Wildcats' enigma enjoys another life: Brough love takes rebel without a comb home

The maverick kicker has rejoined Wakefield's 'naughty boys' school' for a second brush with the big time. Dave Hadfield reports
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The Independent Online

They say in sport that you should never go back, and when Danny Brough played his last match before rejoining Wakefield it looked as though he agreed.

He had just played the key role in steering Castleford to promotion by beating Widnes in the National League One Grand Final in October. All around him team-mates were celebrating their return to Super League, but Brough was inconsolable.

"I knew before the final I was leaving," he says. "After the game the emotion got to me and I was gutted at the thought that I wasn't going to be there the next season."

Much as he had enjoyed his time at Cas, Brough had opted for a guaranteed Super League contract at his first professional club. He did not look as though he was much looking forward to it.

The 25-year-old scrum-half is a player who wears his heart on his sleeve. That sleeve, like his hair, keeps changing colour, because signing up with the Wildcats again is the latest twist in an eventful career.

Rated as one of the most promising young amateurs in the country when he arrived at 17, his first stay with the club proved to be a false start. Wakefield were in one of their mad-cap phases, recruiting star names they would ultimately be unable to pay.

"They were signing people like Bobbie Goulding on big money and I couldn't see myself getting in," Brough says. "I suppose my attitude went off a bit as well. In the end, I went to Dewsbury with the promise of first-team football.

"I was first choice at Dewsbury at 18 and I learnt a lot from old heads there – people like Andy Fisher, who showed you how they expected you to push them around the park."

From there, Brough moved on to York, where he teamed up with other late developers like Matt Blaymire (now with Wakefield) and Ian Kirke, who played in Leeds' Grand Final-winning side last year.

Fortunately for him, the then Hull coach, John Kear, is one who regularly scans the lower divisions for talent. Otherwise Brough could have remained one of those skilful players plying his trade a couple of levels below his capabilities.

There was little doubt about his ability, especially his kicking game, but he was shaping up to be less memorable for his playing achievements than extravagant hairstyles. One of them looked for all the world as though he had stuck a dead skunk on his head, so it was perhaps unsurprising some cautious judges turned up their noses at him.

For Kear and Hull, however, he was a startling success and arguably should have carried off the Lance Todd Trophy when Hull won the Challenge Cup against Leeds in 2005.

Little more than a month later, though, Kear left him out of a play-off at Bradford – Wakefield's opponents in their first Super League fixture of the season this Sunday – and played the newly signed Sione Faumuina. The upshot was a 71-0 defeat; Kear describes it as the biggest mistake of his coaching career.

Early the next season, Kear was sacked, and so was Brough. "Peter Sharp [the new Hull coach] sat me down and told me he didn't see me in his future plans with the players he had there. There was no more explanation than that – and I'd helped them win the cup a few months before. It just seemed strange."

Down the road at Castleford, Terry Matterson got wind of Brough's availability and added him to the squad trying to avoid relegation from Super League. It was a mission that failed when Cas lost to Wakefield on the last day, but Brough was the star of the Tigers' team that swept all before them in National League One last year.

Cue the Grand Final, a dominant display from the No 7 and the tearful farewell. By then, Kear had swooped for the second time and Brough, now with family responsibilities, felt he had to opt for the security of a full-time contract.

Kear is not phased by Brough's reputation for being hard to handle, or by his own experience of the player. He sometimes refers to Wakefield as "the naughty boys' school" and has had good results from risky signings a good deal more delinquent than Brough. "Besides," Kear says, "he's a scrum-half. What do you expect?

"The thing that impresses me the most about Danny is that the two best games he's ever played in his life were the two biggest games – the cup final and the promotion match.

"That tells me that he's a big-match player and our aim at Wakefield is to give him more big matches to play in."

Kear believes that Brough, who claims "every match in Super League is a big match for me now," has the best kicking game in the competition and it will be fascinating to see how he fits in this season with two other playmakers in Jamie Rooney and Brad Drew.

The likelihood is that he will still succeed in standing out. Although his hair was styled in a disappointingly conservative fashion at the Super League launch last week, he promises a rapid return to more eyecatching creations. "I've got one or two plans," he reveals, "and I've something special in mind for Castleford."