The Big Interview: Life in ‘slower lane’ still provides highs for Mark Calderwood

Mark Calderwood, pictured for Leeds Rhinos back in 2004.
Mark Calderwood, pictured for Leeds Rhinos back in 2004.
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DENNY SOLOMONA is the latest rugby league winger looking to run out at Twickenham for England’s rugby union side and feel the acclaim of more than 80,000 fans.

That may or may not happen in the months ahead following the former Castleford Tigers star’s controversial switch to Sale Sharks.

CHAMPIONS: Kevin Sinfield lifts the Super League Grand Final trophy with Mark Calderwood, Willie Poching and Jamie Jones-Buchanan after beating Bradford Bulls in 2004.

CHAMPIONS: Kevin Sinfield lifts the Super League Grand Final trophy with Mark Calderwood, Willie Poching and Jamie Jones-Buchanan after beating Bradford Bulls in 2004.

Having quickly adapted to the 15-man code over the last few months, the prolific Aucklander has subsequently been included in Eddie Jones’ national squad for the tour of Argentina next month.

However, another erstwhile Super League top try-scorer will step out at HQ today albeit in vastly different circumstances.

Mark Calderwood, who won a Grand Final with Leeds Rhinos in 2004, features with little-known West Leeds RUFC against Charlton Park, a side from south-east London, in the RFU Intermediate Cup final.

There will probably be only a few hundred people watching at Twickenham, a far cry from his glory night savoured at Old Trafford, but that matters little for the 35 year-old who is loving life in the slower lane towards the end of his career.

It’s more relaxed. I tried to play amateur rugby league for Farnley but I was getting taken out all the time. You’re a bit more protected in rugby union.

Mark Calderwood

He was part of the West Leeds side that won the Senior Vase at Twickenham 12 months ago with Andy Neave’s relentless team also having just secured back-to-back promotions, rising out of Yorkshire One meaning they will play in the lofty heights of North-East One next season.

“We’re doing great,” Calderwood told The Yorkshire Post, breaking off from his current day job as a builder.

“We’re flying high at the moment. It’s our third time at Twickenham for this team, too. I missed the first one through injury but played last season when we won.

“This is like a bonus now. We’ve moved up from the Senior Vase to the Intermediate Cup and no one really expected to get there again this year given the higher level of competition.

Mark Calderwood, in action for West Leeds at Twickenham last year. Picture: www.GeekyMonkeyPhotography.co.uk

Mark Calderwood, in action for West Leeds at Twickenham last year. Picture: www.GeekyMonkeyPhotography.co.uk

“We don’t actually know too much about the side we’re playing although there is a funny story behind it.

“Three years ago we went to Magaluf on tour playing some beach rugby.

“We ended up facing this team and they smashed us six tries to nil. We were all drinking but they took it a bit more seriously.

“Now we’re playing them again at Twickenham. Hopefully, they’ve been drinking Friday night!”

But how has Calderwood, who played in the 2008 World Cup for England, found himself turning out for his local amateur club for the past few seasons, his last Super League game coming at the relatively young age of 29 with Harlequins?

Indeed, he finished playing semi-professionally completely just two years later in 2013 after a difficult spell with Workington.

“It did come as a shock,” recalled a player whose blistering pace so often destroyed opponents.

“I’d played rugby league all my life and you know it will come to an end one day but I didn’t really expect it that soon.

“My last deal was with Workington. To be honest, I found it hard. I was working and then travelling up there as well. I’d be getting up at 3.30am some mornings after getting back at 11 the night before and wasn’t really enjoying it.

“I didn’t know what it would be like really and it was tough. I didn’t really look for another contract after. I went down to play for West Leeds 2nds, had a runaround and just stayed.

“It’s good. I know the boys from when I was younger. I played a year down at West Leeds when I was about 15 and there’s plenty of the same lads there now.

“It’s more relaxed. I tried to play amateur rugby league for Farnley but I was getting taken out all the time. You’re a bit more protected in rugby union.”

Calderwood’s peers at Headingley were the likes of Kevin Sinfield, Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow, who famously remained to form part of the club’s greatest ever era going on to incredibly win Super League seven times from 2004 to 2015.

The winger, though, turned down a contract extension and instead left for Wigan Warriors after the 2005 Grand Final loss to Bradford Bulls.

He did not win another trophy in the sport. Over the past decade or so, it has often been said few players depart Leeds and achieve greater things.

For instance, Nick Scruton, Chev Walker and Richard Mathers – all former team-mates of Calderwood’s – would be forgiven for sometimes wondering how much silverware they could have cherished if they had stayed at Headingley instead of accepting offers elsewhere.

Calderwood recalled: “Growing up in Leeds, that’s all I wanted to do – play rugby for the Rhinos. I was fortunate to do that. Winning the Grand Final was brilliant. It was the first time Leeds had won the league in 32 years. It was amazing and obviously the club won loads more after that as well.

“I never wanted to leave Leeds but it was all over the contract.

“I went to Wigan, though, and then Hull FC and I met people there who became really good mates and had some great memories. I spoke to (Saracens and England winger) Chris Ashton funnily enough just this week. He wished me well ahead of playing at Twickenham. We had a great understanding at Wigan when he was at full-back and he’s been a friend ever since.

“I don’t really see too many of the Leeds guys. Obviously Jonesy (Jamie Jones-Buchanan) as he’s King of Bramley and I see him down at Stanningley where I coach. And Bails (Ryan Bailey).

“When I signed for Wigan I could actually have joined Wasps.

“It was 50/50 what I was going to do but I decided there was things I still wanted to achieve in league like playing for England which I’d not done at that point.”

And how is that lightning pace looking now more than a decade after finishing as Super League’s top try-scorer with 27 in 2005, the season he also scored in the World Club Challenge win over Sonny Bill Williams’ Canterbury Bulldogs at Elland Road.

“I’ve still got a little bit of it!” Calderwood insisted.

“I’ve had some hamstring injuries this year but am still up with the leading try-scorers. I’ve got 19 so far.

“We have a little tournament between ourselves and get a trophy at the end of the year. I’m two behind at the moment so, hopefully, I’ll get two on Saturday.

“But Sam Neave, the captain, is leading and he’s my centre as well so he probably won’t pass to me!

“It’s a great, family club here. You go to some other places and they have big fancy dressing rooms, maybe three different pitches, a lot of different teams and they are much bigger.

“But at West Leeds a lot of us have grown up together. There’s a great spirit, great people behind the scenes and a really good ethos. We just go out to enjoy ourselves.”