HAS the talented Joe Westerman finally come of age?
England head coach Steve McNamara certainly thinks so given he included the Hull FC loose-forward in his get-together at Loughborough University this week.
Considering his impressive form this season, Catalan Dragons will no doubt have earmarked the 24-year-old as a dangerman, too, in Perpignan today.
There were fears that Westerman’s promising career had stalled after he burst onto the scene with Castleford Tigers, first helping them to promotion in 2007 and then, in the following 12 months, delivering once more to win Super League’s ‘Young Player of the Year’. A six-figure move to Hull ahead of 2011 was supposed to see the uncapped Yorkshireman progress further but it did not pan out how many expected.
However, having been handed more responsibility by Lee Radford, the assistant who succeeded sacked head coach Peter Gentle last autumn, and switched from second-row to a more central (literally) hands-on role, Westerman has truly thrived in 2014.
Although Hull have still struggled for consistency, the player himself has not, illustrated by the fact, ahead of this weekend’s round, just Jamie Peacock and James Roby had made more than his 313 carries in Super League.
Only club colleague Danny Houghton and St Helens hooker Roby have contributed a larger number of tackles than his 568.
Furthermore, Westerman is the second-highest metre maker at the KC Stadium and – highlighting his more creative role – has also come up with seven assists. Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, he admitted: “Radders has been really good for me and our assistant Andy Last.
“We spoke in pre-season about how he wanted me to play and how I wanted to play. He’s just let me have that bit of a role in the middle and some freedom.
“Obviously I’m still playing structured but there’s a bit more dominance on me and I’m back to really enjoying my rugby.
“It was really good to be involved in that England camp, too.
“Last year it was something I said I wanted but obviously I just wasn’t playing well enough. I’m really happy to have been there this time but I’ve still got a lot to do – I’m still on my first step.”
Westerman travelled to France for the mid-season game with England in 2008 and again the following year but was unused while he was in the World Cup train-on squad six years ago only to see an injury ruin his chances.
“I was only young then and I’ve matured a little bit more now,” added the Castlefordian.
“I’ve got family now and had my second kid in October which was really good for me. It’s changed a lot of things. I’m working a lot harder. I’ll get my head down and hopefully get picked for the Four Nations tour this year.”
Given he is one of Hull’s biggest buys, he admits there has been a “little more pressure” on him to become more influential.
“The coaches put a lot of faith in me and put it on me asking me if I could play that third ‘middle’ role but it’s what I wanted,” continued Westerman, who first shot to fame as a wide-running second-row at Wheldon Road. “I’m more rounded as a player now. This (loose forward) is the role I’ve always wanted and the one I’ve seen myself playing.
“The big one for me is consistency. I’m finally getting that.”
After a four-match losing streak, Hull have responded with two displays of real conviction – a 50-12 success at London Broncos followed by Sunday’s far less expected 56-6 victory at a celebrated Widnes Vikings side.
“That was definitely our best display of the year,” admitted Westerman, as they prepare to tackle a Catalan team who, similarly, vanquished leaders St Helens 42-0 at home a week ago.
“We worked hard for each other and our defence has been really good the last three weeks, including at Leeds where we came up just short. We’re getting there.
“Catalan have hit some form but this is definitely a big game for us to get us back into the top eight and set our season off.”