20th June 2019, 15:40 | great_britain
REGAN Grace feels a tap on the shoulder. His reaction when he turns around in his chair is like a One Direction fan learning Harry Styles is there.
A man in a blue polo shirt is standing above him, asking, ‘How are you?’ Those three words clearly had a massive effect on a normally confident lad who spoke more like a nervous schoolboy after his encounter.
That man was Great Britain coach Wayne Bennett.
“Is that the first time you’ve ever met him?” the St Helens winger is asked. Wide-eyed, Grace simply replies: “Yes.”
Fast forward four months and the Welshman could be meeting the Australian on a more regular basis, especially if he makes the final Lions tour party, which will be announced on October 14, possibly two days after he has won the Super League Grand Final.
And having grown up in the rugby union stronghold of Port Talbot, South Wales, he knows the impact selection for Great Britain can have.
🎵 Ladies and Gentlemen. This is @ReganGrace5 number 5️⃣👀😆— St.Helens R.F.C. (@Saints1890) June 20, 2019
...who is rested and ready for the visit of @leedsrhinos tomorrow! 🔴⚪
Watch the full interview including his view on a potential GB Lions call up in the link below 🇬🇧⤵️https://t.co/ygexNkrN2Y#saintsandproud #redv pic.twitter.com/sAPvxdqJO7
“There’s only one person I either knew or have seen from Port Talbot who has played for the British Lions and that’s Richard Hibbard,” said Grace, who admits he cannot get home as often as he would like to because of the drive from his adopted base.
“He’s like a god in our town, so being picked for Britain is massive – it’s the very top.
“Richard’s just opened a café in the town and it’s full every day!
“It would be something special for a Welshman to represent Great Britain. It’s just a case of getting selected. It’s about being on form and putting myself forward.
“Being picked would definitely be the highlight of my career. Great Britain would be the biggest stage and bringing it back adds another level as it’s a wider variety of players to pick from and a bugger depth to the squad.
“Hopefully, people are watching and think I’m good enough. I’ve been happy with my own form so far but there’s always room for improvement.
“That’s what I’m trying to do as everyone else is improving – you have to keep improving too.
“When the Great Britain tour was announced, it wasn’t a case of me putting that above everything else. It was a case of me doing all I can for St Helens – that’s where I’m at no and I want to win things with Saints.
“Anything else that comes off the back of that is just a bonus. There’s a lot of people at St Helens that are eligible for Great Britain too and a lot who could add to the team.
“And if I’m picked, there may be kids in Wales that would look up to me and decide to do what I did and follow the rugby league route rather than the conventional rugby union one.
“I just wanted to do something different and chose to have a go at rugby league. Hopefully, I could inspire a few kids to do the same.”
Should Grace, who is having a fantastic season as St Helens sit top of Super League, make the Great Britain squad, he will be heading back to Papua New Guinea, where he experienced while playing for Wales at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.
The Lions tour ends on November 16 in Port Moresby and the conditions remain entrenched in his mind, as does the reaction of the people to rugby league players.
Walk down the street in towns like St Helens, Warrington and Wigan and people may do a comedy double take. Walk through Lae or Mount Hagen and it is likely to be very different.
Shirts, shorts, boots, gumshields, even strapping. Any item of memorabilia from a rugby league player is regarded like a priceless artefact.
“Playing in PNG was really tough,” he added, as he admits he has thought about representing Wales in the inaugural Rugby League World Cup Nines in Australia, which he is not likely to be eligible for should Justin Holbrook’s side make the Grand Final, feeling that game would suit him.
“Before you even started playing, it was tough because of the heat and humidity. It’s very hard to go there and play.
“The fans are also very much on top of you there. You can look around and think, ‘What have I walked into?’
“Fans are just really, really loud, they just really love the game. It’s almost as if they look at you as if you’re immortal or something.
“It’s insane, they just have so much love for the game and it gives you another perspective on it.”