ALTHOUGH his formative years were at hometown Wigan Warriors and finishing school with current club Warrington Wolves, Jack Hughes admits a solitary campaign in Huddersfield Giants colours was crucial in helping him become a Lion.
At the age of 27, he has still yet to even play for England so he actually makes his international debut for Great Britain against New Zealand in Christchurch tomorrow.
Hughes has steadily become one of Super League’s leading second-rows although, given the tourists worsening injury crisis, it is at centre where he will take on the Kiwis.
Lions coach Wayne Bennett has no issue with that – he knows Warrington’s hard-working co-captain is as adaptable as he is forceful – and, indeed, the player’s ascent to this stage is a reminder to all aspiring players about the virtues of determination and persistence.
Hughes could easily have thought his career had peaked at the age of 21 when he played in Wigan’s 2013 Grand Final win over Warrington – only to fall down the pecking order and be farmed out on a season-long loan to Huddersfield two years later.
However, he told The Yorkshire Post: “When I look back, that was probably one of the best things I ever did.
“I was 23 at the time and that move to Huddersfield gave me the chance to really prove myself as a Super League player.
“I played every game that season for Giants and got so much from it.
“I was so thankful to Baloo (then Huddersfield coach Paul Anderson) for that opportunity.
“Back then, I always hoped I’d get to be an international player eventually.
“It’s something I’ve aspired for for a while and I’ve been working towards it so I was over the moon to get the nod from Wayne. I’m very proud.”
Hughes joined Warrington after his season at Huddersfield and has gone on to play in three Challenge Cup finals – finally winning at Wembley in August – and two more Grand Finals.
Anderson, always knowing the player’s qualities, made him in captain for last year’s England Knights tour of Papua New Guinea and now Bennett has made him a Lion.
“If someone had told me then that I’d be going back to PNG again this year, I’d have never believed them,” said Hughes, who will hope to earn his second cap when the tour finishes against the Kumuls in Port Moresby next Saturday.
“It’s great to be in here playing against some of the best players in the world.
“Obviously, I didn’t think I’d be making my Test debut as a centre but it’s not something completely new to me.
“It doesn’t faze me. I’ve played a bit of centre at Warrington and the majority of one season there for Wigan.”
Great Britain are still awaiting their first win after losing 14-6 to Tonga a fortnight ago and then slipping up 12-8 against the Kiwis in Auckland.
They were left frustrated on both occasions, particularly last week when they left it too late starting their more expansive style.
Hughes conceded: “We reviewed the game and identified that we probably went set for set with them a bit too long.
“The Kiwis probably preferred that with their pack.
“If we can move the ball a bit earlier than last week and get their big boys pulled around the park, I’m sure we can score some points.”
Warrington team-mate Blake Austin is also set for his Lions debut, the stand-off named – at least – as a makeshift winger given the Lions wretched luck with injuries.