Rugby League: Gilmour packed full of potential

Dave Hadfield on a prodigy who wants to maintain his momentum in the Super League Grand FOREIGN
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The Independent Online
IF THINGS had worked out slightly differently, Lee Gilmour could have been lining up for the other side in the Super League Grand FOREIGN at Old Trafford on Saturday. In many ways, it would have been more natural for a lad from Dewsbury in deepest Yorkshire to have joined Leeds, the other club that pursued him with the same determination as Wigan three years ago. Unfortunately for feature writers, Gilmour was not exactly a Leeds fan. "But I liked them and, if they were playing Wigan, I would support Leeds," he says.

What changed his allegiance was the approach from Eric Hawley, the Wigan scout who also poached the likes of Jason Robinson from the broad acres. "They didn't put any pressure on me. They did everything in the right way. When they took us over to see the game against London Broncos in late 1995, I saw that there was a centre spot up for grabs in the Academy team. If I'd seen two brilliant lads there, I might have thought again."

Gilmour was already a hot property, on the basis of his performances in the centre for Yorkshire Under-17s. A bright future at whatever club snared him was clearly on the cards; what was less predictable was the startling impact he has made this season in a position he had never played before.

He made just one appearance as a substitute last season, but as soon as John Monie, the newly returned coach, saw him, he started to think about his potential in the pack.

"As soon as John arrived, I knew that this was my year - my big chance. I had a groin injury leading up to the St Helens game on Boxing Day, and I was pleading with the physios to get me right, because if I didn't play I thought I could miss out."

Gilmour, coming up to his 20th birthday, did play and the rest is the story of a quite remarkable first full season. He has figured in every game and his coach, having persuaded him that his immediate future was in the pack, has missed no opportunity to praise his contribution.

That has been a major factor in the steady growth of a young player's self-confidence. "In your first season, I think it's very important to be told when you're doing things right, as well as being told what you're doing wrong, and John has done that.

"His advice has always been to get in a couple of early tackles and early runs. Once I've shown myself I can do it, then I'm confident. Before I prove it to myself, I can be a bit unsure."

Gilmour's superb form and some spectacular tries have seen him included in Great Britain's plans for the Test series against New Zealand this autumn, as well as being named as Young Player of the Year last night. He could emulate his sister, Natalie, who played on the Great Britain women's tour to New Zealand this year, but his horizons are still set primarily on establishing himself in the starting team at Wigan, ahead of the more experienced Simon Haughton and Mick Cassidy. "I'm hoping for a taste of international rugby, probably not in the starting 13 or even the 17, but just a taste."

Andy Goodway, the Great Britain coach, might have slightly bigger ideas than that for him, but for now Gilmour is concentrating on Saturday's meeting with the club he could have joined and with another Dewsbury product and potential Test team-mate, Francis Cummins. "He was a year ahead of me at school and I've always followed his career. He's had a great year and scored a fantastic number of tries," said Gilmour.

Somewhere down the track, perhaps, Great Britain could field an all-Dewsbury wing partnership, because Gilmour's eventual ambition is to return to his original centre position. "He's been on at me about it all season," says Monie. When Gilmour showed pace of which any centre in the country would be proud to score a vital 80-yard try against Leeds in their last meeting, Monie admits that he began to think he might have a point. The plan at the moment is for Gilmour to play in the backs next season and for Danny Moore, the Australian centre, to switch to the forwards.

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