Rugby League: Waddell leads the border raiders

Dave Hadfield meets the veteran GB forward taking up a new challenge
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The Independent Online
WHEN HUGH Waddell leads the Scottish Border Eagles on to the field in their Silk Cut Challenge Cup tie against Wath Brow Hornets today, he will carry with him more experience of the game than any international player still turning out. Waddell, now 40, played for England almost 15 years ago. In 1988, already glorying in the nickname "Ten Bellies", he was a member of the Great Britain side that broke a 10-year drought by beating Australia in Sydney.

His professional career, that began when, on holiday from his home in Stafford, he walked into Blackpool Borough and asked for a trial and continued at Oldham, Leeds and Sheffield, ended last season when he told his coach at Barrow that he had got his substitutions all wrong. "I was going for Jeff Grayshon's record," he said, citing the ultra-veteran who played until he was 46. "But I ran out of clubs."

Professional clubs, perhaps. But, even in his fifth decade, Waddell still lives by the motto "Have boots, will travel". For him, it is a fairly short raid over the border from his home in Carlisle to help out in the land of his birth. Under his guidance, the Border Eagles emerged as the first Scottish Champions this summer - and today will become the first Scottish club to play in the Challenge Cup. It is a considerable achievement, given that the side is drawn from the whole of southern Scotland, never train together and have little grounding in rugby league. "But I think it's a game more suited to Scottish people than rugby union," Waddell said. "A lot of Scots lads are fit and athletic; they're able to tackle and they love running the ball. Put those ingredients together and you've got a game of rugby league."

Well, you have if there is someone there to pull it all together; Waddell has done just that. "He makes a dramatic difference to us," said the club's founder, Paul Scanlon-Wells. "He might be 40, but he would still be capable of doing it in the professional game." Whether that will be enough at the Hillhead Sports Club in Glasgow today against the champions of Cumbria, still a hot-bed of the game at amateur level, is another matter. "We don't hold out any great expectations," Waddell said. "But we won't be shown up. We've got our defence sorted out, which hasn't always been considered my forte. We've got a lot of heart and we'll give them a run for their money."

Waddell does not train these days, keeping his fitness up by playing his 80 minutes with the Eagles, plus a bit of rugby union on the side. His one disappointment is that he was not recalled to the Scottish rugby league side. He believes that he could still do a job at that level. A slightly younger Waddell would be useful at a higher level than that.

Although never as keen watching as playing, he could not help noticing what happened to the Great Britain pack recently against New Zealand. "We lack a few big men," he says. "All the emphasis has been on mobility and they've been trying to do away with the big forwards." There are still one or two lurking north of the border, as Wath Brow will find out this afternoon.