Rugby League Heroes: Paul Newlove (Part 2)

Last week Paul Newlove talked about his dad John, his uncle Charlie Stone, life at Post Office Road and Odsal, his early Test career, and his big-money move to St Helens.

Having won three major trophies in 1996 and 1997, Saints fell into an 18-month decline before further silverware was delivered by Ellery Hanley and Ian Millward. Newlove, who won 20 Great Britain caps, ended his career with an unhappy spell at Castleford in 2004.

Saints won the double in 1996. How do you look back at that side?

Bobbie Goulding pulled the strings, and the fans loved him. He was playing well, and everything came off him. Chris Joynt, Tommy Martyn and Keiron Cunningham were great players, and so were Steve Prescott and Anthony Sullivan. There were also hard workers who weren’t as well-known, but you need players like that, and they had young lads coming through. It was a good balance. If I didn’t do much in one game, then someone else did. All it takes is one piece of genius and there was always someone in that team who could provide it.

What was it like facing your old club at Wembley in 1996 and 1997? 

The press couldn’t talk about anything else other than Bradford being my old club. We had a media day and when the sixth journalist asked the same question that the other five had, I just walked out! I didn’t want to do any press at the best of times, but that was ridiculous. It was hard to play against Bradford because they used to try and make me do more tackles to tire me out. They were always coming down my side. Bobbie’s kicks on poor Nathan Graham were just amazing. My big regret is not scoring in a Wembley Challenge Cup Final because I didn’t in 1997 either.

What do you remember of beating Wigan in the Cup in 1997 after Goulding was dismissed?

I think I scored a try in that game. Tommy (Martyn) went through, close to the line, I came on the inside, and he flicked it back. It was a catch-and-flop-over type of try. When you have a player sent off, you just have to carry on. You immediately think you’re in trouble – or maybe that was just me – but we were at home, which would have helped, and we hung in there. As the game goes on, you think, “We’re gonna do this!”

Saints fell away after Wembley in 1997 and were one of many sides humiliated in the World Club Championship. What went wrong?

I don’t think we expected them to be so good. People forget we had to go out there twice. We beat Paris at home in a midweek play-off which earned us a trip to play Brisbane away in the quarter-finals. I don’t think I slept for several days because of jetlag. Longy had scored a late try against Penrith, which got us into the play-off because out of all the teams that had lost every game, our points difference was the least bad, so we can blame Longy for having to play in Brisbane again!

What did Ellery Hanley change in 1999? 

He was a tough coach. If you didn’t get back to the mark in training, you were down doing press-ups or another punishment. But he was right, and he looked after the players. He’d ask how we were feeling and how long we wanted to train for, and that year we did it for him. We beat Bradford in the Grand Final. John Stankevitch and Tim Jonkers had come through by then, and Kevin Iro was a great signing.

Ellery lasted just over a year. How did you take to his successor Ian Millward?

He was good when he first came to St Helens. We all got on board with him. He changed the game plan every week, depending on who we were playing. He’d watch the next opposition, and if he saw a weakness, he’d come up with a plan of how to attack them, which I thought was brilliant. In the past, you’d stick to the same thing, but Millward changed things around. 

You formed a sensational left-side combination with Martyn, Joynt and Sullivan. Tell us about them.

Tommy was a great player. His ball handling and kicking were second to none. He was a good defender, even though he wasn’t the biggest. He was a good stand-off. The year I left, they got rid of him as well. I get on with Chris really well and we still go to functions together. He led from the front. He was a great captain. He took the ball up, did his tackling and took us forward. Anthony was a brilliant finisher. I remember a game at The Stoop in 1998 when he scored five tries. That night was about me drawing and passing and giving him the opportunity to use his pace which he did fantastically. But if I could have scored them myself, I would have done, don’t get me wrong!

How do you recall the last few minutes of the 2002 Grand Final?

I took the ball into the sticks and set up the position for Longy to get the drop-goal. Then there was the alleged voluntary tackle! Paul Deacon went to tackle Chris and then pulled out. Chris was already bracing himself and fell into him. Deacon duped him which I think is cheating in itself. Chris fell to the floor. If he’d given the penalty, Deacon would have kicked it. That would have been devastating.

Why did you leave Saints?

The writing was on the wall when they signed Willie Talau, the centre from Canterbury. I’d just come back from a snapped Achilles. Millward told me I was his best centre. My contract ran out that year, and we had a positive meeting, so I thought I’d get another contract, which would then lead to a testimonial. But he got me in again and said he’d let me go. I was devastated. I didn’t want to leave St Helens. They were a great side. It was tough with the travelling, but I did it. I was very rarely late for training unless there was a bad accident on the M62. I was really upset. 

Why did you go to Castleford?

I signed because it was 20 minutes from my house, but it was rubbish. Going from St Helens to Castleford was a mismatch, especially in terms of facilities. I wish I hadn’t gone there. I went there with an injury I didn’t know I had, because I hadn’t had it at Saints. I had a planta fascia in the bottom of my foot. Ten or fifteen minutes into a game, the foot would just tense up, and it was so painful. I was playing with injections, and I couldn’t do that all year. They said we can either rest it or we can operate. They sent me to a hospital in Torquay. I had to travel down, stop overnight, have treatment and then come back. It was a right farce, so in the end I told Gary Mercer I was packing in. I said, “Pay me off, or I’ll sit on the sidelines and collect my dough till the end of the year.” They gave me a pay-off, but it wasn’t a lot. I didn’t do myself justice. I felt guilty because people expected a lot from me. I couldn’t do it. I played five matches, and I don’t think they were even full matches. I felt awful. 

Why didn’t you earn more than 20 Great Britain caps? 

I don’t know really. Being in camp with them wasn’t my favourite time. When I debuted in 1989, the squad was full of Wigan players, and I felt like an outsider. If I was older, I would have been a bit more comfortable with it. 

Did you enjoy club rugby more?

Yes. There wasn’t a good team atmosphere with internationals. It’s hard when players are from different clubs, and it wasn’t easy with there being so many from Wigan. I don’t want to say I didn’t like it, and I’m glad I played in the ones I did.

Why didn’t you tour in 1996 and 1999? 

I actually can’t remember, but I did turn down the chance to tour in 1990. It seemed a long time to be away from home, and I was young. 

Which centres did you have the most memorable battles with?

Gary Connolly. We were the same age and we’d played against each other for years. Gary was one of the best centres there has been, although he always played in top sides – unlike me! Kevin Iro was superb as well. Mal Meninga was someone you couldn’t ignore. I was only young when I first came up against him and that was a bit daunting. Richie Blackmore was a good centre at Castleford and Leeds, tall and athletic. You knew you were in for a hard afternoon if you didn’t get it right against him. 

You had your medals stolen after you retired. Did you get them back?

No I didn’t. The RFL made some more Grand Final rings, but I had to pay for them. 

What did they charge you?

I think it was three grand for three rings.

How did you cope with retirement?

At first you think it’s a bit of a relief – no more bumps and bruises. Then you think, “What am I going to do?” I didn’t know! That’s the downside. I don’t know what Rugby League does now, but the game didn’t do anything for me. I played at the highest level for 15 years, and you don’t even get a phone call. I felt hard done by. That’s Rugby League for you! I would have stayed in the game, but the only role I was asked to do was assist Chris Smith, who was the player-coach at York, but at that level, players only want to play when it’s a home match. Going to Cumbria with ten men wasn’t fun, but you’d have 22 to pick from at home games! I did that for three years. That’s the only coaching I’ve done, and it wasn’t much. I would have liked to have done an Academy for example, but I couldn’t teach what I did because I didn’t know what I was going to do. There wasn’t a rule book I studied. I just did it. I had a left-foot step and a right fend. I could draw and pass. They were my weapons.

What do you think of the game now?

I don’t watch it often, but I watch St Helens if they’re on. The game is quick, but they all play the same way and people I talk to say they get fed up after 20 minutes. They all pass behind the man, then behind another man to get it wide. There are no little drop-offs, nothing around the rucks, and it’s quite boring. When I played, it was better rugby. They’re good athletes, definitely. You can’t knock them, but they’re all the same.