YORKSHIRE CARNEGIE’S all-time record try-scorer Tom Biggs returns to Headingley once more admitting he still cannot believe he ever became a professional rugby player.
It is a decade since Biggs emerged from nowhere to play a crucial role for the club – then known as Leeds Tykes – in their remarkable recovery to avoid relegation from the Premiership and deliver a shock Powergen Cup final win at Twickenham.
The story has gone down in folklore; the young winger was working part-time in a pea factory and as a cinema usher while studying at Leeds Metropolitan University and playing for Leeds’ second string in 2004-05.
But Biggs – who arrives with Championship leaders Worcester Warriors tomorrow – was so far out of the picture that then coach Phil Davies had agreed to let him join National Two side Harrogate until an injury crisis saw the 20-year-old quickly recalled.
He was an instant hit with his try-scoring prowess, producing a spectacular effort against the mighty Leicester Tigers in only his second game and, after featuring in that cup final win over Bath, finished with 51 in 108 games before joining Newcastle Falcons in 2009.
“It just suddenly happened,” recalled Beverley-born Biggs, who went on to play for England Saxons and establish himself as one of the Premiership’s finest widemen.
“Being a professional rugby player was never something I set out to be – in fairness, I didn’t know what I wanted at all as a job and was just doing business studies at Leeds Met – but then the opportunity came around.
“It was all very weird but, by the end of that season, we’d won the Powergen Cup at Twickenham and stayed up, too, which was such a great feeling.
“But, for me, scoring that try when we beat Leicester was the highlight.
“That was a Leicester side that had Martin Johnson, Austin Healey and all those sorts of guys.
“It was my dad’s birthday, too, which made scoring even more special and it was the first win on that run of results that saw us stay up.”
Leeds were cut adrift at the bottom with just four games remaining but, in book-ending that memorable afternoon at headquarters, they won all of them in a stunning rally.
Biggs, who joined Worcester this season from Bath after a move to Super League side Hull FC fell through, remembered: “People had written us off but I’m not too sure if that (Leicester) was the catalyst.
“I remember going down to Kingsholm the next week and hammering Gloucester there with Chris Bell scoring an unbelievable try.
“Then there was the last-minute try to win at Bath in the league on the last day; we’d gone from the high of winning the Powergen Cup final to knowing we still had to win that to make sure we weren’t relegated.
“We actually ended up going up a few places to eighth in the end and it was a great time.
“From that team, I’m still in touch with Rob Rawlinson and Chris Bell, plus Stuart Hooper and Mark McMillan who were with me at Bath, too.
“Rob Vickerman wasn’t playing that season but was involved in the squad and is still at Carnegie. It was great to see so many of that side went on to have great careers and to win that trophy – it’s the only one I’ve ever won – in my first season was amazing.”
Now, of course, Yorkshire Carnegie are in an entirely different predicament, having spent the last four seasons in the Championship.
Hopes of achieving an elusive promotion were dashed early this term after a dismal return under Gary Mercer but, with Biggs’s former playing colleague Tommy McGee taking over, they have won four successive games under his command, three admittedly coming in the British & Irish Cup.
Worcester, meanwhile, have encountered few problems since being relegated last term and are well-primed for an immediate return but Biggs maintained: “We know Saturday will be tough.
“Carnegie are playing a lot more attacking football since the change in coach and you can see the rugby league influence they’ve brought in. They look well-organised.
“Everyone expected them to be a top-four side so they’ll be disappointed with how they started but that’s why the change had to be made. They have improved since and the win in Jersey last week showed that.”
Biggs, 30, concedes he was “very disappointed” to see his dream move to Hull FC disintegrate in April after Bath had refused to hand him an early release from his contract to facilitate the switch in time for the 2014 Super League campaign.
“It was something I’d always wanted to do – they’re my hometown club who I support, I love rugby league and had always wanted to play it – but these things happen,” he added, while admitting being shunned by England after being called into Stuart Lancaster’s autumn training squad two years ago also played a part.