Jake Webster praised for impact in new off-field role and still ready for playing chance

James Gordon
Jake Webster

Picture by Tom Pearson/SWpix.com

Former New Zealand centre Jake Webster has taken on a new off-field role at Championship side Keighley Cougars.

Webster, 39, is in the twilight of his playing career and had hinted at retirement, though was handed the number 33 shirt in the Cougars’ squad numbers for the 2023 season.

His planned testimonial match against one of his former clubs, Castleford, was cruelly cancelled in January due to the weather.

He said: “I was so disappointed i had to cancel my testimonial game, it’s typical of the English weather at this time of year. Castleford have been great and we will try and get the game arranged later in the year or as part of the Cougars friendlies going in to the 2024 season.

“A big thanks to everyone who came down to try and defrost the pitch! I am still not sure if there was a hope we might be able to get it defrosted, but regardless it meant a lot to me to see so many people helping to get my game on.”

Still ready to play if needed

Jake Webster, who played for Melbourne Storm and Gold Coast Titans in the NRL, made 12 appearances in Keighley’s unbeaten romp to the League 1 title last year.

He first came to the UK in 2008 with Hull KR, where he made 105 appearances, and has also featured for Bradford and York.

There was talk that his testimonial game might have been his last, and though he is yet to make an appearance this season, he confirmed recently to the Telegraph & Argus that he will very much be ready to spring in to action.

Webster said: “On the field, I will be there if needed because you just don’t know how the season is going to go. Injuries play a big part and it’s going to be a longer season than a lot of the boys have played, so I need to make sure I’m readily available if needed.”

Hitting the ground running

As well as his back office role as commercial executive, which he started in September, Jake Webster is also making a transition into coaching as part of Rhys Lovegrove’s off-field team.

Cougars owners Ryan O’Neill and Kaue Garcia said: “Jake has hit the ground running in his roles as Commercial Executive. The impact he has made in bringing increased sponsorship in, as well as bringing in new sponsors has been phenomenal. He was a star on the pitch, now he is spreading his stardust around the off-field role too.

In Lynne, Steven and Jake, we have a formidable team to run the business side of the club – this puts us in great stead for the future.”

Keighley have recently appointed a new General Manager in Lynne Conlin, formerly of Charlton Athletic, with Steven Watkinson appointed as media and administrative manager.

O’Neill and Garcia also paid tribute to their player of the year from the invincible 2022 campaign, Jack Miller, who has left Cougar Park to join Championship rivals Newcastle Thunder.

O’Neill added in his programme notes at the weekend: “Jack has been inspiring both on and off the pitch, and I am proud to call him a friend. Always with a smile and a cheeky chappy attitude,  no one can ever feel miserable with Jack around.

“It is entirely understandable that Jack wants the consistency to be in the starting 17 for matches , and for this reason he saw that opportunity being more likely at Newcastle than here at Keighley at present. Jack’s loyalty to the club, and his huge part in securing promotion is something we will always be grateful for –  despite moving on, he will always remain a friend to us, and to the club.

We are privileged to have a sqaud that is strong in depth and talent, with the excellent recruitment carried out by Rhys and Hendo in the run up to our Championship return. That means no player is guaranteed a spot, but every week they have to challenge for their place.

As I spoke to Jack on Sunday evening, after learning of his move to Newcastle, I gave him the message that he will always be loved by this club, and that if the opportunity opened up he would always have a place here.”