Big Interview: Chorley Panthers star Ethan Fitzgerald has signed a professional deal with Wigan Warriors
Craig Salmon talks to former Chorley Panthers rugby league star Ethan Fitzgerald who has been signed by Wigan Warriors
When Ethan Fitzgerald left school a year or so ago, like any young adult of that age, the questions on his lips was, ‘What comes next’?
Should he go to college or sixth form with a view to going to university or perhaps look for an apprenticeship with an employer?
After much deliberation, the Chorley lad decided the best course of action for his future was the latter and last year he became an apprentice prop shaft fitter.
While a sensible and intelligent career move that may be, like any youngster, Fitzgerald was still dreaming big.
A member of Chorley Panthers rugby league club from a very young age, the former Holy Cross High School pupil harboured a burning ambition to become a professional player.
And that dream edged a step closer to reality last month when he signed pro terms with arguably the biggest RL club in the world – Wigan Warriors.
It is a fairy-tale story for the 17-year-old, but his elevation to the professional ranks has certainly not gone to his head.
While he will devote all the necessary time needed over the next few years to becoming the best rugby player he can be, he is still keen to continue with his apprenticeship to some degree just in case things do not quite go to plan with the Warriors.
“I work at North West Prop Shafts, which is in Coppull,” said Fitzgerald.
“My boss Michael Gallery has always supported me with my rugby since I started working there. He’s been great. He always said that I could leave work whenever I needed to and I have had to leave at various times during the working day.
“He has really supported me in my dream to get signed on by Wigan.
“I am on a four-year apprenticeship which means I go to college every Friday.
“But other than that I am here working from 8am to 4.45pm.
“We make and repair prop shafts for vehicles.
“We do removal and refits. A vehicle comes in, we remove the prop shaft and then see what is wrong with it and then repair it.
“My priority is my rugby career with Wigan but I am hoping to continue with my apprenticeship and make sure I get my qualifications.
“You never know what may happen in the future.
“I might get injured...it just means I will have something to fall back on and that’s important. Wigan are keen that I continue to do that.
“But I am proud and honoured to get signed on by Wigan – it’s the biggest club in the world.
“I used to watch Wigan as a kid. I would go to the games or watch them on TV.
“I used to look up to players like Zak Hardaker, Oliver Gildart, Liam Marshall, Jake Bibby. It’s dream come true so I want to make the most of it.”
A back who is comfortable on the wing, full-back or at centre, Fitzgerald has already had a taste of what it is like to operate at the highest level.
He has taken part in training sessions alongside Warriors’ big names, including his boyhood heroes Hardaker Gildart, Bibby, Marshall and the rest.
“I have already trained with the first team,” said Fitzgerald, who has been attached to Warriors’ youth set-up for a number of years.
“I think that is great for someone like myself who is in the academy. It can only help me improve and develop because you look at them and want to follow in their footsteps and make it to the top.
“When we trained alongside them, I found it very tough, but that’s what you want.
“It’s exciting to come up against these kind of players.
“The level of difference in terms of myself and them is massive, and it shows how far I have got to go.
“But it makes you want to dedicate and work hard so that you can get to their level.”
While Fitzgerald is still at the development stage, he believes he has the ability to learn fast and sees no reason why he can’t push for first-team contention at the Warriors in the near future.
“It is possible within the next couple of years that I could play for the first team,” he added. “Ultimately I want to establish myself with Wigan and play for England and Great Britain – that is the dream.”
Fitzgerald’s burgeoning rugby league career began when he was barely taller than the oval shaped object he was throwing and kicking.
His dad took him down to a Panthers training session at the age of five and he has never looked back since.
“I owe Chorley Panthers a lot,” he said.”My parents as well have been very supportive. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am now. They have helped massively in my journey.
“The training and matches I have played with my team-mates and the help I had off the coaches has made me the player that I am.
“I have made a lot of friends at the Panthers and they will always be my friends in the future.
“Some of the best times have been going with the Panthers on away trips to Cumbria and other places.
“That’s how you form friendships and I have loved playing for the club.”
Chorley Panthers chairman Peter Bridge revealed it was a feather in the club’s cap to see one of its own, Ethan Fitzgerald, win a professional deal with Wigan Warriors.
The 17-year-old follows in the footsteps of fellow Panthers, current St Helens’ ace Jamie Ellis and Warriors star Josh Charnley.
“This is a proud day for the Panthers and we are delighted that Ethan has been offered a contract by Wigan, he deserves it and I’m sure he will progress and we look forward to seeing him stepping out at the DW Stadium.”
Panthers coaches Gary and Neil Prescott said that from a very early age they could see he had what it takes to make the professional ranks. His skill level combined with his pace and commitment have enabled him to develop into a class act.
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