England Knights v Jamaica: Hull KR’s George Lawler on his journey to international honours

AT the age of 26, Hull KR’s George Lawler will be the elder statesman in England Knights’ youthful side when he makes his international bow against Jamaica at Castleford Tigers.

To many observers, the athletic and versatile forward who can operate literally anywhere in the pack, should have achieved such recognition some time ago.

Lawler is in no rush, however; at 19, he was still playing for West Hull ARLFC, often at places such as Lock Lane, the famous amateur club that sits just a few hundred yards from tonight’s Wheldon Road venue.

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One thing is certain: he has all the requisite quality, skill and temperament to take his game to the next level especially having worked under the astute eye of former international coaches Tim Sheens and, latterly, Tony Smith in the last five years at the Robins.

It is there that he has honed his game and earned a reputation as one of the hardest-working and, pound for pound, toughest forwards in Super League. In demand and out of contract, it is no surprise that Castleford made such a big play to make sure the industrious player is on their books from next season when he will become part of the Tigers’ new era under former Hull FC chief Lee Radford.

He will no doubt get a warm reception from any Castleford fans in the crowd tonight when the England second string – with an average age of just 21 – feature in a testimonial game for Jordan Turner, the Tigers back who makes his own debut for Jamaica.

“It is a pinch moment, playing international rugby league,” Lawler told The Yorkshire Post.

“It was only about six years ago I was playing for West Hull. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind and a great journey, something I’ll always be proud of.

Hull KR's George Lawler will debut for England Knights tonight. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

“I was at Hull FC scholarship at first and left when I was 16.

“When I was leaving school, I just got a job and was playing amateur. But I got back enjoying rugby and then the chance came.

“I grabbed it with both hands and haven’t looked back since. I’ll always work hard. Every day.”

Hull-born Lawler has been in camp with Knights in Leeds since Monday as part of a 20-man squad preparing for this evening’s contest.

With the World Cup postponed for 12 months, it is an invaluable opportunity not only for Jamaica – who were due to make their World Cup debut – but also some of England’s top young talent looking to break into Shaun Wane’s senior squad.

“It’s been good,” said Lawler, about the Knights, led by head coach Paul Anderson and assisted by Lions legend Paul Sculthorpe.

“They bring you into a real professional, international set-up here. It’s different to your club level and there’s a lot of detail going into it.

“But they want us to play rugby in its simplest form and just execute it well. It’s been enjoyable.

“I’m looking forward to it. It’s my first game. But it’s a stepping stone to hopefully get into the first team. I need to keep working hard and keep my head down and that’s what I’m doing. We’ve trained really well this week and I think there’ll be a lot of people there for Jordan Turner’s testimonial.

“It should be a great atmosphere.”

Lawler started out at the Robins as a hooker/loose forward but has played prop for much of this season for a side who went from bottom last year to the Super League semi-finals this term.

He lines up in the front-row for the Knights, too, although he does not know yet where two-time Challenge Cup-winning coach Radford will use him in 2022.

“I’ve not had the conversation with him yet – I might have to!” joked Lawler.

“I’m happy to play anywhere as long as it helps the team. I’m really looking forward to linking up with him and learning from him.

“You are always looking to improve yourself; I think Radford will do that for me. I spoke to a couple of boys who have been underneath me before and they only have positive words to say.”

But Lawler, joined by Rovers team-mate Mikey Lewis this evening, believes his former club are in a good place, too, after this year’s exploits.

“They have done fantastic this year, the best they’ve done while I’ve been there,” he added.

“They have a good team, a good coach and it wouldn’t surprise me if they go a step further next year.

“They are a hard-working and an honest side so it wouldn’t surprise me at all.”