Harry Brigham isn’t your average Rugby League coach. He has had to overcome the odds of battling through Cerebral Palsy to coach at community club West Hull and as a former assistant coach for Hull University’s Rugby League side.
Having first become involved with West Hull in 2013, his initial duties included acting as a water carrier and bringing on the kicking tee.
As his mobility improved from the condition, the long-time Hull FC supporter then began to shadow coaches and have the opportunity to deliver sessions himself.
With the recent completion of a Sports Coaching and Performance degree at the University of Hull, Brigham is hoping to continue his development in the sport.
He credits West Hull for allowing him to develop in his embryonic stages as a coach, with the 22-year-old helping to coach various trophy-winning sides through the club’s age categories.
“I have been involved in a range of duties and supporting various teams with pitch duties,” Brigham told Total Rugby League.
“I could learn a lot about rugby, in a coaching point of view rather than jumping in first-hand, doing it this way. These duties allowed me to shadow coaches I worked under in training and matches.
“Over the years in my involvement in the sport, I have been in some successful teams which was down to the coaches in the team delivering success and I’ve seen that by learning.
“At West Hull, I was involved in something I will never forget. When I first joined the team, they were playing second best to Skirlaugh and were always being written off.
“Then, in 2015, we had an amazing year that will never slip in my memory. At the start of the Yorkshire League, we had come from a 2014 Yorkshire Cup final defeat and we were being written off again.
“The team grew in motivation and we proved everyone wrong by winning the league with only one defeat, we won the National Cup and got our revenge in the Yorkshire Cup final. We were the first West Hull team to do so at U16s level in their history.”
Motivation there, being the operative word. Of course, with the territory of having a disability, Brigham hasn’t been without his challenges in life.
Despite the disability providing physical issues for Brigham, he has not let that limit his rapid progress as coach so far.
He will no doubt be looking to emulate the career path of Catalans Dragons women’s coach Cyril Torres, who became the world’s first wheelchair-bound Rugby League coach in 2016.
In similar fashion, the sport has offered Brigham a lot of respite, with the welcoming nature of the community game being a timely distraction from his personal difficulties.
“My disability has been a big challenge,” he added. “A lot of things have happened, in general, which were out of my control with constant surgery.
“Certain things have picked me up from bad scenarios and these people know who they are I and I appreciate them a lot.
“I have had people write me off because of my disability but, for me, I just don’t care what they think because others support me with difficult circumstances around my disability.
“The captain of the West Hull team is a good mate of mine and has supported me from day one, as I’d known him from school.
“The rest of the squad have been the same, as well, and you become close with your team and they are not just team members or players, they become your mates.
“In and out of the sport, there are people who have noticed mood swings and they have said carry on being who you are and what you want to do.
“I am disabled but I am still me and Rugby League won’t change that. It’s more about the fact I’m involved in the sport and I am happy to be involved.”
His involvement in the sport has also expanded to the local media, having being part of the successful Hull-based GRM Media platform ran by Shawn Boatin, who Brigham had worked alongside in a work-experience capacity at Sirius West Academy in Hull.
The purpose of the scheme, which was eventually endorsed by the RFL, was to offer coverage to grassroots sides across the country, with Brigham’s face and voice being a crucial part of the operation both in content creation and as an active voice on their podcasts.
“During this time, I had surgery I wasn’t able to be active in anything, not just Rugby but in life because of my recovery,” Brigham added. “That was when Shawn approached me to join the team as a rugby correspondent and do interviews with players in the game at amateur level or young players just turned professional.
“When I fully recovered from my surgery, I agreed to stay on with Shawn and GRM because we knew together we were making a good team and I had a big contribution in what players in the sport thought of me in a different capacity.”