When clubs announce signings they tend to include some rather bland, dreary comments from their new star. They’ll express their pride at signing for such a historic club, or they’ll be over the moon to finally have got the deal done. If you’re lucky, they might even reveal they spoke to a few other clubs, but decided to join the club in question because of the conversation they had with the coach or due to the club’s potential, though never because of the money.
James Gavet went against the grain when Huddersfield announced his capture on a two-year contract.
“There’s crazy crowds and big Pommies frothing at the mouth to get a piece of you – I want to get a piece of them too.”
Gavet’s brash remark didn’t go unnoticed, but nor was it a throwaway, tongue-in-cheek comment either.
When the 30-year-old talks, there are a few things you quickly establish. He picks up on the intimate details of the battle in a way spectators can’t and other players don’t. He weighs up his opponents and quickly identifies the courageous from the weak.
One thing he does perhaps have in common with most of his peers is that to him, the pitch is a battlefield.
“It’s always going to be that way,” he said.
“Everyone has a bit of animosity and malice, with some people you just have to push them right to the edge to jump. Obviously, I don’t need that nudge, I know there’s a lot of men who don’t need that either that I’m going to encounter.
“No one is ever going to be safe on the footy field. I’m pretty sure this is the same in most sporting arenas, but you’ve got to find that edge when you’re out in a war. Whether it’s experience, which it will probably be with me now, or if it’s going to be strength, you’ve got to find that edge.
“But either way, once you cross that line, you’re not safe, whether you’re a cat in a big body or have the heart of a lion in a small body.”
Gavet believes he has crossed paths with many players who fit those two descriptions during his eight years in the NRL.
“I’ve always known of these stigmas about different types of players all over the world.
“So with Pacific Islanders, we’re naturally big people, but there’s always been that suggestion that we’re not really fit and we struggle with cardio and stuff like that.
“Then you’ve got the smaller working boys who can run and tackle all day.
“Then every now and again you get a man who could be black, white, purple or yellow who is 10ft tall, 150kgs but on the inside, he’s a mouse.
“And you can see that straight away. You can read it, you can feel it, you can see when someone slows down or tries to preserve themselves.
“The thing with our game is you can’t hide, it’s all action on the battlefield. You get a feel for the guy stood across from you. Sometimes you might feel like they got the better of you that day, but others you come away thinking he’s not as hard as people make him out to be.
“I pick up on certain things, you can hear them breathing heavy, you can hear them wincing. Those are the things, the really intimate moments in a game, when you’re both looking at each other and you go ‘let’s see who’s real’, that’s when you discover who has the heart of a lion or a mouse.”
As a prop, Gavet’s job is to win the battle own the middle. To do so, he will come up against some of the most fierce ‘Pommies’ out there. Many before him have perhaps taken that challenge too lightly. Not Gavet. He knows what he has signed up for.
“With English blokes I’ve always seen that there’s no lack in effort, strength, size or heart. You’ve got guys like the Burgess’, John Bateman and Elliott Whitehead. I’ve come up against these guys and they’re basically just a fairer version of me, they’ve got the same balls and heart as I do. That’s good because that’s the challenge of rugby league and if you can’t handle that you’ll be exposed out on the field.
“A lot of the English boys are smaller but some of the hardest guys I’ve ever met are knee-high, Issac Luke would fold guys who are 6’6, Tommy Leuluai, I played with him at the Warriors and he was the same, this tiny thing, but he could have me winded.
“You find with a lot of NRL players, 90% I’ve spoken to say they might be good but there was this other guy. Even if you spoke to someone like Greg Inglis or Sam Burgess, people who are the GOAT in their position, but they’ll always know someone who was bigger and better than them.
“But when you get to the top you’ve got a lot of hard workers, those guys they speak about fell off for whatever reason.
“That’s the thing, when you get to the top it’s harder and harder to find the weak link, there are no chinks in the armour, it’s just war. So you know you’ve just got to take it to them and enter that battle yourself.”