Paul Deacon: 'Everyone played their part. It was fantastic'
Interview No 7: The Wigan scrum-half tells Dave Hadfield about Grand Final victory joy and the pain of the suicide of his friend Terry Newton
Friday 24 December 2010
This was the year when Paul Deacon's distinguished rugby league playing career was supposed to start winding down. After 12 years at Bradford, the Bulls were surprisingly willing to let him depart for a player-coaching role at Wigan, the hometown club that had ignored him as a schoolboy.
"It came right out of the blue, that phone call from Wigan saying that they wanted me," he recalls. "I think Bradford treated me really well, but they said that if they couldn't find another half-back they wouldn't let me go. Then they signed Matt Orford and everything dropped into place for everybody."
Deacon's Wigan deal was represented at the time as being largely about him bringing his vast knowledge of scrum-half play and specialist kicking expertise to the club and its young players as part of the coaching staff, but the man himself had subtly different ideas.
"I told Wigan at the time that I wanted to play," he says. "I wasn't ready to hang up my boots."
The new Wigan head coach, Michael Maguire, sensed after putting Deacon and his new team-mates through a brutally tough pre-season that he still had something to offer and encouraged him, for his first year at least, to concentrate on playing. "It was still a difficult season for me. I'd come from Bradford, where I'd been first choice for so long and captain and suddenly I'd got all this competition for my place in the side.
"Then I got a couple of niggling injuries, including a groin injury that kept me out for nine weeks. It was frustrating at the time, because there was no telling when I'd be fit again. I even thought it might be the end of my career.
"It was difficult, but I got myself back into contention and some injuries to other players helped me get back into the team."
The stage was set for Deacon to play a pivotal role in Wigan's first Super League title since 1998. Nominally playing at stand-off, he was the organisational hinge around whom the side's other playmakers moved, as they clinched first place in the table and their berth in the Grand Final at Old Trafford. "It was a fantastic end to the season and I was very pleased with the way I played," he says.
Deacon was, indeed, like a player with a new lease on life. His half-back partner, Thomas Leuluai, was man of the match and winner of the Harry Sunderland Trophy at Old Trafford, but Deacon would have been an almost equally valid choice, with his passing and kicking skills contributing to several of the tries in Wigan's 22-10 victory over St Helens, their first Grand Final win in 12 years.
"From No 1 to 17, everyone played their part that day . It was a fantastic day for everyone, but it was great for a Wigan lad, who had supported the club for a long time, to be involved in ending a long wait for some silverware. That made it pretty special and it was a particular source of satisfaction for me that my experience helped in the development of those good, young players."
There's a moral there somewhere. During the Four Nations tournament Brian Noble, who coached Deacon for Bradford and Great Britain, said that, had it been up to him, he would have taken him on tour. There is still room, in the right situation, for a wise old head.
"I didn't know he'd said that," Deacon admits, "but, coming from someone of his standing in the game, it's something that I appreciate. He might have had a point, as well."
It was not all fun and games for Paul Deacon in 2010. A week before the Grand Final, he got a phone call telling him that his former Bradford team-mate and travelling companion, Terry Newton, had been found hanged at his home near Wigan. "It was very sad news. It was such a shock. I couldn't believe it at the time. But then I thought, 'No, you wouldn't make that up'. It was a shock for everyone who knew him, although I knew him better than most. When you travel with someone from Wigan to Bradford for four years, you build up a pretty close relationship."
A mate's premature death, closely followed by a professional triumph, made the end of the season an emotional time for Deacon. As he hoped, however, it did not mark the end of his playing career. "I've been offered another one-year playing contract and I'm really happy about that. There will be more competition then ever for places, especially with [scrum-half] Brett Finch and the other two Melbourne players [Ryan Hoffman and Jeff Lima] arriving. Brett will be really good for the club," he says. "Plus all the good young players will be a year more experienced."
If this year proved anything, however, it is that there is still room in rugby league at the top level for someone who has been there, done it and extracted what there is to be learnt from it.
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