Friday Interview - Darrell Griffin: Quins set the pace as Griffin returns to London

Darrell Griffin is the first to admit he never truly believed he would ever be heading back down to Twickenham to face the Engage Super League leaders.

When the robust prop started out his professional rugby league career at Harlequins a decade ago, the expansionist club 200 miles south of the sport’s traditional heartlands was always on the periphery in more ways than one and little has changed in the intervening years.

Until now that is. When Huddersfield Giants face them this evening, the Londoners will be protecting their 100 per cent record, the only side in the competition to win all three of their opening games.

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They have surprised everyone but themselves. Once head coach Brian McDermott left for Leeds Rhinos at the end of last season, with troubled Harlequins beset by financial problems, dwindling crowds and having endured their worst-ever finish of 13th, most predicted further deterioration.

They lost experienced campaigners such as Danny Orr and Luke Williamson , as well as young England prop Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook to St Helens, Leeds loanee Ben Jones-Bishop and the similarly promising winger Will Sharp to Hull FC while their recruitment was minimal to say the least.

The promotion of the novice Rob Powell from assistant to McDermott’s replacement at the age of just 30 was added reason for difficult times ahead yet they have started in rousing fashion showing great organisation, determination and no little skill to defeat Catalan Dragons, Crusaders and, latterly, Leeds.

It is the first time they have ever reached the summit of the table and, while the season is still embryonic, it is all a far cry from Griifin’s early days in the capital.

He hopes the unexpected renaissance will see the game in the south finally take off .

“I’m happy to see them up at the top,” Griffin told the Yorkshire Post.

“They’ve worked hard in London and I’ve experienced life down there as a player both with London Broncos rugby league and Harlequins rugby union.

“There are some good blokes involved who have grafted really hard to get where they are now.

“Quins have had tough times off the pitch with money and crowd problems but hopefully the fans will start turning up for them now with them leading the way.

“If the team doesn’t do too well, fans don’t come to watch them. That’s just one of those things.

“They’ve not done that well off the field but hopefully, now they are on it, people will start turning up. It (rugby league) could be massive. London’s the capital of this country and the size of the crowds they possibly could get if they buy into it down there is awesome. Hopefully it will.

“There’s a bloke called Phil Jones who does a great job in their community development and there’s heaps of schools down there now playing. They’ve got the potential to do really well.

“There’s some really talented players like Tony Clubb down there and others like Louie (McCarthy-Scarsbrook) who have gone on to do good things.

“London is a rugby union hotbed but if they can tap in to some of those union lads, who are great athletes, it’s just a matter of coaching to get them into rugby league.”

The 29-year-old is the pure embodiment of what can be achieved from an unlikely source.

Griffin did not start playing the 13-man code himself until he was 17 years-old and joined his hometown Oxford Cavaliers in the Rugby League Conference.

There he was spotted by London Broncos and joined their Academy before drifting back to his first love of union, playing briefly for Harlequins as an agile back-row. “I had a couple of games at second row but it wasn’t for me; I like my ears too much,” he reflects.

However, the urge to try league again kept nagging away.

Wakefield Trinity Wildcats offered him a chance in 2003 and he grabbed it.

Griffin spent four years at Belle Vue honing his game before switching across West Yorkshire to Huddersfield where he has matured so markedly that he won a place on England’s Four Nations tour last autumn.

The Giants, having reached a Challenge Cup final since Griffin joined and come within 80 minutes of Old Trafford last season, have high hopes this year.

They started brightly with victory over Warrington and, after dipping at Castleford, responded with a hard-earned success over Hull FC to leave them heading south in a positive frame but Powell’s side are buoyant.

“He wasn’t there when I was but I spoke to Louie last week and everyone speaks highly of him,” added Griffin.

“He’s been thrown in at the deep end a little bit but at the moment seems to be doing the right things. Quins always make it tough for you down there and we’ve had some hard games.

“We expect the same now and with the way they’re going if we don’t turn up they will turn us over. They have some outstanding players like Rob Purdham who are tough to break down.”

When Griffin featured for Harlequins RU, he found himself surrounded by England greats Jason Leonard, Will Greenwood and Dan Luger just months before their World Cup success, and Ireland’s inspirational captain Keith Wood.

“From one to 15 they were international stars – I was a bit in awe of them really.” he said.

If the Harlequins league squad continues to gather pace though, some wide-eyed youngsters will be saying the same about them in years to come. Huddersfield, and Griffin, must try to halt that momentum tonight and make sure they complete their own odyssey.