Leroy Cudjoe: The wing's speech: How Giant came to terms with his stammer
Huddersfield playmaker tells Dave Hadfield why this is his first interview and how he used a film as inspiration to reach his goals
Thursday 07 July 2011
It was the outstanding moment of skill of the Super League season so far – Leroy Cudjoe's instinctive one-handed back-flipped pass, thrown over 20 metres at full speed, to set up a try against St Helens in May.
You will not have heard about it first-hand, however, because Leroy doesn't talk. Or rather, he does, but with some difficulty.
The versatile Huddersfield and England back has spent the first few years of his career avoiding interviews with as much agility as he avoids tackles. His club and country have been meticulously protective in keeping him out of the spotlight.
It is not that he objects in principle to sharing his thoughts, just that he remains self-conscious about a speech impediment that makes it all so much of a struggle.
"If someone sticks a recorder in front of me, then goes away and plays it back, they won't be able to understand me," he says. "I just don't see the point." That is how he has become one of the top couple of dozen players in the country, without anyone knowing much about him.
So it is with some trepidation that he comes to the appropriate venue of Huddersfield's George Hotel – the birthplace of the code when it split from rugby union in 1895 – to break his duck. The old technology – a notebook and a leaky biro – helps and, piece by piece, the story comes out.
The Cudjoes come from the island of Grenada. "My grandma and grandad came over and settled in Huddersfield," he says. Their adopted town has acquired more of a Caribbean flavour to its rugby league than anywhere in the north of England. The Giants team that is third in Super League going into tomorrow night's match at Warrington, includes two other local West Indians – Jermaine McGillvary and the recipient of that famous pass, Michael Lawrence. There are others who have moved on and more on their way through the junior ranks.
At 23, Cudjoe was born a little too late to bask in the sunshine that was Henderson Gill, but he came under the coaching influence of two hard-nut forwards who played with distinction for Huddersfield and Leeds, Darren Fleary and Anthony Farrell.
"I learned a lot from them," he says. "Huddersfield is very multi-cultural and there's a lot of talent. It's just a matter of keeping them interested, but I was always keen. Whatever it took, I'd get there."
Leroy was introduced to the game by his other grandparents, lifelong Huddersfield fans, and by the age of 11 was playing for his local side, Newsome Panthers, usually, despite his small stature at the time, with the age group a couple of years above him. "That was until I was 15, when I had a growth spurt."
That has resulted in a player with an enviable combination of size and pace that has enabled him to play for the Giants everywhere from full-back and wing to stand-off. "But I prefer centre, that suits my style of play best." That was what England thought when they took him to the Four Nations in Australia and New Zealand last year and gave him his Test debut.
It was quite an achievement for a young man who has always had to work around his communication problems. It is not something that affects him unduly on the field; he has never been tongue-tied calling for the ball, for instance.
Nor can he recall ever being baited by the opposition. "I don't think a lot of them know about it," he says.
This being rugby league, though, his own team-mates are a subtly different matter. Nothing is off-limits in the changing room banter.
"There's a couple of them get stuck into me, but I'm comfortable with it. When I'm with the lads, it's not a problem. It just flows."
There isn't a lot in common between the Cudjoes and the Windsors, but he made a point of going to see The King's Speech the multi-award winning film about King George VI's struggle with his stammer.
He felt an affinity with the story and drew a measure of inspiration from it, but it is his own experience that has convinced him that "whatever's in your way, you can achieve your goals".
For the wing – or full-back or centre or whatever – as opposed to the king, that means maintaining his form in a Huddersfield side that has a realistic chance of winning Super League this season and regaining his England place this autumn.
Work like the creation of that try against Saints can only help his cause. "It was instinct. I get as much satisfaction from making a try as scoring one. I've never been all about scoring tries in vast numbers. If I have the opportunity to put someone else in, I'm just as happy with that."
Off the field, he has plans to join a course offered by Sport England for stammerers, but has always been busy with his rugby when the meetings have taken place. Beyond that, he would like to help younger people who are striving as he has had to do.
The more successful Cudjoe and the Giants become, the more potential he has to be a role model. He believes they have no excuse for not going all the way together this time.
"Bringing in players like Danny Brough and Luke O'Donnell has given us experience from both Britain and Australia. We have a good combination now," he says.
Then there is Nathan Brown, the coach who has nurtured his talent for the last three years. He is now committed to staying with the club, after many blamed uncertainty over his future for them losing their way last season. Cudjoe isn't having that as an excuse for last year. "It was nothing to do with it. A lot of teams have a bad spell during the season."
He does not have any intention of repeating that this year, even if he lets his rugby do most of the talking.
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