On Sunday, one of the most unlikely careers of the modern era will be celebrated at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Huddersfield will pay tribute to Jermaine McGillvary’s service to the Giants when they take on Halifax in his Testimonial match.
McGillvary’s unlikely rise to the top has been well documented. A college dropout at 18, he went to work night shifts at B&Q. It was a chance catch-up with Leroy Cudjoe that saw him have a go with the Giants Academy. When he got there, he, in his own words, couldn’t catch a cold.
245 Huddersfield appearances later, and 20 for his country to match, McGillvary has already enjoyed a career he can look back on with pride, and his longevity is a shock to him more than anyone else.
“It’s madness really, I could never have imagined it,” says McGillvary.
“I didn’t think I was going to make it as a Super League player, not a chance. I just wanted some money in my pocket because I was broke.
“Now I’ve played over 200 games for Huddersfield, played in a World Cup, a World Cup Final, Test series wins, I’ve been to Australia and New Zealand. It’s surreal, and when I talk about it, it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.”
But he still wants more. There are still itches to scratch. Major honours haven’t eluded him individually, but they have as part of a team. There’s been a League Leaders’ Shield success and a World Cup Final appearance, but never one of the major trophies every player dreams of lifting.
“It does bother me,” he admits.
“And it will hit me more if I’ve not done it by the time I retire. I’m not going to lie, it does annoy me.
“I’ve four years left and it only takes one good Cup run to end that duck. It will be more when I retire and it’s all done and dusted and I can’t achieve anything else. That’s when it will really bother me, but it’s in the back of my mind already. I’ve had a chance to play for teams that have won it in the past.”
McGillvary remains a one-club man and a devoted Huddersfield Giants player, despite so many opportunities to leave for bigger, more successful clubs.
Temptation has never been far away, but neither has a sense of loyalty. That is what has ultimately kept him at his hometown club, even if it has shortened his chances of tasting the glory he craves.
“Huddersfield gave me my chance, coached me and sent me on loan to the right club; they’ve given me the security,” he insists.
“It’s loyalty, mainly to Ken (Davy) and his late wife Jennifer. They’d come to my games at Batley when I was an absolute nobody, when I had done absolutely nothing. The owners of the club were coming to games to watch me, and I don’t forget that.
“When they’re saying they want you to stay, when you’ve got no money because you’re broke but they’re offering you a five-year deal to go buy a house, you can’t ever forget that.
“I have no regrets being loyal to people who have been loyal to me. It could all be worth it in the end. Yes, I could have been at bigger clubs that would have given me a better chance of winning trophies because they’ve done it before, but I made that decision and I’ll live with it.”
McGillvary is 31 now and admits that he hasn’t thought about his playing days after his current contract with Huddersfield, which expires in 2023.
“I don’t see any reason to look beyond then,” he reasons.
“I’ll play as long as I can give my best. If I can’t do that then I’ll stop playing.
“The same goes within the four years at Huddersfield; if I can’t give my best I’ll tell the club straight away, I don’t want it to end like that.
“I’m 31 now and I’m having to change certain things, I can’t just eat like **** and expect to be ripped and lean like I’ve been in the past. I’ve had to start thinking more about what I’m eating, as well as training hard. But I’m doing it, it’s not an issue and I’m enjoying it.”
Ultimately, McGillvary still intends to be on the international scene come next year’s World Cup.
To do so, he knows his form with Huddersfield needs to be at its best.
“I want to be the best I can. If I want international selection, I need to be playing well at Huddersfield, but that also means that we as a team need to be good too.
“We’re at that stage of the year where everyone says we’re the biggest, fastest and fittest. I’ve spoken in the past about how good we’re going to be, how we’re going to do this and that.
“But I’m not doing that this year, and we’ll see where we’re at in the middle of the year. We lift weights and train hard, so of course we’re going to be fit and strong. What matters is transferring all that fitness and strength onto the field. We’ve not played a game yet, I’m hoping we’re going to be a lot better than last year, that’s one thing I will say.”
* Jermaine McGillvary’s Testimonial game against Halifax is at the John Smith’s Stadium on Sunday, kick-off 3.00pm.