Rugby league legend Jake Webster will play his final-ever game this Sunday, and admits that while he is 100 per cent ready mentally, he cannot be certain his body will stand up the challenge.

The former New Zealand international turned 40 in October, and after five seasons in the NRL, he has played in the English game ever since.

He had memorable spells in Super League with Hull KR and Castleford Tigers, making over a century of appearances for both sides, before late-career spells at both Bradford Bulls and Keighley Cougars.

Webster played his final league game for Cougars last spring, with his focus firmly on his director of rugby role that he now holds at the club, one he is now enjoying after an at-times “toxic” 2023.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Jake Webster made a handful of appearances for Cougars in their doomed 2023 Betfred Championship campaign, and was excellent in this home win over Bulls.Jake Webster made a handful of appearances for Cougars in their doomed 2023 Betfred Championship campaign, and was excellent in this home win over Bulls. (Image: JT Sports Media.)

But the veteran centre is back for one last dance on the field this weekend, as Keighley host Castleford at Cougar Park in the ‘Jake Webster Farewell Game’.

The Australian-born superstar told the Keighley News: “It’ll be a special game.

“It was supposed to act as my testimonial last January and was postponed due to bad weather, but it’s all fallen into place this time.

“Castleford still wanted to play the game and I have so many fond memories from my time there, so it meant a lot for them to agree to do it again.

“I’m excited for Sunday but it’s sad too because it’s also a part of my life coming to an end.”

It is coming up to a year since Webster last played for Cougars, so will he be able to handle this weekend’s exertions?

He laughed: “Mentally I’m ready to play, but physically is another situation altogether.

“I’m 40 now, so my body’s not what it used to be and chasing kids in the cold weather on Sunday doesn’t help that in any way.

“But it’s more about the occasion anyway, and I couldn’t be happier that it’s coming against Cas.

“I came here in 2007 with Hull KR and I had a great time there, which was basically the reason why I’ve stayed in the UK ever since.

“But I probably played the best footy of my career at Cas and I stayed injury-free about 90 per cent of the time.

“I put my all in when I played for them, and for them to keep me for as long as they did (until the age of 35) meant a lot.”

Webster is the prime example of an Antipodean success story in England, but it does not always work out as well for others.

Another Australian, Josh Martin, signed for Cougars last month, only to leave to return to his native country after less than three weeks at the club, citing personal reasons and homesickness.

An empathetic Webster said: “It’s not easy to come over to England from the other side of the world.

“You’re away from your usual support network, your family and you’re on your own.

“It’s not like you’re an hour away, it’s a 24-hour flight, and the time difference is a big deal too.

“You can’t just pick up the phone if you’ve had a bad day and call home because your family and friends will probably be asleep.

“It took me two years or so to get fully used to living in the UK and to stop feeling homesick.

“Sadly, that’s the nature of the beast if you want to go and see the world and experience the different culture and lifestyle of playing your rugby league in the UK after being in Australia.

“There are a few boys that have never headed back after coming over, like myself, and there are so many positives to the move if you’re open to it.

“You’ve just got to try and take it as it comes if you can.

“That’s what I did and now I’m officially an English citizen with an English wife and English kids.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Jake Webster in action for Hull KR against Bulls in a 2011 Super League encounter, his fourth season over in England.Jake Webster in action for Hull KR against Bulls in a 2011 Super League encounter, his fourth season over in England. (Image: PA.)

Webster’s wife and kids have seen him shoulder a lot more responsibility since his appointment as Cougars’ director of rugby last May.

He works closely in that role with Keighley’s chief operations officer Steve Watkinson and the club’s first-team head coach Matt Foster.

Englishman Foster made the opposite journey to Webster, appointed by his former club Cougars in July, having spent the previous 16 years as a player and coach out in Australia.

Discussing his day to day work alongside Foster, Webster said: “Matt’s got a lot of experience of coaching in Australia, so that’s a background that’s familiar to me as I was brought up on rugby league there.

“I really resonate with Matt and we very much have a shared philosophy when it comes to Cougars.

“The pair of us work closely with Steve and Steve and I talk all the time about what we need from Matt, then Matt will tell the two of us what he needs on the playing side of things.

“The key thing is that the three of us are on the same page and are open and honest with each other.

“That’s great, because last year, there were a lot of occasions where things got toxic, so it’s nice not to have that now.

“Steve and I want Matt to have the best chance of getting promotion out of League 1 with that playing group as he can, so the two of us need to put our best foot forward.”