THERE were a few eyebrows raised when Wakefield Trinity announced the signing of New Zealander Justin Horo from Catalans Dragons in September.
Principally, that was because the West Yorkshire club had managed to attract a player of such obvious repute; Horo is deemed one of the best forwards of his type in Super League.
However, it is also a sign of how far Wakefield have come in recent times that they were able to secure a player of such high-calibre, to the point that the decision was almost a no-brainer for the former NRL star.
“Wakey play a really nice, attractive brand of footy but not only that, now they are able to get in good grinds, too, and really tough games out as well,” Horo told The Yorkshire Post, as he prepared for the new season.
“They’re a good side to play for as a back-row; I like to play some short-side footy and that’s encouraged here.
“So far so good and I’m looking forward to the start. Wakefield came so close to making the top-four last year. It’s a realistic goal to aim for that this season although no one will roll over for us.”
So far so good and I’m looking forward to the start. Wakefield came so close to making the top-four last year. It’s a realistic goal to aim for that this season although no one will roll over for us.Wakefield Trinity’s Justin Horo
It is a far cry from last term with Catalans, traditionally one of the more glamorous clubs who became embroiled in a relegation fight and only avoided that fate after a tense victory in the Million Pound Game at Leigh.
It was a surprise to many the Perpignan club had not retained Horo but the ex-Parramatta Eels star explained: “I never really got around to that point of talking new deals. I missed a big chunk of the season and was out for 12 weeks before the Middle Eights.
“I wasn’t really able to negotiate anything at that point and then when I did come back we weren’t even sure what division we were going to be in and what would happen with Catalans.
“I needed some security and had to look after myself really.
“(Catalans coach) Steve (McNamara) was happy for me to speak to other clubs and then it all happened really quickly. I spoke to Wakefield and one other club but Wakefield came through with a fair offer. I had a couple of chats with Chris Chester, messaged Milky (Wakefield’s Australian stand-off Jacob Miller) and, within about a week, it was all done. It was a really tough situation we were going through at Catalans – you wouldn’t wish that on anyone – and I’m glad I was able to help us get out of it. But I’m really excited about what’s happening here at Wakefield now.”
Rightly so. Chester, on one of the competition’s smallest budgets, has put together a squad which looks more than capable of challenging the best yet again.
Horo, 31, said: “There’s competition in every position and the strength of the squad is probably the best I’ve been with for a while.
“At back-row, there’s Danny Kirmond who’s the captain, Matty Ashurst who was Wakey player of the year last season and James Batchelor who’s one of the best young kids around. I’ve really big raps for him and he has a very big future in Super League.
“It’s only going to bring the best out of all of us; you can’t afford an off-day in this side.”
Horo rarely does have an off-day, though, being one of those stellar forwards who provides such hugely consistent form for whichever side he plays in.
He starred with Manly for three years before moving to France at the end of 2015 where he had help from one of the sport’s truly great second-rows – ex-Kangaroos star Steve ‘Beaver’ Menzies.
The Manly legend spent two years in Super League with Bradford Bulls in 2009-10 before his own switch to Perpignan.
Horo said: “Beaver finished up with Catalans in 2013 and was back in Sydney in ’14 when I was at Manly.
“It was great as that year they decided to bring some of the older club legends back for the NRL Auckland Nines tournament.
“Beaver represented Manly so it meant I got to play a couple of games with him in that competition which was pretty cool.
“He’s always been my favourite back-row and – as a back-row myself – it was great to do that.
“It was a pretty cool time as the Roosters selected Freddie Fitler who was also my favourite player when I was growing up.
“Beaver was a big help when I moved to Catalans, too. There was an old-boys day at Manly where they came to a game and we all went out for a beer after. He had good advice about the transition, what I’d need to do and and put me in touch with some people.”