Big Interview: Wigan RL ace Josh Charnley

Josh Charnley is a star Wigan Warriors and England
Josh Charnley is a star Wigan Warriors and England
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With his heavily-tattooed arms, trendy earrings and penchant for extravagant hair cuts, Josh Charnley looks every bit rugby league’s answer to David Beckham.

But the 23-year-old Wigan Warriors winger – one of the biggest stars of Super League – is not really one for the showbiz lifestyle.

In fact, Charnley, who hails from Chorley, likes nothing better than spending his spare time breathing in the fresh air of country life at his mate’s farm.

Although his appearance does not befit the typical farmhand, the prolific try scorer escapes the pressures of top-level sport by ‘mucking about’ on the fields of Rivington, near Chorley.

Although, he is not quite the expert when it comes to rearing sheep, he is not afraid to get his hands dirty.

“I still go up to the farm every day,” Charnley said.

“It’s my neighbour’s best mate’s farm.

“I just go up there to walk my dog and relax. I can’t milk a cow or anything like that – I’m not that hands-on but I just muck about a the tractor around, it’s good.

“You have to get out of it sometimes.

“If you stay in Wigan all the time, it’s all rugby, rugby, you need to get away from it all.

“I’ve got a house on the outskirts of the village of Adlington and the farm is near Rivington.

“Nobody knows who I am up there on the farm so nobody bothers me, it’s nice.”

Charnley may well be a country boy at heart, but he comes alive when he has got a rugby ball under his arm and is racing at breakneck speed down the wing at the DW Stadium.

His rise in the sport has been nothing short of remarkable since arriving on the Super League scene in 2010.

A short spell on loan with Hull Kingston Rovers served notice of his burgeoning ability as he scored five tries in five games.

He returned to his parent club ready to make his mark for the Warriors.

And in his very first appearance for Wigan, he came off the bench to score – ironically against Hull KR.

It was the following season when he cemented a place in the Warriors starting XIII, scoring a phenomenal 28 tries in 32 appearances.

He capped a fine first full season as a regular by scoring the opening try in the Challenge Cup final as Wigan defeated Leeds Rhinos 28-18 at Wembley Stadium in front of nearly 80,000 people

His performances over the summer saw him pick up the clubs’ young player of the year award and his ability to finish tries off when the odds seemed stacked against him became his trademark.

Over the course of the next two years, Charnley smashed try-scoring records in the Super League.

In 2012, he helped Warriors to the League Leaders’ Shield and finished the campaign as the top try scorer in the country with 31 tries to his name. The following year, he became the all-time leading try scorer in a season when his mark of 43 tries smashed the previous best of 36 by Lesley Vainikolo.

His record-breaking exploits played an integral part in Wigan’s success as they defeated Warrington Wolves in the Grand Final.

They also reclaimed the Challenge Cup with a 16-0 win over Hull FC at Wembley.

Charnley admits he sometimes has to pinch himself to check if the last four or five years of his life are real.

“It’s great to be at a club as successful as Wigan are,” he said.

“You always know that you’re going to win a little bit of silverware along the way.

“But it all happened at once for me – we did the double in 2013 and since 2010, it’s been amazing

“And it’s gone so quick. I used to stand on the terraces at Wigan and I would never think that I could be out there playing for Warriors one 

“It has been a total dream come true and I’m just so happy to be here.”

And when asked what the secret is behind his prolific try scoring ratio,the flying winger was keen to deflect the credit.

“That’s all down to the boys really, it’s not really down to me,” he said.

“It’s down to the shapes we throw as a team and I’m just there to finish things off.”

If 2013 was Charnley’s best year to date, last season did not quite hit the heights both individually and as a team.

The Chorley star spent a large portion of the season on the sidelines injured, although he still managed to amass 21 tries from 20 appearances.

Wigan still managed to finish second in the Super League but they were unable to secure a second successive Grand Final victory as they lost 14-6 to the Saints.

The final was marred by Ben Flowers’ sending off early in the match for punching St Helens’ Lance Hohaia.

Flowers’ indiscretion, which resulted in him being handed a six-month suspension, had a major impact on the outcomes of the match, although Charnley believes Wigan could still have won despite their disadvantage.

“I felt we were all over St Helens in the final.

“We were getting overlaps on them, but we just let a few little decisions and a few personal errors to get in the way of things.

“If we had taken our chances and made things count, then I think we could have pipped them.

“But last season was a frustrating time for me.

“At the start of the year, I picked up a hernia right at the beginning and I was out for a long time and then I did my knee when I came back.

“So it was a bit of a bad year for me in terms of injuries.

“It’s the first time I’ve had a bad injury and it was painful to be out and having to watch the games.

“You just want to be out there helping the lads, especially when the team has lost. It’s frustrating that you are on the sidelines and not able to bring your attributes to the team.

“But you just have to take it on the chin. I worked hard and I was around a lot of good people who helped me get back on the pitch

“Hopefully this year I will be able to stay injury-free.”

Over the past few years, Charnley has also become an integral member of the national team.

He featured for England in the 2013 World Cup as the Three Lions agonisingly came up short in the semi-finals, losing 20-18 to New Zealand at Wembley.

There was further international heartache for Charnley last year as England came so close to upsetting both the Kiwis and Australia.

Despite the disappointments at international level in recent years, the Warriors’ back is confident England can taste success at the next World Cup in 2017, which is being held Down Under.

“It’s great to put on the jersey of your country, Charnley said.

“We fell just short again over in Australia and New Zealand last year.

“But we are a good set of lads and a very young squad.

“I think we will get there in the end.

“The Australians and New Zealanders are old sides, whereas we are young.

“So when they finally finish, we will be there to take over from them.

“We did fall just short last year and in the 2013 World Cup but we’ve got a few years to build on things with the 2017 World Cup coming up.

“To be fair, I think things went well for us against Australia and New Zealand, especially when you consider how young the England 
squad is.

“I’m pretty sure that we will do well in years to come.”

While Charnley has been spending quite a bit of time in the farmyard of late, he will soon be turning his attentions to the forthcoming Super League season.

Wigan begin their campaign with an away trip to Widnes Vikings on Thursday.

However, their preparations have not been the best and they have lost both their pre-season games, including last Sunday’s 28-12 defeat by St Helens at Langtree Park.

However, Charnley is confident he and his team-mates will be ready and raring to go when the new season gets under way.

“The season has come around quickly,” he said.

“We have had a tough pre-season and two tough games where we got beaten.

“But we can take a lot from those defeats and where we went wrong. We are looking forward to the first game.

“In the game against St Helens, we gave away too much ball and let them off the hook a little bit.

“We should have been doing to them what they were doing to us – using our pace and lines.

“It’s a learning curve for us, we can take a lot from those two defeats and turn them into positives.

“There’s quite a long turnaround now from the game against the Saints and to the first game of the season against Widnes, so there’s a lot to work on and a lot to fix.”

The Vikings finished inside the top eight last season and secured their place in the play-offs, although they were beaten by Warrington Wolves narrowly 22-19 at the elimination stage.

However, Charnley expects them to be a force to be reckoned with this year and will provide a stern test on the opening day of the season

He said: “Widnes seemed to have signed well and like a lot of teams in Super League, they have quite a few key players, who they will be relying on.

“So they are going to be a tough team to come up against – especially on the opening day.

“But I think it’s going to be tough for every Super League team this year – there are a lot of good sides.

“But as a team we are all itching to get some silverware this year after coming up slightly short last season.

“We’ve set our goals high this year and we want to achieve them.”

Charnley began his career at Chorley Panthers as a junior before moving to Wigan St Patrick’s as a teenager.

“I used to play football as a kid, but I was dead hyperactive and I would throw kids about who I was playing against and get sent off all the time. But I went to a game with Jamie Ellis, who plays for Huddersfield Giants now, and I fell in love with it.

“I used to play for Chorley Panthers right up until the age of 16 and then I moved to Wigan St Pat’s – from there I got picked up by Warriors.”

Charnley is thoroughly enjoying his time at Wigan, although has not ruled out switching codes or taking up a lucrative opportunity to play in Australia in the future.

“I’ve still got two years left,” he said.“When it’s the time to think about my future, I will sit down and make a decision.

“But I am happy here and I just want to concentrate on playing.”