FOR one exiled Yorkshireman playing in Salford, life is currently better than he could ever have expected, especially considering his position just six months ago.
Kris Welham spent his entire career with Hull KR, amassing almost 200 games for his hometown club before being surprisingly released at the end of 2015.
Even more surprising was the fact the well-respected England Knights centre was not offered a contract by any other Super League side at the time.
Instead, he had to drop into the Championship with Bradford Bulls where – despite impressing with his own form, scoring 29 tries in 30 games – things did not always run smoothly.
Of course, everyone knows why; the erstwhile World Club champions crucially failed to make the top-four Qualifiers, entered administration at the end of the season and, after months of financial uncertainty, were eventually liquidated in January.
Welham still had a year of his deal to run but, having become a free agent, this time there was a top-flight suitor waiting to offer him a lifeline.
I am loving it. I came here late – I’d missed a pre-season with Salford – but the boys made me feel very welcome and we’re playing well on the field.Salford’s Kris Welham
The 30-year-old moved to Salford Red Devils who, having condemned his former club Rovers to relegation in the ‘Million Pound Game’, have since enjoyed a remarkable 2017, rising to second in Super League and also securing a Challenge Cup semi-final spot.
They have not lifted the Championship since 1976 and prospered only once at Wembley when, in 1938 before the outbreak of World War Two, the legendary Hall of Famer Gus Risman was their icon.
Nevertheless, they are now well-poised to make a push on both fronts and are certainly playing exciting, incisive football.
Huddersfield Giants can, undoubtedly, testify to that, having fallen 36-20 there on Sunday.
Welham scored his ninth try of the season in a sublime team effort and he told The Yorkshire Post: “I am loving it. I came here late – I’d missed a pre-season with Salford – but the boys made me feel very welcome and we’re playing well on the field.
“When that’s happening you enjoy your rugby and play your best stuff. A lot of people didn’t give us a chance at the start and didn’t expect anything from us.
“But we have a great group of players here and a coaching staff that have directed us well.
“Cas’ are too far gone now at the top but we want to finish second and that’ll cement us a semi-final for the Grand Final.
“We’re in the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup, too, so anything can happen and, as long as we’re playing well, we’re confident.”
Welham’s scenario is a fine example of how things can change so quickly in professional sport.
He admitted: “It’s a massive contrast to last season. As much as Bradford’s a great club – I loved my first six months there – things started going bad behind the scenes with the money situation, administration and then liquidation.
“Because of all that disruption off the field it did affect things on it and we finished in the bottom eight so we were playing lower sides in that league with no chance of promotion.
“It was a real disappointing year but I loved the club and my time there just ended badly.”
He has done well to return to the elite, however, as, for many, once they have dropped down a league there is no return.
“That’s true, there isn’t a path back for some,” added Welham, whose side host third-placed Leeds Rhinos in a pivotal game on Sunday. “I was not shocked as such but I really did think I would have stayed in Super League. Things didn’t progress that way and I ended up signing for Bradford. Although the club didn’t have a great year I thought, personally, I did have a really good season. When things started going wrong, Salford were the first that came on board and I took the chance with both arms open.
“I’m glad I did now as things are flying high here.”
While his former Hull KR team-mate Michael Dobson controls the left, Welham is flourishing on a brilliant right edge that includes gifted Australian stand-off Robert Lui and giant Kiwi second-row Ben Murdoch Masila.
“He doesn’t look like your average built six but he’s just as good as one,” he said about Lui, the burly former North Queensland Cowboys star whose array of skills are keeping former Kangaroo Todd Carney out of Ian Watson’s side.
“He is a quality player and creates a lot of opportunities for our team, especially our right side.
“When he plays well, the team plays well. With Benny (Murdoch-Masila), that’s our game plan – give it to Benny!
“He’s massive isn’t he? People struggle to handle him and he’s been our best so far for me.
“He’s an absolute man-mountain, tough to stop, scores tries, makes breaks... he can do everything. For the size of him it’s unbelievable. He’s dead set for the ‘Dream Team’ while Dobbo does what he’s always done – bosses us and comes up with special plays.”