Rugby League: Davies a convert content: A former Welsh rugby union international, the most celebrated recruit to rugby league, tells Dave Hadfield that he has no regrets about switching codes

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The Independent Online
JONATHAN DAVIES has already had more time than he wanted in which to reflect on his rugby life past, present and future.

A summer spent largely at home when he could have been on tour with Great Britain; a three- month absence from the Widnes side after an operation on a groin injury; and now plenty of time between matches and training sessions because he is - rugby apart - out of work. 'I'll do anything - sales, marketing, PR. I'm not one who wants to be a full-time player and nothing else.'

There have been times when Davies has seemed in need of his own PR services, times when the latest 'Davies wants to go back to Union' headline has strained relations with the public and with rugby league, the game that pays his wages.

Suggestions that he rues the day he took the Widnes shilling have brought him criticism, and occasionally outright abuse from the terraces. 'Every time something happens, my phone is red-hot with everyone in Wales asking me what I think of it,' he says. 'I get misquoted a lot. Like that story about me going back to coach Llanelli. I don't know where that came from, but it's obviously nonsense because it's completely impossible.

'What upsets me is that people up north believe it. You think you've done the hard work by showing people here that you can play, but then that's all undone by them thinking that you're going to go running back at the first chance.

'There are times when you need the backing of rugby league people. They could be more open- minded and supportive.'

Davies has a point. There are people in rugby league with over- developed antennae twitching for signs of betrayal - an attitude that is born of the bitter experience of seeing union converts take the money back to the Valleys and bad-mouth a game which, in many cases, had exposed their limitations.

Davies should not be bracketed anywhere near them. For one thing, he is an unqualified success; for another, he still has 'no regrets' about switching codes.

What he does say - and what puts him in danger of being misunderstood - is that, if matters had been organised differently in Welsh rugby union four years ago, he would never have left.

'If you had been financially looked after as captain of Wales, you wouldn't go to play a completely different game - one at which you might not even be any good. You wouldn't take the risk. It would be like leaving the Independent to work for the Widnes Weekly News,' he says, straining the analogy somewhat. 'You wouldn't do it, would you?' No, I would not, though I'm not sure rugby league sees itself as the Weekly News, but let that pass.

Widnes' current financial plight exposes Davies, and compatriots like John Devereux and Paul Moriarty, to another, surely undeserved charge. In a nutshell, it is that they have ruined the club by being in receipt of rewards that the club cannot afford.

'They made the offers to us. We never touted ourselves around, so I can't see why we should be blamed,' he says.

What is certain is that he is now caught up in the same reduced circumstances as his English team- mates, with contracts across the club cut by a third. 'You budget according to your income,' he says, 'so it obviously takes a bit of the enjoyment out of life. But the players have just knuckled down together.'

It is one of the ironies of the season that Widnes' inability to pay their players in full has produced a team with more unity and sense of purpose than they ever had when the cheques arrived on time. They have not lost for eight matches and are just two games from the financial transfusion of a trip to Wembley, starting with Sunday's quarter-final at Hull Kingston Rovers.

It is a far cry, though, from the days of Doug Laughton terrorising South Wales as he sallied forth, cheque book in hand. But Davies knows enough about rugby league to know that the grass would not necessarily be greener elsewhere.

'The game has got to sit down and take a hard look at itself, because it's in a precarious position,' he says. 'The situation we are in isn't unique to Widnes; it's just that we've been more honest about it. It's significant here, because, after Wigan, Widnes were the most successful club of the Eighties.

'We talk about rugby league being the greatest game in the world, but if a club like Widnes can't survive, the sport is going to lose a lot of respect.'

Respect is something of a theme when Davies talks about rugby league. 'If the League had any self-respect it would take the Union through the courts over the Steve Pilgrim case, whatever it costs,' he says - hardly the sentiments of a man whose heart is still in the other camp.

Before the deadline for Challenge Cup signings, Davies was considering whether to join Wakefield Trinity. The breakdown in negotiations between the clubs finally prevented him having to make a decision and he now says that he will assess his position at the end of the season. Two other clubs were talking to him earlier this year without the news leaking out; Australia, where he had a successful season with Canterbury-Bankstown, remains an option.

Davies is now playing as well as he has done at any time since the most publicised change of codes rugby has seen. The pace and the right-angled sidestep are unimpaired by his 30 years, and he is a good learner who has absorbed a great deal of rugby league know- how during his four years.

It was little surprise, however, when the Great Britain squad to play France was chosen this week and his name was not in it. 'I was captain against France last year, but it shows how quickly you can be forgotten.'

In fact, the attitude of Great Britain's management to Davies has always been equivocal; a great attacking player, certainly, but what about his tackling?

'I don't remember missing tackles in any of my internationals, and I've marked players of the size of Mal Meninga, Kevin and Tony Iro and Laurie Daley. I've always been able to pick them. I remember when I was 13, playing for the Under-15s and my opposite number had a beard]'

Since his days of tackling bearded 15-year-olds, few careers have been scrutinised like Davies's. Eventually, it will go full circle, because he has made no secret of his desire to seek reinstatement one day and finish his playing days with some social rugby union.

Rugby league should not feel slighted by that intention. 'League's just too hard a game to play at that level, but you can play union at any age and have a laugh.'

(Photograph omitted)

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