Webb has all ingredients to cook up storm for the Rhinos
Son of a pearl fisherman from Pacific Islands has a passion for the kitchen...and Challenge Cup final
More than any other club in the country, Leeds have built their success upon cultivating local talent. But they also know the value of a more exotic import and, in Brent Webb, they have a true citizen of Planet Rugby League.
Webb, who will play full-back for the Rhinos against Warrington in the Carnegie Challenge Cup final at Wembley on Saturday, was born on the Australian mainland, brought up in a part-Japanese family on the Torres Strait Islands between there and Papua New Guinea, plays for New Zealand and has been resident in England for the last four years.
"It's a beautiful part of the world and it's produced a fair few footballers," he says of his ancestral home. The legendary Mal Meninga is of Torres Strait heritage, as is the almost equally celebrated Wendell Sailor and the current Australian international Sam Thaiday.
The Japanese enters the mix via his grandfather, who was interned in Australia during World War Two and afterwards settled on the Islands as a pearl fisherman. It was from him that Webb inherited his passion for cooking, although, rather disappointingly, he chooses as his signature dish something as mainstream as a deluxe burger. "It doesn't sound much but when it's done right..."
Webb was playing in Brisbane in the second-tier Queensland Cup when he was discovered by Daniel Anderson, the then coach of the New Zealand Warriors and later of St Helens. He settled happily in Auckland, met his wife there and, after the three-year qualification period, became the Kiwi full-back as well.
In 2007, his career took another twist when he moved to the other side of the world to play for Leeds, where he has been an integral part of the side that won the last three Super League titles. Even after that, though, Wembley remains a bit special for him.
"I just have memories that, when I was a kid, the only English rugby league we saw was the Challenge Cup final," said Webb. "It was obviously a big stage and it always seemed to be Wigan playing. After four years here, I've realised how much it means to the players. We seem to have saved our best form for the cup this season."
Leeds will have to do it at Wembley without Jamie Peacock, the England captain who was ruled out this week for at least six months after knee reconstruction. "It's massive," says Webb of the loss of the front-rower. "He's a big part of our team and someone we look to to get us out of the difficult holes we get into. He'll be missed, but you have to look at it as a chance for someone else."
That someone else could be Greg Eastwood, another who had a foot in two camps as an Australian-based Kiwi before coming to England, suffering badly from injuries and failing to settle into life without his family. Provided Leeds can get a fee for him, he will be off at the end of the season but the irony is that, when he has played, he has been highly effective.
Warrington also have a player who knows he is moving on. Richie Mathers is being replaced as full-back next season by Huddersfield's Brett Hodgson, just as he was four years ago at Leeds by Webb. "He was leaving as I arrived, but I really rate Richie," said Webb. "He works really hard and comes up with some big plays for them in attack and defence."
There are similarities in the way the two play the position, both spending plenty of time in the attacking line as extra play-makers. It is the modern fashion for full-backs and Webb has helped to create it. "I think Richie is one of those players whose game has really come on under Tony Smith," he says of the former Leeds coach. "A lot of what Warrington have done is down to him. He's put a lot of confidence into their team."
The Wolves have plenty to be confident about. They are the Cup- holders, they are five points ahead of Leeds in the Super League table and you could make out a strong case for them as Wembley favourites.
Like Leeds, they also have a player who could make a decisive impact off the bench. Whereas the Rhinos' Eastwood is a damaging and deceptive runner, David Solomona is arguably the cleverest passer of the ball in the game – a man who can unlock the tightest of matches.
That – and the quality of the half-backs on both sides – is another factor that could make this a classic Wembley final. It is certainly one that is destined to be played in front of a full house, not to mention a worldwide television audience which, this year, will include more interest than usual on Moa, Badu, Muralug and the other 270 or so islands that make up the Torres Strait.
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