I had the chance to chat to Leigh Centurions’ Jamie Acton in November 2014
My summer of galavanting took me oop North to watch England play India at Old Trafford – not rugby of course, but cricket. The 1st thing I do when I plan a trip to that part of the world is check out likely rugby league games I can go to. The England Test coincided with the Challenge Cup semi-finals and a key Championship game between Leigh Centurions and Featherstone Rovers. My plan was to go to one semi-final and the Leigh game; it was a major result for me when The Leigh Sporting Village was picked as a venue for one of the semi-finals. It meant I would get to go to 3 games in a weekend as the Leigh game was swapped to the Friday night! My idea of heaven; 2 days of cricket followed by 3 RL games, oh and then another day of cricket as Essex were playing in Scarborough!
Leigh Rugby Football Club were one of the original 22 clubs that formed the Northern Rugby Football Union in 1895 having been formed in 1878. They’re a team I have a bit of a soft spot for; a former player Neil Turley being a favourite. The fact that they’ve not been in Superleague often in the last 20 years has meant it’s been possible to watch them when travelling North as the days they play differs – I’d go to so many league games if I actually lived up there!
The Championship always seems to be a grittier form of the game to me; if possible the passion seems to be higher than Superleague. You certainly seem to see ‘handbags’ exchanged more often than at the higher level. The Friday night game against big rivals lived up to my opinion; it was fast paced and full of incident. Leigh Centurions were worthy winners scoring 48 points to Featherstone’s 18. The result confirmed their spot as League Winners; they then went on to beat the same team 36 to 12 in the Grand Final. A great season for coach Paul Rowley and his team.
I am a fan of having a photo with the odd rugby player and the Leigh Centurion players were wonderful after the game they gave a lot of their time to their fans and even visiting Essex girls. So, I grabbed a photo with Ex Bronco and now Leigh captain Oliver Wilkes and Jamie Acton. Imagine my surprise when a southern accent was evident as I spoke to Jamie! A Southern boy playing in the heart of rugby league land? I felt I needed to know more.
Thanks to Jamie’s Dad, Mark and Twitter I’ve been able to meet Jamie and find out how he came to be where he is now. To start at the beginning; Jamie was born in Westminster, in the same hospital many Royals have been born in. He was brought up in the High Wycombe area and went to the John Hampden Grammer School; A Southern grammar school meant only one thing; Jamie played rugby union; he also played football for the school.
He played club rugby for Marlow from the age of 12 and at 15/16 found himself in the role of Back Row/Centre. It was useful to have Mark there as Jamie hadn’t quite remembered the sequence of events; I imagine they all roll into one. Then an interesting fact for a rugby league player Jamie went into the Wasps Academy with amongst others Christian Wade and Chris Elder now at London Welsh.
Jamie was into athletics too and 400m in particular he was told he needed to make a choice at 16; he was in the Junior England Squad. Clearly the build of a 400m runner isn’t quite the same as that needed for rugby. Jamie chose rugby and set about pursuing a professional career playing rugby union.
In spite of all of the sports activity going on Jamie achieved good GCSE results; he left John Hampden and went to St Benedicts School on a scholarship. It was a school with a strong rugby history and was deemed the best place for Jamie to improve his game while taking his AS levels. He trained 3 times a week at school; studying for his exams; however he left after a year.
Jamie was now 17 and still no sign of rugby league; how exactly did that happen? He had an injury and was unable to play and the end of the union season came. Ina bid to get fit he went to rugby league club the London Sharks; where a friend George Stevens was playing. London Sharks were a feeder club for Superleague club London Broncos. This was Jamie’s 1st experience of rugby league, he knew little or nothing about it; but, he loved it!
In spite of his lack of experience he very quickly got into the regional trials for rugby league and was picked up by the relabelled Broncos, now Quins RL, he began training with them. As Jamie was turning 18 both Wasps and Quins were offering contracts; Jamie decided his future lay with the 13 man game; he chatted with Dan Sarginson; now at Wigan Warriors and spent time with Dan’s home team Hemel Stags.
Playing at Centre Jamie was spotted by Wigan and offered a trial; at this stage he had Amelie 3 months old; so had commitments; he was offered a one year part time contract at Wigan. In common with many professional sportsmen Jamie backed himself and took a chance; moving his family; Rachel and Amelie to the North. Jamie supplemented his earnings working as a Personal Trainer.
His 1st full season of rugby league saw him with no more than 20 games under his belt; he trained with the 1st team; he told one tale of how he had to ask Michael Mcillorum ‘what a play the ball was’. You can only imagine the reaction! His fellow players were then was told he was new to league which may have made them more understanding?
Once the year was up he was offered a full time deal but with only a small increase in financial terms. With a young family it wasn’t viable for him to accept the offer; again in common with several pro players I’ve interviewed he took some time out; taking up MMA as a hobby and pursuing the Personal Training.
In the meantime his agent Jonathan Smith of Go The Distance connected him with Oldham; they needed a prop for the rest of the season. A new position for Jamie and one he really enjoyed. He was now at the end of his 3rd season. He went on to join Workington Town; a Cumbrian club, he kept the continuity for his family and travelled to the club along with a couple of other players from the same area. His first full season at prop gave him his confidence back; playing in front of a very passionate crowd of around 1500.
He played well against Leigh and halfway through the 2013 season Leigh were looking for a prop; they found their man in Jamie. The experience at Workington had been amazing but the schedule and distance made it a hard task. He accepted an offer from a team going places and found himself at one of the original league teams Leigh Centurions. With a growing family, his son Harry, joining the Acton clan, a move closer to home was also a very important factor.
We veered off subject a bit at this point and spoke about some of the differences between the 2 codes of union and league. One such is the fact that every player on a league pitch needs to be able to run; I spoke about my observation that league forwards take their time getting back into place when the ball is turned over and they switch from attack to defence. Forwards and props in particular are told to take their time to get back to prepare to run forward at speed again. As in Union each team is balanced and each player has their role.
The differing roles such as a union prop versus a league prop was summed up byJamie with these words – ‘Fitness is meeting the needs of your environment’ – that rings very true when you look at the different shapes and sizes involved! We also had an interesting discussion about concussion – and agreed that league is behind when it comes to the protocols.
Inevitably we spoke about Sam Burgess; a name on lots of lips this week. Jamie’s opinion? At league Sam is probably the best player in the world; he has an amazing work ethic which means he’ll succeed. The things he does off the ball in league are the things that make him the best in the world; Jamie believes he’ll be better than any centre union has to offer at this time. Time will tell on that verdict, I for one hope he’s right.
Back to Jamie; he signed a 2 year deal with Leigh; going to Leigh has opened Jamie’s eyes to how amazing the game of rugby league can be. Joining Leigh is like joining a family with Paul Rowley as the father figure; players can talk to him about anything, he looks after them as people not just players. He looks at the talents his team has and plays to their strengths, he coaches attitude, how to be a good person. And in common with being part of a family, they want to succeed for each other. Neil Jukes, Paul Anderson, Simon Finnegan, all work very closely together with Paul they coach as a team. Derek Beaumont, the Chairman is a man with a clear vision as well as a huge passion, he’s a key part of the set up,his greatest wish is for the Centurions to be in Superleague
I asked Jamie if there was a vision for the club – he thinks the best words to show where they are and where they’re going are – ‘Win Everything’. It’s clear that Jamie has found his rugby league home at Leigh; in his words – ‘standing in front of the North stand gives me goosebumps’ – he in common with his team mates want to be the very best they can be and win for Derek, Paul and most of all the fans.