West Wales Raiders coach Aaron Wood has described the club’s signing of former Welsh Rugby Union international Gavin Henson as one of the biggest events in Welsh Rugby League for a decade.
The club has been hinting at a big-name signing for a number of weeks, but the Rugby League community was left stunned on Friday when that turned out to be Henson, who was a fixture in the Wales national team that achieved Six Nations Grand Slams in 2005 and 2008.
He may not have played on the international scene since 2011, but he played club rugby for the Welsh regional side the Dragons as recently as early 2019.
Although the 33-time capped star will turn 39 in February, Wood still believes he has plenty to offer, both on and off the pitch.
“This is a massive signing for the club,” said Wood.
“He’s still fit and throughout this Covid lockdown he has been doing plenty of training and getting his hands on a Rugby League ball.
“He’s always loved Rugby League, so he knows the game.
“He’ll have to learn the basic things like the play-the-ball that they don’t do in Union, but for a player of his calibre, with the skill set he has, the transition to League will be easy.
“He’s played on the biggest stages, so what he’ll bring to our club in terms of experience and game management will help turn us into a professional club.
“We have young lads here who grew up watching Gavin play against the best players in the world and wanting to be like him, so being able to learn from him and play alongside him will be invaluable for them.
“Everyone in Wales knows who Gavin is, so for a little club like us in League 1 to have him on board is almost unheard of.
“For me, this is the biggest thing to happen in Welsh Rugby League in the past ten years.”
While all eyes will be on Henson whenever he does makes his Raiders’ debut, this move is not about his reputation or Henson keeping himself in the public eye.
“It’s been documented that I would have liked to have a go at league when I was younger, but the opportunity was never right,” said Henson, who also made one appearance for the British and Irish Lions.
“Having spoken to Andrew and Peter (co-owners, Andrew Thorne and Peter Tiffin) everything seemed to have lined up nicely.
“This was never about Welsh caps or money, but more of a personal ambition to have a go at Rugby League and see how the two codes differ.
“I’m under no illusion that the change is going to be a tough one.
“Looking at the standard of League 1 it looks like a very tough, but exciting competition.
“Regardless of what I have done in the past, this is going to be a whole new ball game and I know I have a bit to learn, especially the difference in rules, but I’m as excited as ever to get back on the field and start training with the boys.”
Chief executive Tiffin added: “It’s always been a huge part of our business plan to make sure we had homegrown players in our squad and the signing of Gav will enhance that.
“From the initial group meeting, Gav has shown a keen interest towards being part of the club, which is fantastic. I think he is more excited to be a part of the squad for the new season than anyone else.
“The original plan was to introduce Gav slowly into the 2020 season, but with the unforeseen cancellation of this season it will now be the 2021 season where we will see him playing for the club.
“We as a club really look forward to not only seeing Gav on the pitch, but being heavily involved with all of our off-field events within the community across Wales.”
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