2020 wasn’t quite the year anyone envisaged, but for former Wigan prop Ben Flower, the last twelve months have been a roller-coaster, a twisty saga of bad breaks and setbacks that, even by the rest of the game’s standards, were particularly difficult.
“It was a bit of a nightmare,” the 33-year-old admits.
“I didn’t play as many games thanks to a lower back problem and then my Toronto move fell through. Then I did my hamstring in the play-off semi-final. So it’s been pretty tough.”
But now the Welshman is firmly back on the road to recovery, looking to bounce back after bringing the curtain down on a nine-year stay with the Warriors as part of a new-look Leigh Centurions side determined to prove they’re not merely in Super League to make up the numbers.
Flower had been set to depart the DW Stadium last year for the then-freshly promoted Wolfpack, following a near-decade with the Cherry and Whites that earned him a trio of Grand Final winners’ medals in 2013, 2016 and 2018. But the transatlantic club’s withdrawal meant he had to find new avenues where he is determined to repay the faith shown in him.
“I’m grateful for Leigh taking me on,” the frontrower says.
“They’ve welcomed me into the club and, fair play to all the boys, they’ve taken me in and I’ve enjoyed my time so far. We don’t want to just be there to survive, we want to compete as well.”
It is a twist of ironic fate that Flower has alighted at the team elected to replace the Wolfpack as the twelfth member of the sport’s elite competition – though certainly not one as cruel as the blow dealt to him in what was ultimately his final game in Wigan colours.
The former Crusaders forward was eying up a sixth Grand Final appearance before he was forced off with a hamstring injury in November’s semi-final against Hull FC, not only robbing him of a farewell to the Warriors on the biggest stage of all but drawing a hard-to-swallow line under his silverware-laden spell there.
“It was pretty devastating because it wasn’t just that I’d miss out on a final,” he notes.
“It was that it was my last game for Wigan. I knew it was over from that point, that I’d never play for Wigan again and that I’d never play for them in a Grand Final again.”
By his own admission, Flower feels that he does not pick up many injuries – but that when he does, he does not do things by half, having blown his Achilles heel in 2017, robbing him of a place in Wales’ World Cup squad later that year.
He hopes to channel all those frustrations into a return to form at Leigh under John Duffy and says he would have been delighted to have played for them whether they had remained in the Championship or not, although he was rested from the team for Saturday’s visit to St Helens for Tommy Makinson’s testimonial game.
“We’re delighted that we got into Super League, but I was more than happy to just be part of a club and to see what would happen from there,” he insists.
Does he feel that, as he approaches the twilight of his career, he can earn a long-awaited recall to the international setup ahead of this year’s showpiece tournament?
“Definitely! As long as I’m on the field and doing well, I’ll put my hand up and see where we go. This is my last shot at a World Cup appearance; I doubt I’m going to get another one in four years’ time, so this is something I want.”
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