Dowes in league of his own

Hull's prop comes from a public school background but does not fear getting his hands dirty
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The Independent Online

In fact, there is only Ewan Dowes. The player who will wear the number eight against Leeds at Cardiff tomorrow does not come from a background typical of Hull prop forwards.

While the majority of his team-mates were looking wistfully out of the windows of what some might call their "bog-standard comprehensives" towards the playing fields, if they had not been sold off, he was enjoying all the advantages of life at Sedbergh, alma mater of such rugby union luminaries as Will Carling and Will Greenwood.

"There was rugby everywhere you looked," he recalls. "To be honest, I did more training than studying there. I couldn't believe the history and tradition of Sedbergh when I went there. You just breathed rugby and we were almost full-time rugby players."

Disappointingly for those who would like to draw a stark, black-and-white contrast between Dowes and born-and-bred Hull lads like Paul King and Kirk Yeaman, he is hardly a toff from the shires.

The accent is pure Cumbrian, but because it comes from the wrong part of Cumbria in rugby league terms - Carlisle, where he was at a state school before going to Sedbergh for the sixth form - he had no exposure to the game in his youth.

At Sedbergh he was on what sounds, despite A levels in PE, business studies and design, suspiciously close to a sports scholarship. Along with his contemporary there, James Simpson-Daniel, he played for England Schools, but, by a fluke, he also had his first introduction to league.

Another Sedbergh friend, the son of Paul Caddick, the millionaire chairman of Leeds Rugby - which encompasses the Rhinos and the Tykes - suggested that he might be suited to the other code. He had a dabble and, when he signed for Leeds, he was flagged up as their first dual-code recruit.

Despite his union pedigree, Dowes soon discovered that he actually preferred the different, largely unfamiliar demands of league. "As a prop in union, you might not get your hands on the ball and you might not make that many tackles. In league, you're making 15 or 20 carries.

"It's difficult to compare the fitness in the two codes. League is non-stop collision, whereas union is more grappling and wrestling. They both take it out of you but in different ways."

Dowes remembers groping his way through his early games of league at Headingley, not really knowing what he was doing, but loving it anyway.

He made a handful of first-team appearances from the bench with the Rhinos, before taking a path that team-mates like Garreth Carvell and Gareth Raynor have also followed by going to Hull.

He still has a foot in the other camp, where his girlfriend, Amy Burrow, is still a Rhinos' cheer-leader, with an interesting choice of which side to support at Cardiff tomorrow.

"I came on loan at first and played about 18 games. I was probably fifth-choice prop at Leeds and I was at that time of my career when I needed to play first team. Hull gave me that opportunity.

"I said at the start of this season that I wanted to nail down a starting position and I've done that."

In the process, Dowes has become a byword for consistency, to the extent that many in the game were surprised that he had not done enough to earn a place in Great Britain's 45-man squad preparing for the Tri-Nations this autumn. "I suppose I was disappointed, but Brian Noble has said that the door is still open, so hopefully the form I've shown might push my case," Dowes says.

Barrie McDermott was the Rhinos' senior prop and a current Great Britain front-rower when Dowes was there and he has a high regard for the approach to the game that his former protégé has developed.

"What Dowesy brings is a good workmanlike performance," he says. "He's on the end of things and tidying up things that other players don't necessarily want to do. He's a player who doesn't mind getting his hands dirty. He does the things that are above and beyond the call of duty."

It is not a bad mid-term report for a player from a background that some of his team-mates could be quick to dismiss as rather highfalutin.

Likewise, it is not many years ago that he would have been dismissed as a heretic by Sedbergh - whose motto translates as Stern Nurse of Men - and air-brushed out of team pictures for the crime of venturing into the working-class sport of rugby league.

"When I played for England Schools they probably hoped that I would kick on in rugby union, but I've had this letter from the headmaster wishing me all the best and saying that I'm their first rugby league player." Not a thing they would have boasted of a few years ago, but times change and they will probably include it as a selling point in their prospectus now.

Dowes is not quite blazing a new path. David Stephenson and Barrie-Jon Mather both played in Cup finals for Wigan after going to a private school - Arnold in Blackpool - but his educational background is unusual enough to still raise some particular expectations.

When Hull were asked to put together a team for a televised pre-Cup final quiz, for instance, it was inevitable that they would try to tap into his expensive education. "But all the questions were about rugby league," he says. "I tried to tell them that I don't know anything about rugby league!"

The evidence of this season, however, is that he knows enough about it in practical terms to pass a searching personal examination tomorrow.

"In each game in the Cup so far, we've played Super League opposition and played our best rugby. It's knock-out football with no second chances and it seems to suit us."