykes, whose try-scoring Great Britain appearance was at centre in the 42-14 win over France at Headingley in June 2007, has called on all his knowledge and experience to help the Rams in their increasingly desperate bid to remain in the Championship, and explained: “That’s been my focus, and I’ve put off any decision about what I’ll do next season.
“All I know at this stage is that I’m still enjoying playing and I’ve always said that as long as that’s the case, and that I’m fit and healthy and feel I can make a contribution, I’ll carry on if there’s a place for me somewhere.
“I’ve also dipped my toe in the water in terms of coaching, and I’ve enjoyed that as well, so maybe there will be an opening in that area. We’ll see.”
While disappointed at the way this season has gone – “while we’ve had a lot of injuries, which have had an effect, there have been too many times we’ve lost games we could and probably should have won” – Sykes feels a sense of satisfaction and achievement at the 500 landmark.
“I’ve had a few injuries, the worst a lacerated kidney when playing for London, which kept me out of most of the 2006 season, and then there was Covid, so I could have made it earlier, but I’m there now,” he added.
“There’s not that many who have done it – I remember James Roby reaching 500 games for St Helens earlier this season, so I’m in good company – and Rugby League has been a huge part of my life, so it’s good to make this milestone.”
Sykes has his uncle Pat (Longstaff) to thank for introducing him to the game.
“From when I was five, he was throwing a ball around with me, taking me to watch games and explaining the rules,” explained Sykes who, since he stopped playing as a full-timer in Super League, has worked in quality control for furniture manufacturers HSL, who are based near to Dewsbury’s Tetley’s Stadium.
“I started playing junior rugby at Thornhill, and loved it, and I got a place in the Bradford Academy at the time they were one of the top clubs, and learned so much.
“There was still a lot of ‘A’ team rugby at that time, and as a teenager, playing competitively against older more experienced players really helped me in terms of getting used to the physicality of the game and starting to pick up tactical knowhow.”
Sykes played the first of his 109 games for Bradford in 1999.
He featured 137 times for London Broncos/Harlequins, 62 for Wakefield and 34 for Featherstone, with the Summer Bash meeting with neighbours Batley his 146th game for Dewsbury.
His conversion in that fixture took his career points tally to 2,552 (148 tries, 970 goals and 20 field-goals) ahead of Sunday’s home game against York City Knights.
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