Evans boys on twin track to success at Warrington

Ben and Rhys are far from identical, but the 18-year-olds have made equally explosive starts to their career
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In the small, select world of rugby league twins, they tend to look a little sceptically at Ben and Rhys Evans. "The Burgess boys always say to us: 'You're not twins. You're not even brothers'," says Ben. And you can see the point they're making.

Whereas George and Tom Burgess – the latter at Bradford, the former with big brother Sam at South Sydney – are the proverbial peas in a pod, Warrington's Evans boyos could hardly be more distinct.

Rhys is a slim, blond ghost of a centre, while Ben is dark, bearded and built solidly for the heavy work in the front row. They even pull off the difficult trick of sounding different, with Rhys by far the more Welsh of the two and Ben now the possessor of a distinct Warringtonian twang picked up from his local group of mates.

"It's strange really, but we are just very different people," he says.

True as that undoubtedly is, they are, at the age of 18, travelling together on a twin track into rugby league that must count as one of the code's great adventures.

Ben and Rhys were talented rugby union players and footballers, but had never heard of rugby league until the former Warrington player, Kevin Ellis, came to Brynteg School in Bridgend – whose alumni include JPR Williams and Gavin Henson – and suggested that they might like to put a team into the RFL's Champion Schools competition, culminating in playing the curtain-raiser for the 2005 Challenge Cup final at the Millennium Stadium. "We had no idea how big it was going to be," recalls Rhys. "The stadium was three-quarters full by half-time in our game."

Ben takes up the story of the victory over Castleford High. "Rhys scored a length-of-the-field try and I got man of the match. If we'd both had a shocker we probably wouldn't be here today."

Shrewd judges made a mental note in Cardiff that weekend of the non-matching Evans twins and it was Warrington, through Brian Chambers and Peter Farrell – father of Andy – who followed it up.

Thus it was that, at the tender age of 14, the Evanses had an offer from the Wolves and a momentous decision to make.

"It was our mum who said we would be better trying it than just wondering what might have been," says Ben. "And if we were going to do it, we'd better do it properly. One of our mates had the same offer, turned it down and that's what he's doing now – wondering what might have been."

Taking up that challenge meant up-rooting as a family and the three of them relocating to Warrington, where the boys would complete their general education and begin their rugby league education.

It was not quite as big a wrench as it sounds; their mother, Jane, was originally from Plymouth and moved to South Wales in her youth, where her children grew up regarding themselves as half-English.

Ben and Rhys missed their – largely separate – circles of friends, their grandad and two sisters, but these were young men on a mission.

This was before Celtic Crusaders coincidentally set up shop in the town. It was not rugby league that Bridgend was famous for, but for the bane of teenaged suicide. It is not surprising that it touched the Evans brothers indirectly; it did, with the brother of one of Ben's pals among the victims.

Playing for their new school at Great Sankey, they reached further Champion Schools finals – the first to do so for more than one side.

Last season, they both became regular members of the successful Warrington under-20s side, but perhaps the biggest mark of their progress was the prominent roles they played in the under-18 international against the touring Australian Schoolboys.

The British youngsters won both Tests, with Rhys scoring another of those eye-catching long-range tries he has been turning into a trademark, breaking out of dummy half and making up for what was, at least in his own mind, a sub-standard performance in the first game.

Ben was equally impressive in his own way, taking on the bigger Australian forwards with obvious relish.

The question after that was how much of an impact the two Evanses were ready to make on Super League. It was answered in an unfortunately negative way for Ben, when he wrecked his knee in a pre-season friendly.

He is still several weeks away from playing again, but has managed to make a virtue of the interruption to his career.

"I've been doing all my rehab, with [the Australian Test player] Matt King, who's had a similar injury and has been great with me. If you're going to have to do rehab, you couldn't have anyone better to do it with."

Ben has set himself the target of getting fit enough to push for a first-team appearance or two by the end of the season. In the meantime, it has been that pesky blond-haired kid who has been grabbing all the attention.

A crop of injuries in Warrington's backs – King's included – created an opportunity for Rhys sooner than he can have expected. The result was a run of seven Super League matches, during which he showed not only raw talent, but astonishing maturity and confidence. "It has been a bit frustrating watching that," admits Ben. "But we always knew that it would be Rhys who made the breakthrough first, because of his position."

The Wolves' coach, Tony Smith, said that he was not in the least surprised by the poise with which he made that breakthrough, but he also knows how far and how fast to push an emerging talent.

Hence, soon after signing a five-year Warrington contract, Rhys has been packed off to learn more of his trade at Leigh, under the innovative dual registration system that allows him to train and play with both clubs. He will return even better equipped for his next stab at Super League.

Beyond that, the brothers have realistic international ambitions, but not, controversially, with Wales, as they have decided that, for rugby league purposes, they are going to be English. "There's our mum, of course, but it's a rugby league decision," they say, for once finishing each other's sentence.

It's a decision that will cost them the near-certainty of Welsh caps in this autumn's Four Nations. "But we're looking more long-term than that," say Rhys and Ben Evans, almost in unison.

Double trouble: Rugby league's other twin sets

The Burgesses

The twin younger brothers of Test star Sam, Tom and George are making their mark as front-rowers on opposite sides of the world. An England Test team with three Burgesses is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

The Drakes

The famously tough Cumbrians Jim and Bill formed the second row of the formidable Hull pack of the 1950s.

The Rayneses

Kevin and Keith were almost indistinguishable in Wakefield's pack and then in Leeds', but co-operated by having slightly different haircuts.

The Beardmores

At hooker and scrum-half, Kevin and Bob orchestrated Castleford in the 1980s. Kevin had the tache.

The Marches

Paul and David have played most of their long careers alongside each other and have been known to take advantage of referees' inability to distinguish them.

The Walters

Kevin and Kerrod played hooker and stand-off for Brisbane, Queensland and Australia and spread confusion wherever they went.

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