Craig Salmon talks to former Preston Grasshoppers ace and new England recruit Mike Haley
If '“ or more likely when '“ Mike Haley pulls on the white shirt bearing the red rose of England later this year, there are sure to be a few glasses raised in his honour in the bar at Lightfoot Lane.
The 22-year-old was this week named in Eddie Jones’ England squad for the autumn internationals against South Africa, Fiji, Argentina and Australia.
As a former Preston Grasshoppers youth team product who progressed to the first team, Haley – who now plays for Sale Sharks in the Premiership – is on the cusp of following in the footsteps of an esteemed list of former players.
Wade Dooley, Will Greenwood, Steve Borthwick, Iain Balshaw and Paul Grayson are just a few ex-Hoppers who have all become internationals after wearing the famous navy blue and white stripes.
“Preston Grasshoppers has been a huge part of my life,” Haley said.
“I started playing for them when I was 8-years-old and continued with them in the juniors right up until the Under-16s.
“Initially, my old man used to play down at Hoppers and I used to go down and watch him.
“When I first started playing, I just enjoyed playing with my mates.
“I quickly came to the realisation that I was awful at football, so I had try something else and gave rugby a go.”
Indeed Haley’s roots at Hoppers run deep.
His dad Tim is something of a club stalwart having starred for the first team for many years as a player and his accountancy firm is the current first-team sponsors.
Haley joked: “My dad is a bit of a club legend or a self described club legend.
“But seriously, he’s been connected with the club for many years.
“He played for them and actually sponsors the firsts now.
“My mum and dad still live in Fulwood so I come back to Preston regularly.
“I have still got quite a few mates like Harry Moulding and Sam Gale, who still play for the Hoppers and I try to get down to watch them play when I can.”
After joining Sale Sharks academy, Haley was signed on a dual registration with Hoppers and made his senior debut for the club as a fresh-faced teenager.
The full-back then played a number of games for Hoppers during the 2012/13 season where he benefited from playing alongside Rugby League legend Sean Long.
“After coming through the juniors at Hoppers, I went to college and then started in the academy at Sale,” the Former Hutton Grammar School pupil said.
“But it was nice to come back and play for Hoppers.
“In that season I spent in the first team, it was when the club signed Sean Long and people like Karl Fitzpatrick were in the team.
“The chance to play alongside them was a really great experience.”
Haley first came on the radar of England coach Jones last season when he was called up on a training camp in May. However, he has spent much of this season on the sidelines after injuring his shoulder over the summer while on tour.
Happily, he returned to the Sharks team this month, but admits he was slightly surprised to receive the call-up so soon after his return.
“I’m obviously thrilled to get the call-up after being injured this season,” he said.
“I dislocated my shoulder when I was on tour over the summer.
“I had to have surgery and have the shoulder pinned so I’ve been working hard to come back from that.
“That’s all I have been concentrating on.
“I managed to get back involved at Sale in October and I’ve played the last three games now.
“I’ve managed to get rid of the rustiness and have happened to be picked which is obviously great.
“I did get called up earlier this year for a training camp and had obviously been in touch with Eddie.
“But after getting injured, I hadn’t heard too much from him so it’s a little bit of a surprise.”
The fact that Sale have an important Premiership fixture away at Bristol today means Haley has not had too much time to digest his selection.
In any case, he still has much work ahead of him to force his way into Jones’ matchday squad.
“It’s not really sunk in yet. I have still got a job to do with Sale – we have got a big game this weekend against Bristol, so all my focus is on that at the minute,” he said.
“Obviously it was great to hear about the call-up but I’ve not really had too much chance to think about it.
“I am sure once I get this game out of the way and we get the right result, I can start thinking about it.
“But I am not getting too carried away.
“I’ve been put in the squad – I’ve not been picked for the team.
“I have got a lot of hard work ahead of me before I can think about playing against South Africa next month.”
Whether Haley makes the team or not, the full-back admits it is an exciting time to be part of the England set-up.
Since the abject failure in the 2015 World Cup, new head coach Jones has presided over a bright new dawn.
The former Austalia boss – who suffered World Cup final heartache at the hands of Clive Woodward’s England team in 2003 – has enjoyed an unbeaten start to his tenure.
Over the summer, he helped his new charges to a historic whitewash victory over his home country Down Under.
“It’s definitely a great time to be part of the England squad at the moment,” Haley said.
“They have done brilliantly over the last year and are unbeaten under Eddie since he took over.
“They did great on tour over the summer beating Australia three times and there’s a lot of great players in the squad.
“It’s nice to be part of that and I’m looking forward to hopefully continuing that unbeaten run in the autumn internationals.”
Haley is one of six uncapped players to be selected by Jones which illustrates the depth of England’s injury list at the moment.
Haley knows there are a lot of established players out injured on the sidelines, but he is determined to make the most of this opportunity.
“It’s a tough sport is rugby union – injuries happen a lot,” said Haley, who will be heading off to Portugal next for the training camp ahead of the South Africa game.
“It’s unfortunate for the lads who are injured at the moment but I have got to try to make the most of this opportunity.
“Hopefully on this camp coming up after this weekend I can do as well as I can and put myself in a good place going forward.
“I have absolutely no idea whether I will play in the matches.
“The fact that I have been picked in the squad gives me a chance.
“I will be working as hard as I can to put myself in the best possible position to be picked.
“Eddie’s a great coach and he will certainly have a plan heading into the autumn internationals.
“I will be doing the best I can to force my way into his plans.”