Kenny’s crusade with Widnes Vikings

From Ince Rose Bridge via North Wales Crusaders, Kenny Baker’s ultimate aim is to play in Super League and he’s determined to get there with Widnes Vikings.

Kenny Baker has just clocked off work. It’s just gone 4:45 in the afternoon. He started work in Preston, at 6 in the morning.

Baker delivers beer for a living. It takes him all over the country. Some days are worse than others.

“I quite enjoy it to be fair, I get to see a lot, but it can be difficult with rugby.”

See, the issue is that, just a little over an hour after clocking off his 10-hour plus shift, he has to be in Widnes to continue his pre-season training with the Vikings ahead of their Championship campaign.

“I’ll get there at 5:45 so I’m in early, we’ll do the session, and I’ll get home at about 9:30. Then I’m back up at 5 to be in work for 6.”

It’s the sort of schedule that would leave most of us shuddering in repulsion.

But for Baker, this is part of the process. A process of fulfilling a dream he has held since first picking up a rugby ball at the age of six with Ince Rose Bridge.

He’s well on his way, if his career trajectory is anything to go by.

It wasn’t until April of 2016, at the age of 24, that the backrower got his first taste of professional Rugby League.

“I had a scholarship with Wigan when I was 13 or 14,” he explained.

“I’d started with Ince and got picked up by Wigan Schoolboys, but they decided I wasn’t quite good enough, so I went back to Ince Rose Bridge.

“I was really enjoying it there, we won a few national cups and leagues at 18s and I was playing well.

“We went up to open age and in 2015 I got player of the division.

“Then halfway through 2016 the North Wales coach contacted me because he’d been watching me and told me I could go down if I wanted to give it a go.

“My aim is to play Super League but you have to start somewhere. I gave it a go and I’ve never looked back really.”

He’s right in saying that, too. Personal accolades have never been too far away for Baker, who is now 27.

2018 saw him sweep the board at the Crusaders’ awards night, winning players’ player, fans player and the try of the year award.

This year he was named captain of the club. He was players’ player again, and he made the RLW League 1 Team of the Year, despite missing the last six games of the season with a broken hand.

That, inevitably, saw an array of clubs come calling.

Kenny Baker Widnes Vikings

It appeared, in the first instance, that his destination would be Workington after the Cumbrian club went in big to secure his services. But at the 11th hour, Widnes made a play, and there was no looking back.

Now, he is being coached by a World Cup winner and the NRL’s all-time most capped coach in Tim Sheens. Not bad for a lad who was unheard of outside of amateur circles just over three years ago.

“It’s a weird one really. It was a shock move by Keiron (Purtill) to go, especially for me as he’d just signed me! But then to employ someone like Tim was a shock really, it was awesome though.

“Being in his presence and listening to him is just something else really. The detail side of it is just next level to what I’ve experienced before. The depth he goes into, just on the simple things, where he wants you running, how he wants the halves to give you the ball, and how he explains it, it’s a lot different.”

But Baker wouldn’t want it any other way now. His move to Widnes is the latest step in a journey that, in his head, has a final destination: Super League.

“I want to make a name for myself if I can.

“I’ve been waiting for this chance, I’ve been working for this since I was six years old really, so the chance to have a good year and hopefully kick on to Super League is massive for me. I want to progress.

“Hopefully we can get promotion. It will be a tight league this year, everyone can see that. It’s going to be close this year, it’s obvious I think.

“There are good teams and if you don’t perform you’ll get beat. We need a good start and kick on from there. And who knows, I don’t see why we can’t.”

For now, Baker will continue to get his head down and work his way around a gruelling schedule made manageable by his burning desire to reach Super League.

In the (very) little time he does time on his hands, you can expect to find him camping.

“I used to go to the caravan with my nan, but we don’t have one now so we go camping instead me and the Mrs.

“It’s nice to get away from everything, no phones, no social media, no worries.”

First published in Rugby League World (Issue 465, Jan 2020)