GIVEN where he grew up in a tough area of Halifax, Hull FC’s Jake Connor says it was almost inevitable he became the player he is today – one who loves to get under the skin of opponents
Earlier this week, the versatile but uncapped back earned a surprise call-up to Wayne Bennett’s England squad that flies out to Denver tomorrow to play New Zealand next Saturday.
Obviously, before then, Connor has the small matter of this evening’s Super League game against out-of-sorts Wigan Warriors as the Challenge Cup holders bid to press their top-four claims.
However, the prospect of him potentially making his Test debut is intriguing; the 23-year-old clearly has the talent but he is never far from the headlines given his infamous ability to ‘wind-up’ and irritate opponents.
Plenty of his new England team-mates, who he met up with this week, will have been involved in such skirmishes with the roguish player, not least Warrington Wolves prop Chris Hill.
But, in discussing his promotion, Connor, so quietly-spoken off the pitch, gave an insight into how his cutting demeanour and sledging tendencies came about.
“Where I grew up – Ovenden – it’s a council estate and pretty much every player was the same,” he said. “It was kind of that environment; on the field a bit scrappy and a bit grubby. That’s just how I grew up playing to be fair.
“It wasn’t a bad upbringing. There were groups of people that weren’t for me and it was kind of a bad environment so I kept myself out of all that.
“I stayed away from that bad side – and took out on the field what I had inside me. It was pretty tough sometimes there but I just got on with it.
“You definitely need to be streetwise. I stay out of areas now that are bit a dangerous. I just stay at home and chill out.”
I stayed away from that bad side – and took out on the field what I had inside me. It was pretty tough sometimes there but I just got on with it.Hull FC’s Jake Connor
Connor, who joined Halifax amateurs Siddal, recalls local derbies being like State of Origin – “scraps everywhere, madness” – but insisted he didn’t start them.
He only began playing rugby league at 14 having swapped football for it – “I enjoyed the contact side of it” – but, just two years later, was already signed up by Huddersfield Giants.
After quickly showing flashes of his genius there, he opted to turn down their offer of a new deal in preference of a move to Hull at the end of 2016 and it proved an inspired decision.
The gifted Connor, whether at centre or half-back, has flourished, winning the Challenge Cup last year and routinely coming up with stellar moments of class to leave opponents befuddled.
Few can argue with his inclusion in England’s 19-man squad where he will now be joined by club-mate Scott Taylor, the prop called up yesterday after South Sydney’s George Burgess pulled out with an injury.
Expect Connor to be less irksome and provoking from hereon in, though. Not because Bennett has instructed him to do so but because Radford has grown impatient.
“I had a few harsh words from Radders after the Saints game,” explained Connor, referring to their recent Cup defeat when he was penalised for dissent.
“I kind of had to do what’s best for the team. He had a word with everyone and, in last week’s game against Salford (45-14 win), it worked out well for us.
“I don’t know if I’m going to change being me but the moaning and stuff will probably have to stop and I’ll probably mature a bit more.
“I don’t know what it is with me. It’s definitely like a switch; something comes out and I just like to compete and be a winner. But if everything’s going well for me I can keep calm as well.
“I’m looking forward to the England trip now, buzzing just to be on it. If I get a chance on the field then that will be a bonus.”
Hull can move to within two points of second-placed Wigan if they can worsen their rivals’ three-game losing run tonight.
But Connor, 23, maintained: “Every time I play Wigan they always decide to turn up. At the start of the season in Australia they put one on us.
“We’d like to think we owe them one but we know how dangerous they are.
“People like (England colleagues) George Williams and John Bateman are two of the best players in the league.
“We’ll have to watch out for them and won’t be focusing on their losses; just because they’ve lost three we know what they’re about. But it is a massive game for us now. We need to win to get in that top-four mix. No one can afford to lose.”