Atkin seizing his Super League opportunity

James Gordon

If it was up to the system, Hull KR’s Chris Atkin probably would have been lost from rugby league.

Too old to play for the Under 19s, and behind Tom Gilmore and Danny Craven in the pecking order, Atkin was released by hometown club Widnes – due to salary cap constraints and the lack of a reserve grade.

There are no doubt many players like Atkin who had been through a club system and then were dropped at 19 due to clubs not having the space to carry them in their squad to farm them out on dual-registration.

It is why there are so many calls to make a mandatory reserve grade – or even adjust the current academy set up to ensure players over age can continue on their rugby league journey.

For Atkin, now a qualified PE teacher, it was only when he started playing again at Liverpool John Moore’s University that he kept in touch with rugby league, turning down offers to go and play rugby union.

Eventually, he’d hook up with Swinton on a part-time basis under John Duffy, who would have been in the Widnes first team when Atkin was a 16-year-old, and led them to promotion to the Championship.

Playing under Duffy’s enterprising style, Atkin caught the eye, despite the Lions struggling in the table, and he would go on to score 721 points in 100 appearances for the club.

Not only did his exploits on the pitch help the Lions, he can also stake at least some responsibility for keeping the club in business – Hull KR opted to pay a five-figure fee for his services last July, having already agreed a deal to sign him for 2018.

He helped them secure promotion to Super League and then on his debut, won man of the match in the round two game against Leeds.

A month later, he was called up to the England Knights Performance Squad and now, a year on from his move to Hull KR, he has 22 top flight appearances under his belt.

Last week, he played at his hometown club – opposite a player Widnes kept ahead of him all those years ago – and came away with a win.

Atkin said: “It was a proud moment for myself coming back to my hometown and playing a part in Hull KR getting a win.

“I’m proud for my family. They’ve stuck with me through some of my low points over the last few years but I’m just made up to be playing Super League rugby.

“It’s been tough. It’s not been plain sailing. I found it tough with the step up in training day to day but I’ve really enjoyed it.

“I’ve moved over to Hull now and I travel back and to to Widnes but I’m just loving being a full time player and being able to have the opportunity to play in Super League.

“For any young half back, to be able to play with the likes of Danny McGuire, Shaun Lunt and Tommy Lee, those players you’ve watched week in week out over the last few years is great.

“It’s a real honour to wear the shirt and just learn from them day to day.”

Atkin’s progress is testament to his own ability and dedication, in spite of the circumstances within the game that may have conspired against him.