Former Wales fly-half Gavin Henson will become a target in rugby league, according to his former coach Clive Griffiths, who is also tipping him to make his mark in the 13-man code.
Henson is coming out of retirement to play for third-tier part-timers West Wales Raiders and, at 39, is set to make his debut in the prestigious Challenge Cup against former winners Widnes on the weekend of March 20.
“It’s typical Gav, he doesn’t mind a challenge,” Griffiths, who coached Henson at Swansea in 2000 when he was also coach of the Wales Rugby League World Cup team, said.
“He isn’t afraid of facing things head on. He did the swim in an icy lake (on TV reality show 71 Degrees North), didn’t he?
“This obviously appeals to him and, knowing Gavin, he will give it 100%. He’s a fit lad, very similar to Alun Wyn Jones, he’s evergreen.
“He’s going to be targeted, he’s going to be hit in double and treble tackles, but he knows that. I spoke to him by text yesterday.
“He’s a tough lad. It won’t faze him at all, he’s cool. I just hope he enjoys it, I’m sure he will make a mark.”
Swansea-born Griffiths switched codes in 1979 and spent eight years in rugby league as a player with St Helens and Salford before coaching the national team and knows what Henson can expect.
Griffiths also made his debut against Widnes, when he says he was thrown in at the deep end and sank, and had the misfortune to break an arm in his second match against Warrington.
“He’ll learn a few lessons along the way but at least he will have had some training now,” Griffiths said. “I signed late on the Friday and I played on the Sunday.
“I’d never played a ball in my life until Sunday morning on Roy Mathias’ front lawn.
“I went in against Widnes, who were the cup kings at that particular time, and it was the longest 80 minutes of my life.”
In his first interview since his unveiling as a Raiders player, Henson said he heeded the advice of Griffiths back in 2000 to bide his time as Super League clubs began to take an interest in acquiring his services.
Wigan and St Helens were the standout clubs at the time, but Griffiths says Henson could have had his pick of the Super League.
“I remember the conversation,” he said. “I said ‘you don’t need to go now, the world is your oyster’ and within five years he went from making his debut for Swansea to becoming a British Lion.
“I basically told him there were some great clubs up north. Wigan and St Helens were one and two at the time but you had Warrington, Leeds, Bradford, Hull and Halifax, there were any number of clubs he could have gone to.
“There were not many who could have afforded him, but it was a very vibrant Super League at the time and he could have taken his pick.
“He could have been equally at home at Warrington. I spent some of the best years of my career at Warrington. I would have advocated Warrington in a heartbeat for him.”