Personality of the month
It’s not how you start... ANDY WILSON salutes Pat Richards, Wigan’s third-highest points scorer of all time
Marvellous thing, the internet. My memories of just how grim the early months in Wigan had been for Pat Richards back in 2006 were a little vague and in the immediate aftermath of yet another prolific afternoon’s work at Odsal last month, when he happened to have become the third-leading pointscorer in the history of one of rugby league’s great clubs, the big Aussie winger was understandably reluctant to dredge it all up.
But type in ‘Pat Richards Wigan 2006 rubbish’ - sorry Pat - and it all comes flooding back. “Why not try him at full-back?” asked one poster to the WiganWarriorsFans.com messageboard on April 18, following a home defeat by Harlequins on Easter Monday. “Why not send him back?” came the reply - probably fairest not to name the poster in question. “Big signing, big money, big waste - not impressed.”
Richards had been Ian Millward’s major off-season recruit, and arrived as an NRL champion who had been the recipient of one of the great Grand Final passes from Benji Marshall in Wests Tigers’ victory over North Queensland - I've just watched that on the internet, too.
Plenty of other Super League clubs were interested, as his Irish heritage gained him a precious exemption from the overseas quota. But Richards was lured by Wigan’s name and reputation. He could not have arrived at a worse time. And as the expensive new boy asked to play out of position at centre on several occasions, including his debut on the Catalans’ opening night in Perpignan, he took more than his share of stick.
That makes the success he has gone on to achieve - a Grand Final win, a Challenge Cup win, the 2010 Man of Steel plus that place in the Wigan record books - all the more admirable, and presumably satisfying, although he’s much too classy to indulge in cheap shots at those numerous dark-day critics.
Richards was in at the start of the Wigan revival, as Brian Noble switched him back to the left wing for his first game in charge at Huddersfield, and he scored two tries in a 54-12 win. “His confidence was shot, he was on the crest of a slump.” Noble recalled. “But we soon put Humpty Dumpty back together again.”
Richards ended that season with 13 tries from 24 appearances, and only 11 goals - Michael Dobson took the goalkicking responsibilities from Danny Tickle following his arrival from the Catalans, making the speed with which he has gone to third on Wigan’s all-time list impressive. The idea that he could ever climb so high would have seemed fanciful even after the late-season surge under Noble with which the Warriors escaped relegation. But Richards hit his long stride the following year, with 326 points from 130 goals and
16 tries, plus a pair of drop-goals during a stirring play-off run in away wins at Bradford and Hull which took Wigan to within 80 minutes of the Grand Final - all while sporting a splendid moustache that he had pledged to grow with Bryan Fletcher and several other team-mates after a heavy August defeat at Warrington.
2008 brought another near miss in the play-offs, and another 375 points for Richards, and ended with an enjoyable role in Ireland’s World Cup adventure. “Pat was instrumental in us being based in Parramatta, which is the area of Sydney where he’s from,” recalls Andy Kelly, then the Ireland coach. “He was an absolute pleasure to work with, and very committed to the Irish cause.”
Richards confirmed for this piece that he is relishing the prospect of again representing the ancestry of his parents, who emigrated to Sydney from Dublin just before he was born, in next year’s World Cup, which will mean games against England and Australia, the latter probably at Thomond Park in Limerick.
This isn’t really the place to continue a season-by-season statistical breakdown of the Richards record. Obviously, 2010 was his year of years, with 462 points from 167 goals and 32 tries earning him that Man of Steel accolade - but the Grand Final winner’s ring probably meaning more. From the outside, he seemed an unlikely fit with Noble’s successor Michael Maguire - so fiercely intense, while Richards fits into that David Gower category somewhere between laid-back and horizontal (and was also a fine schoolboy cricketer, incidentally, revealing in a rare rugby league splash in the Wisden Cricket Monthly last year that he had been a teammate of the current Australia captain Michael Clarke, and once smashed a double century).
Anyway, that outsider’s view is highly misleading, according to his fourth Wigan coach, Shaun Wane. “He is one of the real senior leaders of our squad, with people like Sean O’Loughlin and Tommy Leuluai,” says Wane. “If there are some sore bodies at training, he’s the one who can change everybody’s attitude. Our physio also says that after he did his achilles in the Grand Final in 2010, he was the most professional we’ve had in the way he handled his rehab. I can’t say enough about the bloke, going right back to that first year when he was dropped to my U20s. That must have been so hard after coming here with a big reputation. But he didn’t spit the dummy, as you can imagine others doing, he managed it really professionally and was great with all the young kids.”
Richards concedes he is unlikely to rise any higher up a list headed by Jim Sullivan with a staggering 4,883 from 2,317 goals and 83 three-point tries - although they did come from 774 appearances spread over 26 years between 1921-46. Andy Farrell is next with 3,115 from 370 appearances, from 111 tries, 1,326 goals and 19 one-pointers.
“Yeah,” the bronze medallist reflected that Sunday teatime at Odsal. “To be third on the list at a club with all the history of Wigan I’m in pretty good company.”
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“With who they’ve signed, Keighley have been the Manchester City of the Championship. They’ve got Michael Korkidas, Semi Tadulala, Sam Obst, Paul March and Richie Barnett to go alongside some good players already there...” - Batleycoach JohnKear,withhis tongueperhapsin hischeek
“This was a tremendous honour for Kevin and the Leeds Rhinos...” - Okay,soweagree withLeedsCEO GaryHetherington thatspeakingatthe UK’sleadingpublic school,Eton,the seatoftheBritish Establishment,wasa greatrugbyleague story.Butsurelythe honourwasall theirs?
March 2012 Forty-20 5