Lee Briers: My time in Carcassonne was the making of me

Lee Briers in action for Warrington in 2005

It would take a real rugby league anorak to know Lee Briers played for French side Carcassonne.

In 1996, a baby-faced Briers was waiting in the wings for his chance in the St Helens first team when Carcassonne came knocking, who at the time had a close relationship with Saints.

Briers, who had just turned 18, jumped at the opportunity to experience life in France and gain his first chance to play against fully grown men.

He recalled: “Saints had a connection with Carcassonne and they asked if there were any lads who wanted to go out and spend the season with Carcassonne.

“There were four of us who went – Nick Devine, Danny Rigby, Richard Shields and myself. It was probably the best thing I’ve ever done.

“It was absolutely brilliant. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into but the club looked after us immensely.

“I still lived with my mum and dad at the time and my mum did everything for me so to go over there and get some life experiences kind of made me grow up very quickly. It was great.

“I remember landing there on a Thursday evening and Carcassonne gave me the keys to a car – I’d never driven a car in England never mind in France!”

Briers came through the ranks at hometown club St Helens

It didn’t take long for Briers to make a name for himself in the French game, with silky performances seeing him being named Player of the Week in the local paper several weeks on the bounce.

Briers made no secret of the fact that he thought his move to Carcassonne was the making of him as a player.

He added: “Back in them days anything went so you had to know how to protect yourself. Anything went and some of the brawls were just mental but it was the making of me.

“I just saw it as a really good opportunity to advance my career. I’d only played academy level rugby in 95 and 96 so once I turned 18 I thought my next step should be playing against men.

“I just thought that I could get a head start in playing against men and it worked out great for me.”

Briers won 23 caps for Wales during his career

Briers was meant to spend the full season with Carcassonne from September to May, but when he returned home to spend Christmas with his family he found out he would be playing for the St Helens first team in a Boxing Day clash against rivals Wigan.

Things could have turned out very differently though as Carcassonne offered him a lucrative long-term deal to stay in the South of France.

He explained: “When I was due to go back, there was a three-year deal to sign with Carcassonne for absolutely unbelievable money.

“At the time I had just met my girlfriend who is my partner now in the August so after a month she came and stayed. She was only meant to come for a week but she ended up staying for the rest of the time which was two months. The club put my missus up with me.

“They then offered me a three-year deal with a house with a swimming pool and it was a really lucrative deal.

“But I came back to Saints at Christmas and was going to go back out and I probably was going to sign but obviously when I came back to Saints I got my debut so that kind of got put to bed.”

Briers made six first team appearances for hometown club St Helens before going on to become a legend at Warrington, scoring more than 2,500 points in 425 games for the Wolves over 16 seasons. He hung up his boots on a stellar career in 2013 and became a coach.

Briers is now an assistant coach at Warrington

Briers looks back on his spell with the Canaries with the fondest of memories and even thought about having one final season there before injury cut his career short.

He added: “It was the making of me because I had to really grow up. It toughened me up and I would definitely recommend to players to go out there and experience it.

“It was really professional over there and I cannot speak highly enough of them. The chairman and his wife used to come to our apartment every week, fill our fridge with food, they gave us vouchers for food places and they gave us everything. They looked after us and to this day I still watch them and follow them closely.

“When we went to Catalans some fans from Carcassonne came down and met me and presented me with a Carcassonne shirt with ‘Briers 6’ on the back. I’ve got really fond memories.

“I’ve been back to Carcassonne a few times. I played there with Warrington and Wales and it is a club that will always have a place in my heart.

“Before I retired through injury, I wouldn’t have minded going back and having one last season playing there and finishing there. Maybe one day I’ll coach there, you never know.”

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