Ben Westwood: Yorkshire lad done good on wrong side of the Pennines

 

If you had said to Ben Westwood 10 years ago, that he would be winning Challenge Cups, appearing in Grand Finals and playing for England in the next decade, he wouldn’t have believed it.

But Bradford-born Westwood, now 32, has carved out a fine career as a much-feared and coveted – he was shortlisted for the Man of Steel award last season – back-rower playing on the other side of the Pennines for Warrington, as one of the main stays at a club which has transformed itself from Super League also rans to title challengers.

When he joined from Wakefield in 2002, the Wolves were involved in a relegation battle which could have seen them drop out of rugby league’s top flight for the first time in their proud history.

Fast forward 10 or so years, and Westwood is now enjoying his testimonial year for service to one club, virtually unheard of in the game these days, for a team that has won three of the last four Challenge Cup finals.

“I never thought in a million years I’d have it at Warrington,” said Westwood. “With being a Yorkshire lad, I never thought I would stay here for this long.

“But when it got to five or six years, we ended up moving over and I like it here, it’s been a good 10 years.

“Even though the success has only been of late, and we’ve only just started winning trophies, we had some good times in the early days, maybe for the wrong reasons, but it’s been enjoyable.”

Westwood, then playing at centre, cost £60,000, and followed Australian half-back Nathan Wood, himself a £30,000 buy, from Belle Vue to Wilderspool, and went on to score six tries in 13 appearances as Paul Cullen guided the Wolves to safety.

Largely featuring on the wing or at centre, Westwood played 44 games in the next two seasons, playing against his former club in both the last ever game at Wilderspool, and the first game at the brand new Halliwell Jones Stadium, one of the major catalysts in the club’s rise in recent years.

It was in 2005 that Cullen decided to move Westwood in to the pack, and he’s never looked back.

He added: “I think moving in to the forwards was a big part (in staying). I started playing rugby how I wanted to play, and I was enjoying how I was playing, so I signed a pretty long contract and it pretty much moved on from there. 

“Warrington have always had ambition, they’ve always brought big players in, and it’s always been nice to be a part of it.

“We would sit down with Simon Moran and look at the players we were thinking of bringing in, and the club has always wanted to be something, and finally we’re getting there – we’re not quite where we want to be yet, but we’re not far off.”

Westwood was a virtual ever present in the four years up to 2008, with his performances earning him international honours for England, making his debut at the 2008 World Cup against New Zealand. He has gone on to make 13 further appearances, although sat out last season’s Autumn International Series to give him the best chance of making Steve McNamara’s squad for the 2013 World Cup.

“Part of the reason I pulled out was to give my injury a good rest, and set me up for a good year building in to the World Cup. I feel fresh at the minute, and I’m hoping that will put me in good stead for a good year.

“We’ve got as good a chance as anyone else. We’ve got some great players and some great youngsters coming through, and every player in the England set-up is getting better and better each year, and the more years we go on, the better we’re going to get. I’m looking forward to playing at the World Cup, if selected.”

But first, Westwood is focused on adding the elusive Super League Grand Final winners ring to his ever growing medal collection. After winning in the 2009, 2010 and 2012 Challenge Cup finals, the Wolves tasted defeat in their first appearance at Old Trafford, beaten 26-18 by Leeds. 

That added to the frustration of faltering in the play-offs having finished top of the Super League regular season table the season before, and while admitting it was disappointed, Westwood says Warrington are determined to go one better in 2013.

“It was disappointing, but we’re all over it now. It was hard, especially as we’d been to Wembley three times and won, but we’ll learn from it and hopefully go one step further in the near future and get that Grand Final win.”

Asked whether they needed the Super League title to go down as one of the great teams in at least Warrington’s rugby league history, he added: “I think so, maybe. For us to win three out of four Challenge Cups is a massive achievement, but to go out and win a Grand Final would make it a lot more special. I think if we can do that, it’s a team for the future that they can look back on and think ‘wow, what a great team.'”

And after more than 250 appearances in the primrose and blue, Westwood still has plenty left in the tank – he’s contracted at the Halliwell Jones Stadium until the end of 2015.

In the meantime, he’s busy with a variety of events surrounding his testimonial year, for more information, visit http://www.benniewestwood.co.uk/

 

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