Catalans Dragons v St Helens – Patient Joe Batchelor rewarded for adhering to strong work ethic

WHEN Joe Batchelor was taking orders at Frankie & Benny’s in a Leeds shopping centre not so long ago, the prospect of playing in a Super League Grand Final must have seemed a world away.

NOT THIS TIME: Leeds Rhinos' Tom Briscoe tackles St Helens' Joe Batchelor evades a tackle from Luke Briscoe. Picture by Paul Currie/SWpix.com

However, the Wakefield-born second-row will do just that tonight as he lines up for back-to-back champions St Helens against League Leaders Catalans Dragons at Old Trafford.

It caps an unusual path to the summit of the domestic game which involved spells in Sheffield Eagles’ reserve grade, playing ‘bush footy’ for Bathurst St Patrick’s in New South Wales, an important year at Coventry Bears and then a crucial stint with York City Knights.

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Earlier, Batchelor also played in the National Conference League with Dewsbury Celtic while labouring on building sites, having never initially been picked up by a professional club.

He did not make his Super League debut until the age of 24 but is a perfect example of what hard work, persistence and sheer drive can create.

Batchelor, who turns 27 this month, helped Saints win the Challenge Cup against Castleford Tigers in July and now hopes to complete a memorable double.

He is three years older than his brother James yet the England Knights back-row had debuted for Wakefield Trinity while he was still figuring out if he had a chance of making it in the sport.

In an exclusive interview with The Yorkshire Post, Batchelor said: “It was a strange one as James broke through into the first-team really early as an 18 year-old and obviously I’d not even been in a Super League set-up by then.

Joe Batchelor, in action for Dewsbury Celtic. Picture submitted.

“I used to get some stick from my mates who used to call me ‘James Batchelor’s brother!’

“But he really helped me. I could see what he was doing every day and it made it more achievable; I could see how if you put in the work, you have a chance.

“I never went to York thinking I’d sign for St Helens the next year but I did go there knowing if I did some things James was doing it’d help me and we’ll see where it goes from there.

“I had to be patient. I’ve gone the long way around, a completely different route to my brother, but he helped make it more achievable.

INFLUENTIAL: York City Knights head coach, James Ford Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

“I’m dead excited for this weekend. If we could have played it last Saturday after we’d won the semi on Friday night, I would have.

“But every time I’ve played this year I’ve been excited. The Challenge Cup final was surreal and I want some more of that. Luckily, now I get a Grand Final.”

No wonder Batchelor is thrilled; he only played four Saints games last term, the same as his first year with them in 2019.

However, with Zeb Taia having retired and Dom Peyroux dropping down to the Championship with Toulouse Olympique after last year’s Grand Final win, this was always going to be the season he could truly step up.

SHINING EXAMPLE: Brother James Batchelor showed Joe what was required to make it to Super League. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

Significantly, Batchelor has made 21 appearances, becoming a regular in Kristian Woolf’s side.

He was 18th man for last year’s Grand Final and admitted: “It’s been long and difficult but I always knew when I signed that’s how it was going to be.

“I kept saying to myself if I get a run of games I’ll be fine and just wait for that. Luckily, it’s come this year.”

It is remarkable to think that, at 21, back from his year in Australia only to see the demise of Eagles’ reserve team, he was working at Frankie & Benny’s in the White Rose Centre seriously contemplating he was “done” with the pro’ game.

Batchelor was preparing to play amateur open age back at Dewsbury Celtic every Saturday, a “great club” where he played against men at the age of just 16 and learned lots.

However, the chance to play League 1 at Coventry Bears then cropped up in 2016 and that “reinvigorated” his belief he could forge a career in the sport.

York chief James Ford, who coached him previously at Wakefield College, took the forward to City Knights the following year.

He said: “I look back with really fond memories of York. Fordy really brought my game on and, I believe, put me in a position to be a full-time player.

“Even though it was League 1, it was all about getting out of League 1. We won the league that year so it primed me to be in and around a group that wanted to win each year. It really prepped me towards wanting to win more and strive for more trophies.”

Which is ideal for being a Saints player. Now for Catalans.

“We’re expecting our toughest game of the season,” insisted Batchelor.

“They are clearly the best team in the division; they deservedly won the League Leaders’ and have beaten us twice already this year so we know they have all the tools to win it.,

“We’ll have to work really hard to win on Saturday night.”

But this is a player who certainly knows all about work ethic.