Competitive spirit of league star Lowes transcends rugby’s codes

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The unlikely introduction of James Lowes to rugby union resulted from nothing more than a dare to turn out for his local veterans side.

Yet now, 10 years on from dusting off his boots with West Park Bramhope, the Leeds Rhinos assistant coach and Super League legend concedes he is developing a growing affinity with the sport.

So much so that the ex-Great Britain hooker has been spending his spare time during the off-season actually helping to coach sister club Leeds Carnegie.

It seems an unusual alliance, the dogged Lowes being an archetypal rugby league man, but his innate competitive spirit has transcended the codes.

Speaking to the Yorkshire Post, he recalled how he first ended up having a crack at the 15-man game just months after calling time on his glittering career with Bradford Bulls in 2003.

“My lad played at West Park Bramhope and one of the coaches – Tim Pearce – just asked if I fancied a run with the Vets,” explained Leeds-born Lowes.

“I didn’t do much Saturday afternoons so just bobbed down and played a couple of games but didn’t have a clue what I was doing.

“I got coached a lot from the sideline; ‘let go of the ball’ or “get out of there’.

“But then the first team were struggling with injuries and asked if I’d play.

“I made a bit of a pact with Tim and another lad from the Vets that if they’d play I would too.

“I didn’t really want to but ended up playing just short of three years and had some great times.”

And so it was that unsuspecting amateur opponents in Yorkshire Two suddenly found themselves coming up against a gnarled rugby league international, the epitome of Bradford Bulls, who, not long before, had bowed out with his second Grand Final winner’s ring.

“They put me at centre but I didn’t have a great deal of discipline,” he continued.

“I’d just go wandering off looking for the ball.

“They were a great bunch of lads though and it was a decent level.

“You’re always competitive but because I wasn’t getting paid, there’s not that pressure there and you used to go training just once a week it was just a real nice environment.

“I played against lads from Castleford, Knottingley and Halifax so I got a bit of stick but really enjoyed those Saturday afternoons.”

For all he may have got some young upstart fancying his chances against such a high-profile opponent, more often than not Lowes dished out plenty of the abrasive treatment he was renowned for during his professional career.

His time in the lower ranks of the union fraternity certainly kept the competitive juices flowing.

However, now he has taken to lending a hand at a professional level, offering his services to Carnegie who host Plymouth Albioni tomorrow afternoon.

“I still don’t have anything to do with lineouts and scrummaging, or the real technical stuff like rucking and mauling,” he says.

“But it’s a little bit of defensive stuff and some offensive work, too, with the backs.

“I started doing some work in pre-season and just really enjoyed it. They are a good bunch of lads, very receptive, and I just wanted to do more and more.

“We came to an agreement with Diccon Edwards and Chris Gibson that when I’m not working with Rhinos I’ll go in and work with Carnegie.

“I want to do it as much as I can really.”

Given he is also England assistant coach to his former Bulls team-mate Steve McNamara, Lowes is practically a 12-month a year coach so there is little respite for the 43 year-old.

But he certainly thrives on the challenges and there are signs of his influence on the union outfit.

Relegated Newcastle Falcons, the runaway Championship leaders, remain overwhelming favourites to earn promotion but Lowes said: “Long-term they’re a success just waiting to happen there at Carnegie.

“They’re a young side and it’s going to be a tough year particularly with what’s happened with Newcastle and also London Welsh.

“With the amount of money the Falcons have spent they have literally got a Premiership squad down here so it’s going to be hard.

“But I think the main thing is as long as they are competing week in, week out that’s all you can ask of anybody.

“Leeds are doing that and getting some results. And we all know once you get in the play-offs anything can happen.”

Leeds have tied six players, all under the age of 25, to new contracts.

Captain Jacob Rowan has led the way by signing a new two-year deal that runs until the summer of 2015.

Richard Beck, Ryan Burrows and Sam Lockwood have also agreed new two-year deals.

Fred Burdon has agreed a new one-year extension and Ben Harris has signed for 18 months.

dave.craven@ypn.co.uk