Challenge Cup winner Joe Wardle is experiencing life outside of the full-time professional rugby league bubble for the first time since leaving school.
After spending his entire career in Super League and NRL, the 32-year-old has decided to drop down to playing part-time as he prepares for the next chapter of his rugby career and, ultimately, his life.
Wardle admits he knew it was time to take himself out of the full-time environment when he suffered a torn pec whilst playing for Challenge Cup winners Leigh Leopards at the start of last year.
He told Love Rugby League: “Unfortunately at the beginning of last year I did my pec before one of the games which put me out for a fair few months and then to put that alongside turning 32, I just got to the point where I couldn’t keep risking having these big injuries, so I just had a chat with my agent saying ‘I think it’s probably the right time to drop down and start preparing for life after rugby’.”
So why Oldham? What made the League 1 club stand above the rest of the sides who were interested in securing his services?
Wardle says his mind was made up after having a chat with Oldham’s managing director Mike Ford, who sold him the long-term vision of the club.
He continued: “Not too long after having the chat (with my agent) I just got a call from Mike at Oldham, saying he’d taken over and what his plan were to rebuild the club and hopefully one day of getting back to Super League.
“Just from having the chat with him, he opened my eyes up to something I could help with over a journey, so here we are today.”
Wardle will combine his playing duties with assisting head coach Sean Long alongside fellow veteran Jordan Turner, with the former Scotland international keen to get his teeth in coaching.
“As an experienced player, you do kind of coach, you help out the young kids and that sort of stuff, so I know a little bit about it but it’s something I can definitely learn more of,” Wardle said of his coaching role with Oldham.
“It’s something I’m looking to do, it’s why I took the role, and I’m going to be from Longy who has been around and done it – one of the best players who the game has ever produced over here – so there’s no better person to learn from.
“I think I’ve got a lot to give back to the game, especially to the younger generation, so I’m just going to throw myself in to it and see how it goes.”
Oldham’s ambitions of being a Super League club
The League 1 outfit have made no secret of their long-term ambitions of being a Super League club, having brought in Great Britain and St Helens legend Long as their new head coach as well as enjoying a heavy recruitment drive over the off-season, signing experienced campaigners such as Wardle, Turner, Craig Kopczak and Elijah Taylor.
Asked about where Oldham can get to as a club, Wardle replied: “I think as long as you are putting the right stuff in place, the world is your oyster but it has got to be done in the right ways. You can’t just buy success, you have to build and build and build over the years.
“As a club, the end goal is Super League, without a doubt that’s the end goal. That’s what we’re striving for and we are setting the foundations now to hopefully take the club step by step to that Super League spot.”
When asked about what he’s expecting from the competition in 2024, Wardle said :”A tough year to be honest.
“A lot of the clubs have recruited pretty decently, they might not have recruited the top end names but they’ve recruited from teams such as Wigan, the youngsters who potentially had the chance to make it so they’ve looked at different avenues, so there’ll still be lots of good teams around there.
“It’ll be a tough year but we are just going to look after what we can control and go on this journey as a club and see where it takes us.”