We continue our interview with Alan Hunte on his playing career and this week he talks about his time at Warrington and Salford and his international career.
The first part of this interview, covering his time with Wakefield, St Helens and Hull, can be read here.
What are your memories of playing with Allan Langer and Tawera Nikau at Warrington?
I signed for less money, but got a three-year deal at Warrington. Darryl van de Velde scared me a bit. He wanted to sign me when he was coaching Castleford and I was at Wakefield and I just remember those massive hands. Ten years later, I wasn’t so scared, but he still had an aura! They had finished below Hull in 1998 but were moving forward with the new ground to come. Toa Kohe-Love scored tries for fun in 1999, but I wasn’t far behind. We got a lot better and then they signed Langer, Nikau and Andrew Gee for the 2000 season. I just thought I’d believe that when I see him. Four weeks later I was in the stands at St Helens with Alfie watching a play-off against Castleford! I played against him in the 1994 Ashes and drank a beer with him. He was a great guy, a real joke. His skills were unquestionable. I didn’t care what he was paid because it was great to play with him. He didn’t mind a beer, but he was very professional and serious on game days. Tawera was also a big shock. I had just watched him in the NRL Grand Final, and I still don’t understand how he didn’t win Man of the Match. He was an incredible player. It was special to play with these players.
We had some great days but we just didn’t have the consistency. Danny Nutley was superb and he became a State of Origin player. Toa was great. Lee Briers was already a prodigious talent. We had serious firepower. We beat Bradford in an amazing game in 2000 after having a big lead. We also blew Wigan, Saints and Leeds. I scored my 250th try and 1000th point at Warrington, and I have lots of happy memories, but they didn’t renegotiate after three years, so I went to Salford with terrible money, but I just wanted to carry on to play !
You had two seasons with Salford, during which you experienced relegations and promotions.
Relegation was horrible. I had gone long periods without a win at Hull, so I had the experience of being on the wrong side of the table. My body felt good at the start of the year, but was broken by the end. My training was a lightweight captain race. Then I would play and take days to recover. It was really difficult. I had my knee washed in pre-season when I signed for them. I went out injured in the first game and missed the next one. I was swimming uphill in the first half of the season and then had an absolute shock against Leeds and got the shepherd’s hook. Well Named! I was drowning. Steve McCormack let me down. I said nothing. He was sacked and Steve Simms took over. Halfway through the season, I still hadn’t scored a try. I was really struggling. I had knocked Salford out of the Challenge Cup with a late try for Warrington in a BBC game, so I wasn’t liked by the fans anyway! I had three weeks off and my body improved a bit. We lost in Hull, but I scored. Karl Harrison arrived and I was not an automatic choice. My last Super League game was at Warrington, and I scored two. I injured myself attempting my hat-trick. I was not in shape for the last match, which we had to win to stay in shape. We ran near Castleford, but got downhill. The contracts were torn up. The club had to adapt to life in the National League.
Have you been tempted to leave?
No! I felt obligated to make things right and help them get a promotion. I wanted to be part of it. It was the best decision I ever made because it was one of the happiest seasons I’ve ever had in the game. I felt healthier. Both knees were washed pre-season and I was running pain free for the first time in 12 months. I liked playing for Rhino. I was on the coaching staff, helping out at the Academy. Leigh was going to be our closest competitor. Rhino was getting so nervous before we played them! We played them seven times that season, including the Arriva Trains Cup, the league and the play-offs.
One memory I have is beating Gateshead at the Arriva by 90 then 100 in our two games. It was hard to watch the Gateshead players leave the field and I took nothing away from those games, but I enjoyed seeing Karl Fitzpatrick come into the team and score his first try. It meant so much to him. We called him the wasp because he was everywhere. His story is phenomenal and he is now the CEO of a big club.
My last match was against Leigh in the Grand Final. Beating them and earning a promotion was a nice way to come out as a player. If you’re lucky, you can retire on your terms, and I’ve always understood that. I ended up staying 14 years in Salford, which is the longest of my life. I coached players like Stefan Ratchford, Mark Sneyd and Jordan Turner.
You have won 15 Great Britain caps.
When I was young, my dentist in Wakefield was Jim Bowden, who was on the Lions tour in 1954. He had the tour picture in his office, the panoramic picture they always used to take. I used to watch it and dreamed of being in a picture like that one day. I thought I had a chance to shoot in 1990, but I was disappointed with my form at the end of the season. Some younger children were selected because there had been a lot of dropouts, but I didn’t deserve to go there in the end.
I scored on my debut for Britain against France in March 1992 and then went on the Lions Tour with players like Ellery Hanley, Martin Offiah, Shaun Edwards, Andy Gregory and Garry Schofield. We had an abundance of talent that was among the best in the world. I was 21, so still young, but more than confident against these guys at club level. Spending time with them and getting to know them personally was great. A Lions visit is the best visit you can take. The BARLA one was wonderful, but it was the absolute pinnacle.
My second cap was the 1992 World Cup final. I was extremely proud, but unfortunately our sport doesn’t get the coverage it deserves for something so important. It was also such a close game. I made a big mistake, which gave them the ball. This did not lead to the trial right away. When Australia dropped the ball, they got out of trouble. We did that earlier in the game too. But in Australia’s next set, we couldn’t defend them. It was a great ball from Kevvie Walters and a great run from Steve Renouf. That was all there was to it.
Started all three Ashes Tests of 1994.
We knew we were capable of winning. Ellery was a great coach. He was still a player at Leeds and he had the respect of all the players. I was top of the tryscoring charts playing on the wing. I knew Martin would be on the left wing, so I figured it would be between Jason Robinson and me on the right. When Ellery read, “number two Jason Robinson”, I was crushed and stopped listening. When he finished, Gary Connolly congratulated me. I had missed hearing my name read as number four! Ellery told me he had to pick me because of my form, which was great to hear. Chris Joynt was also out of position at the prop, but it worked out at Wembley. We did a decent job on the show, but we missed Jiffy after he got injured at Wembley. His tryout that day was amazing. Everyone on the pitch was capable of shining at club level, but only a few can do so in a Test match at Wembley. Brett Mullins and I pushed ourselves a bit pushing and shoving the ball game before the try. Brett almost made it back in time to attack Jiffy, but not quite, so I like to think the try was mine!
How do you view the 1996 Lions Tour? You were in great shape personally, but the tour ended with players being sent home to save the RFL money.
It was a mess. We took care of each other in Saints, so we couldn’t believe it when it happened. There weren’t many in 1996 who had toured before – just Bobbie, Daryl, Denis and me. We have started well in Papua New Guinea and Fiji. We should have won the first test in New Zealand. Keith Senior became a great player, but came on as a substitute at center and got lost several times, and John Timu scored two late tries. The second test was also very close. Sending the players home did not suit us. They should have found a way to prevent this from happening. Jimmy Lowes was one of the players and he won the Man of Steel the following season. He was probably the most experienced player sent home and he was in disbelief.
Playing for your country is the greatest honor and I was selected again in every game against Australia in 1997. I thought I had a good run. We went into the decision at 1-1, as had been the case in 1994 and 1992 when I had been on the team. We knew we would make history if we won, but we didn’t. Mal, Ellery, Phil Larder and Andy Goodway have all chosen me for Great Britain, and it’s a great honor.
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