In this week’s edition of Life after League, we caught up with former Super League tackling-machine Jon Clarke.
Jon Clarke was one of the most prolific hookers in the game, enjoying 18 long years at some of the sport’s biggest clubs.
The Lowton-born player captained Great Britain Academy before making his first-grade debut in 1997 for the Wigan Warriors, winning the Premiership in the last year before the Super League era.
He then signed for London in 2000, before being tempted back up north to join Warrington Wolves in the middle of the 2001 Super League season.
The hooker represented Great Britain in 2007 against New Zealand and was a part of the 2010 winning Challenge Cup Warrington side. He joined Widnes Vikings in 2012 following their promotion to the top division and captained the side for his three years there.
We caught up with the fan favourite, who is enjoying life on the coaching side of rugby league…
A long, successful career Jon. But what was your favourite highlight?
“It’s very difficult to pick one out. Making your debut is good, which I did in 1997 for Wigan vs Sheffield. I played international, that’s good. In particular the test series win. Challenge Cups are always good so to say one is very difficult. They are all amazing for different reasons, I can’t pick one.”
A long period at Warrington. Is this a club you hold dearly to your heart?
“Absolutely. I had 10 years here as a player and won a Challenge Cup, League Leaders and l represented Great Britain whilst I was playing at Warrington. I’m now in my third year as a member of staff and I’ve made some fantastic friends, worked with some fantastic staff and seeing the fan base grow over the years has been fantastic for the club, the town and for myself. It’s a very special place and I obviously moved away to work at Widnes at a particular time in my career but that was all part of the bigger picture. I played there for three years and worked a year as Head Strength and Conditioner. I then came back to the club where I played for such a long time. It is a very special place.”
How did you find your time at Widnes?
“I played three years and enjoyed every minute. There are fantastic people within the club. They had only just gone up to Super League so we knew what it was about and it entailed a massive task. I was captain for the club for three years and I think I did a good job of helping them grow and develop over those three years. It’s tough to see them at the minute where they are at, I still have some great friends there on and off the field. Denis is a good mate of mine and it’s tough to see someone get sacked who you’re close to.”
Do you have any regrets about your time as a player?
“I think the old saying ‘I wish I knew then what I know now’ would be appropriate for me. I could have done a few things differently but was naïve and young at the time. I still don’t know it all now and actually the more I learn the less I realise I know, but I don’t have any regrets. I’m a big believer in the things you do and mistakes you make along the way can pave the pathway for rest of your life. I take that mentality. Some massive errors at the start of my career which I’ve used positively and this has helped me become the person I am today and the father I am to my kids. It was bad at the time but if you use these situations in the right way and it can be a positive.”
When did you decide to hang up the boots?
“When I went to Widnes I knew I had two or three years left. I could have lasted longer physically but not mentally because of how meticulous I was with preparation for training and playing, there’s only so much you can handle mentally. The first year was terrible for the club and me personally in terms of the way I’ve played. The death of my brother in law affected me badly. My second year I received player of the year and felt like I could do another year. I knew during the third it was my last. I had things in place in terms of going into the performance sides. I thought about one or two more years, but I was ready for a new challenge and chapter.”
Now at Warrington as Head of Performance, how are you finding your time alongside Steve Price?
“It’s amazing. It’s amazing for players and the club and the fans and obviously us coaches on a personal level. The club has been going through this transitional period and we are now starting to see the fruits of our labour. There was lots of things to improve from top down. A few different people at board level were brought in and then obviously the new coach, which has been very refreshing for players and staff. There are new ideas which always sits well with me, it’s just a breath of fresh air. The lads bounce into work and are ready to go, a good sign of the culture and environment we are trying to create.”