My First Game: “They weren’t shy about throwing a forearm!”

James Gordon

One of Super League’s most recognisable characters, Eorl Crabtree, retired at the end of 2016 as a one-club man – making 423 appearances for Huddersfield.

He made his debut in 2001, the year the Giants were relegated from Super League, playing four games off the bench at the age of 18, suffering defeat on all four occasions.

His debut came away at London Broncos, where he lined up alongside Steve McNamara, Richard Marshall, Paul Rowley and Chris Thorman, against a Broncos side that featured prolific centre Tony Martin, Dennis Moran, Steele Retchless and Jon Clarke.

Crabtree said: “I remember being hit round the head, that is about the extent of what I remember!

“I got a great opportunity to play under Tony Smith, it was a tough introduction to rugby league, there were some big boys back then.

“The game’s changed a little bit, they weren’t shy about throwing the forearm around your head, it was part and parcel of the game, and I’d have probably got a few more penalties if it was in today’s game.”

After their relegation, Huddersfield would romp to the 2002 Northern Ford Premiership title, winning 26 and drawing one of their 27 games.

Eorl Crabtree

It sounds bizarre now, but Crabtree actually starred as a centre and scored 25 tries as the Giants finished top of the pile and then earned an immediate return to the top flight by beating Leigh in the Grand Final.

He said: “We dropped down and Tony Smith said we haven’t got a centre, could I play in one of the friendlies in that position and we’ll get somebody in, so I was like ‘yeah of course’ and I played well, scored a couple of tries.

“We had another trial game and I played there again and we got to start of the season and we still didn’t have anyone, so they said we’re going to have to go with you!

“I played a full season there, I had Hefin O’Hare as my winger and he scored 36 tries and was top try scorer in the league.

“We didn’t lose a game, we drew once with Whitehaven, it was an absolutely fantastic year.

“I was frustrated I never even got nominated for young player of the year, I still think that was unbelievable, that might have been the only award that I’d have got!”

Crabtree would forge himself as a fearsome forward on his return to Super League and he would go on to play for the Giants in their 2006 Challenge Cup final defeat to St Helens and then again in the 2009 defeat to Warrington.

He played for England in the 2009 and 2010 Four Nations, helped the Giants finish top of Super League in 2013, a year in which he also appeared in the Super League Dream Team.

Crabtree added: “There’s some tough blokes that I played against, especially when I was younger. It stood me in good stead for the future and I wasn’t scared to go up against those guys.

“Stepping back up into Super League was another level, I moved further into the pack in to the second row and I think Dave Furner and Wayne McDonald both put their shoulder on me in one of the first games and basically knocked me on my backside and I realised quite quickly that I had stepped up a level here and it took me a few years to get around it physically.

“Even though I was a big kid and 6’5”, I wasn’t particularly strong, it took me to get to my mid 20s and nearly 30 before I really felt like I’d fully matured and thought I could handle myself.

“The scariest time for me was walking out against Bradford in their heyday when Stuart Fielden was the best player in the world, he walked out, then you had wingers Tevita Vaikon and Lesley Vainikolo, Shontayne Hape in the centres and the pack was like Mike Forshaw and they’d just run with their elbow to your face and walking out against them when you’re 21, 22, that was a scary thought, it took a few years before I could dish a few hits back!”

Eorl Crabtree

Eorl Crabtree’s “My First Game” – London Broncos 43-12 Huddersfield Giants

London: Richie Barnett, Nigel Roy (1G), Tony Martin (7G), Greg Fleming (1T), Marvin Golden (1G), Jim Dymock (1T), Dennis Moran (1DG), Scott Cram, Jason Hetherington (1G), Tony Mestrov, Shane Millard, Steele Retchless, Mat Toshack (1T). Subs: Brett Warton, Michael Gillett (1G), Jon Clarke, Justin Dooley.

Huddersfield: Graham Appo (1T), Andrew Frew, Dale Cardoza, Brandon Costin, Ben Cooper, Chris Thorman, Ben Kusto, Steve Molloy, Paul Rowley, Dale Laughton, David Lomax (1T), David Atkins, Steve McNamara (2G). Subs: Mark Moxon, Eorl Crabtree, Richard Marshall, Chris Molyneux.