The off-season throws up different situations for every player but you’ll struggle to find anyone who had a stranger one than Ryan Hampshire.
He was partying in Ibiza when he discovered over Twitter he had been released by his hometown club, Wakefield.
It didn’t come as much of a surprise, it had been well reported the 25-year-old had reached a stalemate with the club which didn’t make him many friends.
Yet now, ahead of the 2020 season kick-off, Hampshire has found a new club… Wakefield.
In a U-turn of epic proportions, Hampshire finally negotiated a new contract at Wakefield despite his relationship with the club breaking down.
“We’d been in discussions for a while and I did an interview that rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way,” Hampshire admitted, alluding to a piece where he said players were treated like “pieces of meat”.
“But I stick by what I said, even if I could have said it in a more respectful way. I didn’t mean to disrespect anyone.
“I met with another club a week after that, that was lurking and it was more cash, to be honest. But that didn’t end up happening. Then it came up on social media I’d been released, I was on holiday in Ibiza at the time which was disappointing.”
In reality, neither Wakefield or Hampshire wanted to cut ties. Hampshire had turned down an opportunity to go out on loan to Huddersfield earlier in the year due to a desire to stay with his hometown club while Wakefield were keen to keep a player who had made more appearances than any other over the past two seasons. Their stubbornness was comparable to two best friends unwilling to admit feelings for one another.
Eventually, that resistance cracked.
“I got a phone call off Chezzy (Chris Chester) a few weeks later asking to meet up, I thought I would do as I’d not actually heard from anyone since the social media posts so it was just cold.
“He said everything was blown out of proportion from both ends and asked if I’d be interested coming back. I apologised on my end, we agreed to get a meeting to get a deal done with Craig Harrison and Michael Carter. We all agreed that if something was to get done it had to be done now.
“A deal was drawn up and it was completely different to what I got offered originally. There was a bit of give and take from both of us and then I signed. We all agreed the best thing to do was get over it and move on.
“I’m happy. A deal nearly came about with Hull KR, that’s the club I’m talking about. I met up with Danny McGuire and Tony Smith who are unbelievable people and two of the most interesting people I’ve met in the game. But that didn’t come about. Sometimes happiness outweighs cash, I learned that when I went to Leigh a few years ago, starting travelling at five every morning and not playing, I just hated it. I’m two minutes from here. Everything happens for a reason pretty much.”
As turbulent as the off-season was, Hampshire believes it’s been to his benefit.
“It’s changed me, I’m a totally different person. I’m a bit more relaxed in certain areas.
“Obviously I went to Ibiza for two weeks and got that young side out of me a little bit. Going out, doing what I want, I came back from that trip and still had nothing done and it made me think about a lot of things.
“I just think I’m over a lot of things, not just going out but rising to stuff. I don’t let things bother me as much now. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not, I’ll find out when the season starts, I might have to find a balance between the two.”
Hampshire admits he’s still coming to terms with his more mature attitude. During this interview, he considers whether to bite his tongue or tell it how it is, mainly when it comes to the season ahead.
He ‘returns’ to Wakefield with a new competitor for the fullback spot in Alex Walker, the man tipped to be first-choice in the role when he returns from injury. In the halves, Jacob Miller is expected to play alongside Danny Brough. That leaves Hampshire looking at a potential return to the wing with Ben Jones-Bishop out through illness.
“We’ve spoken about playing fullback or halfback. I don’t really want to be out on the wing again, I think it was just plugging a gap in the experienced games that matters. I think Lee (Kershaw) will be unbelievable this year anyway.
“It’s not always good being a utility, I think I’m better at fullback, my stats say so anyway; but I won’t get into that again, I think I have to be more careful what I say now! That’s the thing now, I’m in that incisiveness of being careful what I say or say what I want. I’m still figuring that out at the minute and how I decide to go about my business.”
But his point is a valid one. Hampshire contributed 14 tries and 14 assists for Wakefield last season playing predominantly in the fullback role. In 2018 he contributed 19 assists but scored just five at halfback.
He made over double the number of metres last year than he did the season before and quadrupled his amount of clean breaks, going from five to 20.
Now 25, one thing Hampshire has been unable to do, whether through fault of his own or not, is nail down a regular position.
He makes no secret of where he believes he’s best but craves a consistent spot either way.
“I think if I can get consistent in one position; look I’m not acting like I’m one of the best players in the competition but I certainly want to be one of the best, and playing in the same position would help that.
“To be honest, I’ve no goals this year, it’s turn up, do my best every day and repeat. You’ll always get doubted, I can’t wait to hit the form I know I can.”