Raynor the surprise package set for delivery

The Hull wing came late to rugby league - now the former postman is a key man for Great Britain, writes Dave Hadfield
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The Independent Online

If Great Britain go on to win their Test series against New Zealand, the symbolic image that will stick in the mind will be that of Gareth Raynor chasing a lost cause.

The Hull wing went a long way towards winning the first Test for his team last Saturday when he pursued a Rob Burrow kick that looked certain to run dead. When the ball spun back in the last few millimetres, Raynor sneaked silently past Sam Perrett to touch down for a crucial try and one that sums up his career.

"When Rob kicked that ball, I never had any thought of scoring," Raynor says. "My intention was just to have a good chase and put some pressure on the full-back. I made a point of being quiet. If I'd have made a noise, he'd have known I was there and would probably just have hoofed it dead. It looked freakish. Even when I watched it on the video afterwards I was convinced it was going to go out, but sometimes these things come off for you."

That refusal to give up, even when the odds are stacked against you, has turned a late developer in the game into Great Britain's first-choice wing.

At 21, he was working as a postman in Pontefract, playing a bit of rugby union for the local club and a bit of amateur rugby league for the Castleford Panthers.

It was then that he decided to use the Post Office to expend his horizons. "I wrote letters to Castleford, Leeds and Wakefield asking for a trial," Raynor says. "Cas were the first to reply. I went to one session down there and I was going to sign, but then Leeds got in touch and I went there and changed my mind."

There was no spectacular breakthrough. Raynor played in the Under-21s for the Rhinos and also turned out for their sister club, the Tykes, at union. He made only three first-team appearances, all as a substitute, and in 2001 was allowed to move to Hull, when the Rhinos' chief executive, Gary Hetherington, suggested to his wife, the Hull director, Kath, that Raynor might have Super League potential elsewhere. "I think Gary was a bit hesitant about letting me go," Raynor says, "but time wasn't on my side, because I'd been such a late developer."

Again, there was to be no instant transformation and, by the end of the 2002 season Raynor was ready to try something else, joining the trickle of outside backs to rugby union when he joined Leicester.

Getting away from league, however, showed him how much he missed it. "I took some bad advice from my agent and, when I got there, I just didn't enjoy it," he recalls.

He made little impact for Leicester and in June 2003 bought himself out of the remainder of his contract to return to Hull, his appetite sharpened for a really serious attempt to get the best out of himself.

This time he was really up and running. Since his return to the club he has established himself as an integral part of a team who expect to win things and a regular try-scorer. "I've never looked back since," he says. "I put it down to experience and confidence and the way that I've been enjoying my rugby."

As of last season's Tri-Nations, he has also established himself in the Great Britain side. "You can never sit back, though," he says. "Every time I pull on the Great Britain shirt, it's like the first time."

It will be special for Raynor to wear that shirt – and possibly help his country to a series victory – at the KC Stadium where he plays his club rugby. "There could be no better place for me to be part of a winning series – on my home soil."

If that happens, it will be in front of an audience that already appreciates Raynor's qualities. He is hardly the classical wingman – all flowing lines and beating his marker on the outside – but he does all the little things that are expected of the modern wing exceptionally well.

"It beats being a postman and getting up at 5.30 in the morning. I still miss that a bit, because it was a good job for me at the time. I had a few mates who had to give up playing rugby because of their jobs, but I was able to carry on."

If he can deliver again tonight, British rugby league will be glad of that.