8th Nov 2019
During the season, I’ll have training in the morning, finish about one, have a quick nap, then it’s all about my boys. Isaac’s nine, Elijah is five and there’s two-year-old Ezra.
Ezra was only a couple of months old when I left for the 2017 World Cup in Australia. When I came back, he didn’t really know who I was. He loves rugby. He’ll sleep in his Giants top and screams his head off if he has to take it off. We’re going to try to get him into rugby tots soon.
Elijah’s into rugby and football. He’s training to be a goalkeeper and plays rugby locally.
Isaac, he’s at Manchester City. I once drove down to London straight after training just to watch him at Arsenal. You should have seen the look on his face when he saw us as he thought I couldn’t make it! He’s been to loads of different countries with football – he’s living the dream. And I’ve shed a lot of blood, sweat and tears trying to get him to use that right foot!
Wayne Bennett is the best man manager I’ve ever known. I’ve played my best rugby under him.
Elijah and Isaac do a lot of sports. Gymnastics, football, rugby, swimming - you name it. They love it.
I want them to do everything and play everything, especially if they’re at home kicking hell out of each other. We have a gym and we do all sorts. But you can’t just make your kids do stuff – they also have to enjoy it.
I’m like their taxi driver. I love doing it and I wouldn’t change things for the world. If I’m at rugby and I’m having a tough day, I can’t wait to go and do something with them. I love watching my boys participate in their sports.
My mum, Velda, had me when she was 19, we all grew up at my grandad and grandma’s. At one point, there were eight of us living in a three-bedroom terrace house.
Sam, my grandad, and Rita, my grandma, are from Carriacou, an island off Grenada in the Caribbean. Growing up, they were like my mum and dad, while me and my mum had a close brother/sister-type relationship.
Grandad arrived in Southampton when he was 19 or 20. He worked hard in the mills all his life.
People came here from other countries in their hundreds and thousands. They were asked to come here. Just recently, some of them were being told to go home, when they’ve spent most of their lives here. It’s disgraceful.
Grandma and Grandad had a lot of mouths to feed, but they asked for nothing. They made a little go a long way and recently bought their house.
As a kid, I always loved my own company. I’d finish school, get home and have a quick play with my toys on my own, while my grandad watched Countdown. Eventually, somebody would call for me and I’d play out.
At weekends and in the school holidays, I used to wake up earlier than everybody else on the estate. I’d sit out on the kerb, killing time until somebody else turned up. That’s how I first got into rugby. A mate asked me if I fancied playing. I had to ask my mum if I was allowed to go, she said it was okay for me to play so I gave it a go.
When I was my kids’ age, I wasn’t a patch on them with sports. They ask me, ‘Dad, were you good at this when you were young?’, and I have to admit I was hopeless. I was more into football than anything, and my uncle Freddie would come and watch me now and again. He was a really good footballer himself – a class act. I loved going to watch him play.
All my family are into sport and pretty athletic. Sport is in my blood. I played semi-professional football for Emley, but I was never really good enough to make a proper living out of it.
I’m not saying I’m the best. Or the quickest. Or the strongest. But my coaches always know what they are going to get from me.
I always wanted to be able to buy a house and live comfortably. That’s why I’ve always saved – even when I was on very little. My team-mates called me tight. Flash cars? Flash clothes? No. I’m not a big fan of splashing out. I’ve had these jeans for years. I don’t know how he did it, but Grandad used to have savings, and he’d go back to Grenada now and again.
My mum, grandma, grandad and family are all really proud of me. They always message me and ring me to wish me good luck. But it does sometimes feel like there’s a parallel universe where I could have been.
I didn’t get great grades at school. I messed about a lot and by the time I realised I had to knuckle down, it was too late.
I got a job as an apprentice bricklayer. It was horrendous. I was up at 4.30am, had to get four buses to Sowerby Bridge, and open up before the bricklayers and electricians arrived. I also had to put everything away at the end of the day, which meant I was also last offsite. Then it was four buses back, with a stop at the gym. I got my dinner out of the oven, and I was in bed by half past ten, ready to do it all again the next day.
I’ve worked on building sites, had warehouse jobs – that’s real life, not rugby. For me, there are too many athletes who haven’t experienced real life. Forget running on a field and getting smashed – that’s easy!
I was working at nights at B&Q when I bumped into Huddersfield Giants player Leroy Cudjoe on a night out. He was a full time pro and said, ‘you should come down to rugby sometime’. I did and I joined the u21 squad at 18/19yrs old, but I was still working at B&Q. I loved it. It was a good job, my mates worked there, and I had a some money in my pocket.
It’s been crazy how far I’ve come since then. There’s been a lot of luck for me on my journey.
I’d been training part-time with the Giants for a while when I told my mum I thought I could make it as a professional if I fully concentrated on it. Then I told her I was going to take a risk and quit my job. I knew I could do it.
Full-time training worked miracles and I just kicked on from there. I got bigger, fitter and stronger, although I still wasn’t getting picked. And the money situation was bad for a while. All my mates were either working or finding money through other means, but I was broke. It was embarrassing.
But then there was an outbreak of illness in the squad and I got a place on the bench against Leeds at home, it ended in a 100 odd points to 0 defeat - I came on for the last 10 minutes. After that, I actually debated coming back. But I did and eventually played in a curtain raiser at St Helens. First team coach Jon Sharp was watching and saw me score a couple of tries. The first team conditioner came to our training in the week and asked me ‘what do you do?’. I told him ‘this is all I do’. As soon as he asked me if I fancied coming training full time, I said ‘yeah!’.
I messed about a lot at school and by the time I realised I had to knuckle down it was too late.
Training and structure was a shock to the system. Training started at eight every day; it was a struggle to get there at times as I had no car. I didn’t even know if I could get there on time. I got a lift on some days and on others I had to walk. But I was just happy I’d been given my chance.
When I was offered the full-time contract, I knew I had to move away from where I lived. There was a lot of distractions and if I’d stayed in that environment, all the temptation was there.
I moved in with the Giants conditioner Greg Brown on the other side of town. It was only 15 minutes from where I grew up, but I got homesick. I couldn’t get about and didn’t have enough money to buy a car. I rang my mum and asked if I could come home. ‘You’re staying there’, she said. Grandma said the same.
The money situation was bad for a while. All my mates were either working or finding money through other means, but I was broke. It was embarrassing.
If Jon Sharp hadn’t seen me, things would have been a lot different. And if Nathan Brown hadn’t come in at Huddersfield when he did, I wouldn’t be a professional rugby player now. He made me into a Super League player.
I only made my debut at 22 and I was 23 before I started playing regularly. I made my England debut against France in 2015 – but only just. Coaches sometimes pick a weakened side against France, but Steve McNamara said he was playing his full team and I thought I’d miss out. I’ve never been a confident person, but I couldn’t have left there without having a word with him. So, I went to see him and told him, ‘I can do a job for you, I think I’m good enough, if you give me a chance’. At the next training session, it still looked like I was going to miss out, but then out of the blue, I was selected. Steve said nobody had ever approached him like that before, and I was really grateful. We then had a Test series against New Zealand, and I did quite well in that.
Then Wayne Bennett took over as England coach. It was 2016.
Wayne named his first squad at a team meeting. He read my name out: Jamie. I thought ‘he doesn’t even know my name’. My teammates thought it was hilarious. At the next meeting, he calls me Jamie again. Everybody breaks out laughing, but I’m thinking ‘this guy has no confidence in me – he doesn’t even know my name!’. Later on, as I walked past him, I heard ‘Jermaine!’ and he called me over. ‘You know my name?’ I asked. “Of course I do. I’ve picked you because I know what you’re capable of. And if you make a mistake, I’ll cop for it. Just go out there and express yourself.’
Don’t let anyone bully you – let them know that you’ll stand up for yourself. Bullies don’t like that.
Wayne Bennett is the best man manager I’ve ever known. I’ve played my best rugby under him. I’m not saying I’m the best. Or the quickest. Or the strongest. But my coaches always know what they are going to get from me.
One thing I am good at is leaving rugby at work. I love to switch off after finishing training. No social media. Nobody in the house. Just me and silence. I’ve always loved my own company.
People might say I’m boring, but with three boys around there’s a lot going on and I need some time to chill on my own. You need to rest mentally when you’re an athlete.
I’ve worked hard to make it this far. There have been many struggles.
I want my kids to have a head start. I want them to be happy, to have a future. And I also tell them, ‘don’t let anyone bully you – let them know that you’ll stand up for yourself’. Bullies don’t like that.
I’ve busted my ass – dole, injuries, training – all for them.
I’ve made sacrifices. It’s just what I do.
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