Jason Robinson on Leeds Rhinos snub, Maurice Lindsay and England's World Cup chances

If walls could talk, The Hunslet Club would recount Jason Robinson’s first steps on the road to greatness.

Jason Robinson is a legend of both codes. (Picture: Run Communications)
Jason Robinson is a legend of both codes. (Picture: Run Communications)

It was there on the outskirts of Leeds city centre that Robinson gave a glimpse of the talent that would see him become a global superstar.

But for The Hunslet Club, there is every chance England’s rugby union team would still be waiting to get their hands on the World Cup and fans of both codes may never have been treated to the wonders of ‘Billy Whizz’, as he was affectionately known.

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The 47-year-old took a trip down memory lane this week on his return to his first club, where the next generation are being given every chance to realise their dreams.

Jason Robinson back on his old stomping ground. (Picture: Run Communications)

“I came here 41 years ago and it’s just great to see the club doing some amazing things here,” he told The Yorkshire Post.

“The funding from the National Lottery has been vital in that through the Rugby League World Cup CreatedBy Programme which is going to help upgrade some of the facilities at the club to make sure they’re kept up to date for all these kids.

“I’m looking around now and I’m seeing girls playing rugby which is massive as well. The women’s game is thriving which is really good.

“Kids of all ages and backgrounds are playing football and boxing which is massive for the community. It’s great to see it in action.

Jason Robinson joins in with a session at The Hunslet Club. (Picture: Run Communications)

“The kids being able to come down here as a hub is a beacon. It gives them an opportunity to fulfil their potential.”

To say Robinson fulfilled his potential would be an understatement.

Known for his electric speed and spellbinding footwork, the Leeds-born winger won every club honour in league with Wigan Warriors before cementing his name in folklore thanks to an unforgettable try in the 2003 Rugby World Cup final.

As Robinson’s extraordinary career unfolded, officials at Headingley were left with a deep sense of regret.

Jason Robinson was at The Hunslet Club to see the impact of National Lottery funding (Picture: Run Communications)

“I wanted to join Leeds but unfortunately they didn’t want me,” said Robinson.

“But it was a blessing in disguise because I went to Wigan and they won everything so sometimes it’s not always good to get what you want.

“It would have been nice to play for Leeds at some point in my career but the fact I got the opportunities I did, I could never look back and have any regrets.”

Where Leeds hesitated, Wigan pounced led by a man who had a happy knack of getting what he wanted.

Jason Robinson at a World Cup event with Adrian Lam. (Picture: SWPix.com)

Maurice Lindsay passed away this week at the age of 81 but his contribution to rugby league - most notably engineering the groundbreaking move to summer rugby and the advent of Super League - will never be forgotten.

“I was only a young lad so it was a bit different for me,” recalled Robinson. “I wasn’t a big-money signing like a Martin Offiah.

“Maurice did so much, not just for Wigan but rugby league in general.

“Wigan’s success and domination over the years was down to him and his vision for the club by bringing in sponsors and creating a lot of household names as well.

“It’s sad that he has passed away but there are some really happy memories and I’m sure his legacy will live on.”

Canvas the opinions of supporters and the majority would say British rugby league is no better off than when Lindsay kicked off the summer era in the mid-1990s.

Jason Robinson poses with the World Cup trophy. (Picture: SWPix.com)

But Robinson gets the sense that the sport is on the cusp of another seminal moment.

“No sport has ever done enough and there are always things you can do,” he said.

“It’s a key time for rugby league. The World Cup will certainly have an impact and the IMG deal will hopefully make an impact as well.

“We’ve seen the women’s game grow rapidly. Hopefully we can build on it.

“It’s an exciting time for rugby league and hopefully it’ll maximise the terrestrial TV coverage and bring more and more sponsors and new faces to the game.”

Given his history with the global event in both sports, there is genuine excitement when the subject switches to the upcoming World Cup in England.

After playing in the 1995 final in the 13-man code, Robinson scored England’s only try in the famous victory over Australia in the union showpiece eight years later.

That gave him an acute sense of what a World Cup triumph can do for a sport.

“People follow success and if England can go well this year, they’ll create history and it’ll put them on the world map,” said Robinson, an international ambassador for the World Cup.

“The country gets behind successful teams. We’ve seen that with cricket and football. It’ll be no different with rugby league.

“It’d make an impact and inspire young boys and girls to pick up a rugby ball and take up the sport.”

Robinson is the only player in either code to have scored a try in a winning cause for England in a World Cup final.

He is hoping to be able to share that feeling with members of Shaun Wane’s squad this autumn.

“I’d love it because sometimes it’s hard to describe,” said Robinson.

“You become one of a very select few. Lots of people have won Challenge Cups, the league and going back to Regal Trophy and John Player finals, but very few have won a World Cup.

“You become part of an elite group. It changed my life having that success and I want them to experience the same thing.

“England have got a good chance but unfortunately we’ve not seen much international rugby. That’s going to be one of the challenges for teams because they haven’t been playing.

“Shaun Wane has a great, great track record and is super passionate. He’ll have the England team pumped up, there’s no doubt about that. One thing they won’t struggle for is passion.”

Though he is perhaps best remembered for taking Jonny Wilkinson’s pass and racing over to score in the corner in Sydney 19 years ago, Robinson is very much a rugby league man at heart.

Watching him with a ball in his hands at The Hunslet Club, it was easy to imagine a formative Robinson terrorising children of the same age with the skills that would one day grace the world stage.

It was a wrench leaving the sport for good in 2000 but Robinson never once forgot his roots.

“It was difficult because I had so many good memories and rugby league had been so good to me,” he said.

“But I was spoilt. I’d won everything with Wigan in the space of 10 years and another opportunity came up.

“I always felt when I was playing rugby union, I was flying the flag for rugby league.

“My success in rugby union was all down to how I played and that was always rugby league and the skillset that it gave me.”

The National Lottery is an official partner of this year’s Rugby League World Cup. The partnership includes National Lottery players providing £750,000 of vital financial support to communities across England through the RLWC21 CreatedBy Grants Programme. For more information, visit https://www.national-lottery.co.uk/life-changing/project-rugby-league-world-cup-partnership