Anderson reaps fruits of an Indian summer

Saints' veteran is hoping to beat Huddersfield in today's Challenge Cup final before joining them next season, he tells Dave Hadfield
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The Independent Online

Ask the St Helens coach, Daniel Anderson, how he is going to replace an obvious superstar like Jamie Lyon next season and he is liable to surprise you with a less than obvious rhetorical question: How he is going to replace his namesake, Paul Anderson?

The very fact that the question can be framed is a tribute to the Indian summer Anderson has enjoyed at Knowsley Road.

Superficially a heavyweight prop of the old school, he was 33 when Saints signed him in 2004. By the time he leaves at the end of the season, for a coaching job with today's opponents, Huddersfield, he will have given value for money several times over.

Used by Bradford off the bench as a battering ram, he has expanded his repertoire with Saints, starting games regularly and rediscovering his ball-playing skills.

"I wouldn't have missed Bradford for anything, but I've asked different questions of myself here," he says. "There was a bit of a breakdown of communication at the Bulls, and Ian Millward, who was Saints' coach at the time, took a punt on me.

"There were times when I was driving over in the dark for pre-season training when I asked myself, 'What am I doing here?' but it's worked out well for me."

Anderson goes far enough back in the game - he signed for Leeds in 1989 - that he remembers the days when training was a two nights a week commitment. His memories of the Challenge Cup go back a lot further than that and provide a timely warning of how the underdogs can come good on the big day.

"My first memory is of 1983 when Featherstone won," he says. "My mum was manageress of Victoria Wine in Castleford and I watched it in the flat above the shop. Featherstone was just a small town down the road and yet they beat a fantastic team like Hull."

Family memories go back even further than that - his uncle, Fred Ward, captained the Hunslet side that lost to Wigan in the memorable 1965 final - but his own taste of glory was long delayed.

A series of injuries and illnesses interrupted his career, which did not really take off until he joined the Bulls in 1997. He played in three finals for them, although it is the first of them that holds the special place in his affections.

"Murrayfield in 2000 - now that I'm retiring that's my fondest memory of rugby league. It was the first one I played in and we won it. As a kid, that's what you want to do in the game and I've done it a couple more times as well," he says. "The one thing I got from all my problems was mental strength. It got me through the dark days when I was feeling down."

Given their status as overwhelming favourites, it will be a dark day for St Helens if they were to lose today to his future employers.

Anderson had fair warning of Huddersfield's capabilities when he went to watch them beat Leeds with panache in their semi-final. "I was just happy for the whole organisation, because I knew how much work Jon Sharp and his coaching staff had put in," he says.

When he joins that staff at the end of this season, he will have fulfilled another of his aims. "I always knew I had this ambition to go into coaching," he says. "Academically at school I wasn't one of the very best, so I've been very fortunate to be a professional sportsman and now to be going into coaching."

Anderson does not expect to bow out, either today or in the Super League Grand Final that Saints are likely to contest, with anything too spectacular. "I think I'm the longest odds to win the Lance Todd Trophy and the longest odds to score the first try," he chuckles, with the air of a man who has overcome longer odds than that.