Robbie Hunter-Paul autobiography: Getting down and dirty with Bradford Northern (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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Robbie Hunter-Paul autobiography: Getting down and dirty with Bradford Northern
10:10am Thursday 23rd August 2012 in Bulls
Robbie Hunter-Paul relives some of the most amazing experiences of his life in his new book ‘Robbie: Rugby Warrior – The Autobiography’. In this second extract he remembers making his professional debut.
There was a three-week turnaround from signing the contract with Bradford to boarding the flight.
The weekend before we set off I settled down at home to watch a film on the one movie channel they had those days on Sky NZ. Up popped Rita, Sue and Bob Too, a raw, working class portrayal of, yes, Bradford. I could not quite believe it. This wasn’t what Bradford was like, was it? I swear I still had a part of mum’s skirt held tight in my hands as I got on the plane.
Truth be told, I probably would not have gone to England at that time had Henry not been there. As much as I was driven, it was comforting to know that big bro was not far away.
In late August we all set off together, me on my way to Bradford and Henry to join Wigan. My contract was for three years and I was to get £25,000 over the first ten months. Not that I really knew how much that was. I was so green it is frightening looking back. This was going to be a different life in every sense.
My debut in the reserves came the following Wednesday against Wakefield and I began tearing teams apart at a time when the first XIII began to do badly, despite a strong opening to the 1994-95 championship.
In the November of that first season the Bradford board started putting pressure on Peter Fox, the coach, to pick me in the first team.
Peter had coached Bradford from 1977-85 and was three years into his second stint at Odsal . To say he was something of a legend in rugby league is an understatement. He called a spade a spade but I ended up loving him for it.
My first team chance finally arrived on November 27, 1994. Neil Summers, our regular stand-off, was injured and Dave Heron filled in, with me on the bench.
I had been on five minutes in the first half when Deryck Fox, our Great Britain scrum half, put up a bomb. I hared after it and outjumped the Wakefield full back. I came down with the ball over the goal-line, so that wasn’t a bad start for my senior debut.
Bradford dominated that day and I bagged a second try in a 34-0 win.
A brace of tries in my first real taste of a Yorkshire derby and I enjoyed my first headline in the Bradford Telegraph & Argus the next day.
Bradford was not professional in the contemporary sense, nor was it alone in the British game then. The word professional merely related to the money the players received. As a sporting organisation there was no active marketing other than the traditional methods of a big sign outside the ground and some work with the local media.
Not that it mattered to an 18-year-old, who was concerned only with what was happening on the pitch. Bradford Northern were hardly a glamour side. We gloried in the name of the Steam Pigs. We loved to get dirty on heavy, muddy fields and belt the opposition. Those were the club’s values.
Nothing about our approach was particularly sophisticated but typified the pre-Super League age. A lot of the lads were brickies, labourers, farmers, police officers, all massive men who no-one messed with. They were awe-inspiring to me.
The Kiwis in the squad were all natural athletes through their blood lines. Paul Newlove, an established Great Britain international, was an individual blessed with fantastic abilities, grace and balance, while Roy Powell was a machine who would do all the hard yards and grind it out on the field.
I had never seen a man so unaffected by alcohol. On the end of season trip to Tenerife, he would be the same at 3am as he was at 3pm. It was like he was carved from granite. He was built like a Greek god but with a weak heart, which we tragically discovered a few years later, with Roy’s sudden death at the age of 33.
As I was the baby of the Bradford team, the older players did their best to protect me. The lifestyle of a sports professional can be a seductive one at times, if you bow down to primal desires, but I had none of those distractions then. Bradford was like no other place I had visited, although the city and Yorkshire itself quickly came to feel like home.