ANDY RALEIGH’S career has been a circuitous one, but he hopes to begin the final run-in with a victory over the club where it all began.
The Wakefield Trinity Wildcats prop announced this week that he will retire at the end of the season so it is fitting that the 33-year-old faces his hometown Huddersfield Giants tomorrow.
Of course, his professional career did not begin there – that was at Sheffield Eagles after Mark Aston had plucked the rangy front-row from the student game – but Raleigh’s foundations in the sport were certainly built with the Claret and Golds.
“It’s always good to face Huddersfield as I’ve still got plenty of mates there from when I originally was in the Under 18s and 21s,” he told The Yorkshire Post. He also played more than 100 Super League games for them after eventually signing there in 2006.
“There was talk of signing possibly back then, but my mum and dad were both teachers and they encouraged me to go into further education.
“I did three years studying geography at Newcastle and played for the uni’ side, then the North East, England and Great Britain.
“(Ex-Trinity chief) Richard Agar actually coached me in my third year when we went to Russia. That was the first time I met him and he’d just started out coaching at that point.
“But I had a great time and went to New Zealand and Australia in my first year, beating New Zealand in the first Test.
“Mark Aston at Sheffield took on quite a lot of lads from the student game and said to go play part-time there and they’d sort me some work with a company who helped sponsor the club.
“It all went from there. I had two and a half years with Sheffield, a great year at Hull KR and then on to Huddersfield.”
In his first season as a full-time Super League professional, Raleigh played in the Challenge Cup final at Twickenham as Huddersfield lost out to St Helens.
“Unfortunately Wembley was still being built,” he recalled.
“If it had been finished on time that game would have been at Wembley. We went back in 2009, but I’d torn my calf and only got back the week before v Saints.
“I went alright, but because others had played regularly I didn’t get picked for the final. It was a downer but that 2006 final was a big experience itself.
“I’d had a couple of different options when I left Hull KR. Bradford was one and perhaps Leeds at one point too. I don’t think Huddersfield was the best financially but it was the best fit for me seeing their squad and to play in that Challenge Cup final in my first year was a dream come true.
“I obviously still had a few mates from when I was playing in the 21s, too, like Eorl (Crabtree) and it was a great move that cemented my career.”
Raleigh switched to Wakefield ahead of 2012 when they memorably made a stunning late push to reach the play-offs, something Trinity hope to emulate now.
Since James Webster – briefly Raleigh’s Hull KR player-coach in 2005 when aged just 26 – took over from Agar in June, with Trinity then more fearful of relegation, they have won five of their next seven games.
Sunday’s rousing 40-26 victory at double-chasing Warrington leaves them just two points adrift of Widnes Vikings in eighth but, with just five fixtures left, there is simply now no margin for error.
“We have to win pretty much every game,” said Raleigh, who admits 18 months of pain-killing injections on a troublesome wrist made his retirement call easier.
“Huddersfield are a tough team to beat. They were last season’s League Leaders’ Shield winners and I always knew they had the potential to do that. Signings like Danny Brough, who’s a one-off and whose fantastic kicking game can turn a game, meant those little pieces started to fit.
“And people like Leroy Cudjoe coming through. I can remember seeing him in his first training session looking terrified but now he’s a totally different player.
“It was just a matter of time before Huddersfield did something.
“But it was great for us to get a big win last week. Not many sides put 40 points on Warrington there and beating big sides like them and Leeds here are some of my most memorable moments.”
The proceeds from tomorrow’s half-time draw at Belle Vue will go to Raleigh’s testimonial fund after January’s planned game between the sides was cancelled due to bad weather.