Peacock the key to pack's last hurrah

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The Independent Online

He has never really considered it one of his major skills, but Jamie Peacock has had a crash course recently in how to make an acceptance speech. Life has been one long Oscar ceremony lately for the Bradford and Great Britain second-rower, who faces Wigan in the Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford this evening.

His form this season has won him the Rugby League Writers' Player of the Year award, a similar accolade from his fellow professionals, a virtual clean sweep of the prizes at his club and, most prestigious of all, the Man of Steel award as the year's outstanding personality. There is general agreement that he was unlucky not to carry off the Lance Todd Trophy when the Bulls beat Leeds in the Challenge Cup final.

He has even won the 80 Second Challenge, the light-hearted quiz on Sky. "And I only live in a little terraced house," he says. "I've nowhere to put them all." Peacock admits that he would rather play in front of a 65,000 crowd, as he will tonight, than stand up and talk in a bow-tie to a roomful, as he seems to have been doing for most of the last two weeks.

"It's something I don't like at all. What I enjoy is playing rugby; standing up in front of people is a completely different skill." Peacock has had those extra responsibilities thrust upon him because he has developed over the last couple of years into the dominant forward in the British game. A late developer, who was once sent out to Featherstone on loan, he is a monument to what hard work can do.

"I always thought that if I could click I could make a decent first-team player, but I was never in the Leeds or Yorkshire teams as a schoolboy. There were far better players than me there who've never made it, because they weren't prepared to work as hard." It took 12 consecutive man of the match performances in the reserves, his coach, Brian Noble, recalls, to get him into the first team at Bradford. Since then, it has been impossible to get him out.

Although a broken hand limited his appearances early this season, he believes he turned that setback to his benefit. "I think I gained a lot of strength and fitness, because that was all I could do while I was out." Peacock says he has a special reason for wanting to bring all that strength to bear on today's big occasion, because it is the last time that this Bradford team - and particularly this Bradford pack - plays together. Mike Forshaw is off to Warrington and James Lowes and Daniel Gartner are retiring. "They're not just team-mates, they're your best friends," he says. "That's what really disappointed me about losing last year - knowing that it was Brian McDermott's last match." Apart from that, Peacock says that he and his team-mates have put that controversial defeat by St Helens behind them.

For him, in the long term, that could involve following Adrian Morley's footsteps to Australia, where he could be an equally big success in the world's toughest competition.

"I've got two more years on my contract at Bradford and then I'd love to have a go out there. I know if I never went I would regret it, even if I had to take less money to do it." That would give him a whole new set of awards to aim for - something to ponder as he takes his 80 Second Challenge Trophy home in a plastic bag.

He even admits to putting in a bit of extra work for that. "I just had the lads firing a few questions at me for practice," he says. It is no coincidence that, over the last few years of his career, Jamie Peacock has consistently come up with the right answers.