Rugby league’s family connections are aplenty, and include the Wardle brothers Joe & Jake, with more than 250 Super League appearances between the pair.
Elder statesman Joe, 32, is now at the back end of his career, and this off-season he has taken up a player-coach role with ambitious League 1 outfit Oldham.
The veteran’s competitive debut for the Roughyeds in their 1895 Cup victory against Championship outfit Halifax Panthers yesterday took his club tally up to seven, with that including Newcastle Knights having enjoyed a crack at the NRL in 2017.
But for younger sibling Jake, after a move to Wigan Warriors this time last year, the world remains his oyster. In his first year at the DW Stadium, the 25-year-old was crowned a Super League champion, winning the Harry Sunderland Trophy with a man of the match showing at Old Trafford against Catalans Dragons.
2023 also saw Jake lift the League Leaders’ Shield with the Warriors in a debut campaign at the club that brought a selection in the Super League Dream Team.
And had it not been for his older brother, the case may well have been that none of that would have happened, with Joe the one pushing his brother to depart Huddersfield Giants for the opportunity that lay ahead with Wigan.
The role elder sibling Joe Wardle played in brother Jake’s move to Wigan Warriors: ‘He probably needed that change of scenery’
Love Rugby League caught up with 32-year-old Joe earlier this month at the Championship & League 1 launch, held at Wakefield Trinity’s newly-renovated Belle Vue.
Joe himself scooped silverware in 2023, winning the Challenge Cup with Leigh Leopards as they finished 5th in Super League in their first year back in the big time.
He told us: “I told him (Jake) he should have done this a long time ago, you can ask him! Last year was fantastic for him, and obviously for us as a family, it was a perfect year.
“I’m really proud of him as a brother and he’s got so much potential. I’m not just saying it because he’s my brother, but I don’t think any other centre in this country touches him on his day. He’s phenomenal and he’s a really nice guy as well.
“I think moving to Wigan for him, when it could have happened, he was a bit unsure whether he should or not. I don’t want to big myself up, but I was the one that convinced him that he probably needed that change of scenery.
“I just said to him that a culture like (they have) at Wigan and what they could offer was perfect for him, it was exactly what he needed.
“They worship him as a player and give him a lot of belief, I think that’s what he was missing when he was at Huddersfield.
“He needed that belief from the coach and Matty Peet seems to be giving him that, and he’s letting his rugby talk for itself.”
Elder sibling Joe represented his heritage with six appearances for Scotland, featuring in the 2010 & 2014 European Cups, with a try against Ireland in the first of those.
Jake meanwhile got his first crack at senior international rugby league with England in 2022, playing against the Combined Nations All Stars in a mid-season friendly, and doing the same again last year when France made the trip to Warrington.
Scoring in both of those games, Jake only missed out on the autumn test series with Tonga through injury, requiring an operation to clean up a knee issue.
And Joe believes his brother has a place in Shaun Wane’s side for the foreseeable future, adding: “He’s seven years younger than me, so as long as he stays injury free, I reckon he’ll always be there in the England team too, definitely.”
Jake Wardle: ‘My brother is someone who I have looked up to throughout my whole career’
The brothers – born in Halifax – got the chance to play together in Huddersfield colours for three years when Joe returned to the John Smith’s Stadium in 2019, the year which saw Jake make a proper breakthrough with the Giants.
And speaking to the 25-year-old at Wigan’s pre-season media day this time last week, it was clear that the feeling of admiration is a mutual one between the two, even if in true sibling fashion, he played it down!
Jake told Love Rugby League: “My brother is someone who I have looked up to throughout my whole career, even when I was a junior, trying to follow in his footsteps and trying to be a better player.
“Once the opportunity came around to come to Wigan, I had a few conversations with my brother and he had nothing but good things to say about the club.
“Obviously in my time here, he’s been proven right. Being able to get the League Leaders’ Shield and Grand Final was a massive achievement for myself, and for my brother as well to be involved in the Challenge Cup with Leigh, it was a proud moment for the family.
“I wouldn’t like to give him the full credit for it, but it’s definitely a move that I’m really glad I made!”
The Warriors ace believes Joe’s new role at Oldham is perfect for him, tipping the Roughyeds for success in 2024, as he added: “I think it will be good for him.
“Obviously he’s at that point in his career where that slight bit of change will be good for him. I know he’s enjoying it, and I hope he has a successful season there. Things look good there.”