WHEN it comes to meeting your new team-mates for the first time, Leeds Rhinos’ Carl Ablett has a particularly bizarre tale about his spell with London Broncos during the formative part of his career.
At 32, the rugged former England second-row is one of Leeds’ most experienced players, having won seven Grand Finals and two Challenge Cups with his hometown club.
However, he was still a starry-eyed rookie when he joined London on loan in 2005.
“It was all a bit of an eye-opener,” recalled Ablett, ahead of tomorrow’s Qualifiers game between the clubs at Broncos’ latest home of Ealing Trailfinders.
“Leeds actually played London at Headingley and they must have sorted the deal out then – as I got on the coach back down to London with them! That was my first time meeting them; they played here, then I had to jump on the coach and spend four hours with them, not knowing any of them!
“It was really daunting, especially as a young kid getting on there with 80 per cent Aussies.
“But they had a real spirit there and being down in London not many people had families – even the English guys – with them so it was quite a close-knit group.”
Ablett, who ironically made his Leeds debut against London the previous year, played five games during that loan stint and conceded it was a crucial experience in his development, as much as a person as a player.
“It was mainly Aussies like Luke Dorn and Mark McLinden in that team,” he added.
“It was a good time for me. Definitely as an 18-year-old moving away from home and having to live with Aussies and Kiwis – Tyrone Smith, Zeb Luisi and Mark O’Halloran.
“It was a different way of life and it helped me grow up. I was grateful to them as it provided me with some game time in Super League.
“They played at Griffin Park, Brentford and Tony Rea was coach with Rohan Smith as his assistant. It was a good grounding as a player to go down there.
“We’ve seen it plenty of times. Brad Dwyer’s been down there, I think, and there’s plenty of lads that made that move.”
London, of course, are now back in the Championship, having been relegated alongside Bradford Bulls in 2014.
But they are intent on returning to the top flight and, having memorably won 21-20 at Super League Widnes Vikings last week, have made the perfect start to their Qualifiers campaign.
At the helm is Danny Ward, the former Rhinos prop, who helped Leeds win their first league title in 32 years when they prospered in the 2004 Grand Final.
Coincidentally, before joining Castleford Tigers in 2006, he was also in the Leeds side that beat London 64-6 that day Ablett set off on his difficult journey south.
After a season with Hull KR, Ward spent the last four years of his playing career in the capital and is making real strides in his first season as a head coach.
The son of legendary Leeds hooker Dave Ward, the affable Dewsbury-born 38-year-old is one of the sport’s true characters.
Ablett admitted: “When I came into the team we had that older generation with people like Barrie McDermott and Danny Ward.
“Danny was a real funny character. He was real tough to play with but off the field had a funny side. You saw that last week the way he was watching that Widnes game, smiling and enjoying it all.
“I saw a few of the scenes afterwards when he was in the dressing room and it seems he’s one of the lads still, too. He still has that banter in him and obviously he’s taken that into his coaching.
“He’s learned his trade in the Academy at London and you can tell the other lads there want to play for him and he’s getting the most out of them.”
Ablett, who has made more than 300 appearances for champions Leeds and captained them in last week’s Qualifiers 48-22 win over Toulouse Olympique, is ready to be challenged.
“I watched that Widnes game and you could tell London had no fear,” he said.
“They passed a lot, off-loaded and chanced their arm. Then Toulouse came here and played exactly the same. There was no pressure on them and they’ve really taken it to Super League teams. If we were under any impression it wouldn’t be like that we’re definitely not now.
“We’ll have to be better defensively than we were last week.”