Warrington Wolves exclusive: Joe Philbin relishing Sam Burgess era as hometown boy gears up for testimonial year

Ross Heppenstall
Joe Philbin Sam Burgess Warrington Wolves

Photos courtesy of Warrington Wolves

Joe Philbin, by his own admission, was a “shy, chubby kid” when he joined Warrington Wolves as a 15-year-old.

The imposing prop is now gearing up for his 11th season as a first team regular at the Halliwell Jones Stadium and in what is his testimonial year too.

The popular, rugged forward, noted for his refusal to take a backward step, has already realised one dream by making the grade with his hometown club and lifting the Challenge Cup against St Helens at Wembley in 2019.

But at 29, Philbin is far from finished and is excited about playing under new head coach Sam Burgess, a man he grew up idolising.

Burgess’ appointment has encouraged hopes of a bright new era and Philbin told Love Rugby League: “I always admired Sam because he was the poster boy who went over to the NRL.

“He put the English game on the map and Adrian Morley did something similar before him.

“But in my age group, Sam was the player everyone looked up to as a leader because he was such a fierce competitor.

“How he was as a player – tough and uncompromising – is how I think he wants his Warrington team to look on the field now.

“That probably suits my style, so I’m excited to play under him and I’ve really enjoyed pre-season so far.

“Sam has been coached by some of the best coaches in the world.

“I was lucky enough to play a few games under Wayne Bennett for Great Britain and Sam has been influenced by him.

“As a coach, you probably take ideas from all the coaches you’ve played under and then sprinkle your own ideas on top.

“Sam’s not long retired, so he understands what the players go through and is relatable to us.

“His playing career speaks for itself and he’ll be looking forward to getting his managerial career started with Warrington Wolves.”

‘It’s a new era now, a fresh start’

Philbin, who played his amateur rugby league at local sides Culcheth Eagles and Latchford Albion, will not be making any bold predictions about a club who have not been crowned champions since 1955.

As the Wolves look to win a maiden Grand Final, the amiable and loquacious Philbin admits: “In recent years, we’ve not been at the level to even think about that (winning the Super League title) to be honest.

“It’s a new era now, a fresh start, but I’m not going to start talking about winning Grand Finals because we’ve got a lot of things to get right first to make that a reality.

“It’s about improving week in and week out and getting our processes right.

“If we do that, then hopefully we’ll be knocking on the door come the end of the season.”

Gruelling pre-season military camp to benefit Sam Burgess’ troops in the long run

Pre-season is going well under Burgess, with the squad having been bolstered by the return of Toby King following his loan spell at Wigan Warriors and the acquisition of Rodrick Tai, Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Wesley Bruines, Sam Powell, Brad Dwyer and Zane Musgrove.

Burgess’ squad undertook a gruelling military camp shortly before Christmas and Philbin adds: “It was very hard work and definitely brought us closer together.

“It was like SAS: Who Dares Wins but crammed into three days and we pushed our bodies to the limits!

“You find out about each other when you’re in a dark place together, so that will probably help us during the season.

“Yes, we’ll definitely refer back to it throughout the year.

“My mate Toby King has come back and fitted in like a glove.

“Big Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Zane Musgrove have been leading the way too.

“I think Zane is going to be a real force this year but everyone’s brought their own quality.”

Joe Philbin lauds former Warrington Wolves duo for helping shape his career

Chris Hill and Ben Westwood Warrington Wolves Alamy Chris Hill (left) and Ben Westwood (right) during their Warrington Wolves days – Alamy

Philbin’s testimonial match takes place against Leigh Leopards at home on Saturday, February 3 in Warrington’s final pre-season clash before the start of the new Super League season.

“I always say that I’ve grown from a boy to a man during my time at the club,” says Philbin.

“Your self-development journey from a 15-year-old is huge because you go through so many different phases of life.

“When I was younger, I probably needed a kick up the backside and now you see the younger lads coming through, you want to try and help guide them like the senior players guided me.

“I’m thinking Chris Hill and Bennie Westwood in particular.

“I owe probably a massive part of my career to Chris because he’s one of the hardest-working people you could meet.

“He would always be doing extras and would suggest that to me when I was younger.

“That attitude made me realise that they’re the sort of things you need to be doing.

“He certainly made understand what it meant to be a professional rugby league player and how to succeed in the game.

“From that shy, chubby 15-year-old, I’m proud of what I’ve achieved but hopefully there’s a lot more to come.”

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