Ben Westwood rounded off his 2012 with a spot of acting in a pantomime. Turns out he had been doing similar pretty much all the way through last season.
On first glance, you would have thought the Warrington second-rower was fighting fit in every game as he enjoyed a superb campaign. Another Challenge Cup Winners’ medal was followed by the Wolves’ first appearance in the Grand Final, which they ultimately lost to Leeds.
Almost every week, Westwood was either the sponsors’ Man of the Match or received high praise from coach Tony Smith. He also grabbed a total of ten tries.
But behind the scenes it was a totally different story. One that yet again exemplifies why rugby league players really are the toughest of the tough. Westwood has revealed he was struggling with groin problems all season long. Painkilling injections to simply turn out for his side became the norm.
As the campaign wore on, training during the week became pretty much nonexistent as he was in so much pain. Something had to be done, so he was forced to forego England duty at the end of the campaign to go under the knife. Now as Warrington prepare for another tilt at that elusive league title, Westwood hopes to feel the benefit.
“Last year I played while injured and sore,” he told Forty-20, as he juggled this interview with pushing a shopping trolley and controlling his young daughter Grace.
“So it was important for me to get everything fixed and hopefully that is all behind me now. It was getting harder and harder towards the back end of the year. I was struggling to train and I was more or less playing with painkillers. I managed it but it wasn’t good for preparation for games every week, even though I got through it. It wasn’t nice.”
Given what he has just revealed, it is understandable why Westwood did not feature in the Autumn Internationals. It would have given a tasty glimpse of what was to come had he teamed up with Gareth Ellis in the second row against France and Wales, but with the World Cup looming the bullet had to be bitten.
Now after sitting out pre-season training until just after Christmas, Westwood is raring to go. He added: “It was a good choice for me to rest and pull out of the England squad and 2013 is a massive year. This is a good year to be in form, especially with the World Cup coming at the end of it. That’s certainly the aim for me.
“I want to have a real good year for Warrington and then be
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“It was getting harder and harder towards the back end of the year.
I was struggling to train...”
up for selection for the World Cup. I was thinking to myself, ‘If I had played on with England, I wouldn’t have been right for the start of the coming season.’ And I did not want to risk getting injured, especially leading up to the World Cup. I want to be injury free.”
It is not just the World Cup making 2013 a big year for Westwood. It is also his testimonial at Warrington. And as part of that, he ended up treading the boards after deciding to put on a festive panto, starring as Prince Charming in Cinderella at the town’s Parr Hall. Team-mates Paul Wood, Garreth Carvell and Mickey Higham joined him with members of Warrington Collegiate and it was certainly an experience.
“It was time-consuming towards the end and nerve-racking leading up to it,” he admitted. “At first I was a bit shy because the people from the collegiate are used to the lights and the stage an everything - I felt a bit of an idiot speaking out and acting when I started. But it was a great experience and one I think everyone enjoyed. I just wanted to put something on that was cheap and for all the family to have a good laugh.”
When Warrington take to the field on February 3 against Castleford, however, the time for laughing is over. This time around, the Wolves want to go one better than last season, when all they could do was stand and watch as Kevin Sinfield lifted the Super League trophy for the Rhinos.
Smith has not signed anyone for 2013, opting to hand bigger roles to youngsters like Rhys Evans, Gareth O’Brien, Ben Currie and Brad Dwyer. And Westwood hopefully an injury free one for the sake of club and country - is determined to play a full part in another trophy-laden campaign.
“We landed one of the two trophies last season and got to the final in the other, which wasn’t bad,” he said. “That shows we are still progressing, but we were just one game off our aim in 2012. However, we will learn from that.
“It’s not as if we’re down-hearted; last season was a good one. What we’re looking forward to now is getting off to a good start and hopefully ending with a good finish.”
January 2013 Forty-20 29