Long Read Interview: Paul Sculthorpe

Say the name ‘Paul Sculthorpe’ and instantly any rugby league fan knows who you are talking about. 

Having won everything possible as a rugby league star for St Helens, with a total of four Grand Finals, four Challenge Cups and two World Club Challenges, as well as becoming the first (and currently only) player to win the Man of Steel Award on two consecutive occasions, Sculthorpe also conquered the international scene with England and Great Britain.

The talented loose-forward and playmaker made 27 appearances for Great Britain between 1996 and 2006 and earned four England caps in that time too.

There’s perhaps no wonder, therefore, that Sculthorpe was in high demand for a stint in the NRL – only for him to have two major reasons not to go.

“I had two approaches from Sydney Roosters and Penrith Panthers,” Sculthorpe told Serious About Rugby League. It was very different back then, financially back then Super League was actually stronger.

“We weren’t strictly salary capped back then, and I had signed five years deals at Saints so I was always under contract.”

The 44-year-old also revealed that he didn’t have to prove himself Down Under anyway.

“Financially it wasn’t better to go over there and that’s why Super League could attract big name Aussies at the time like Trent Barrett and Jamie Lyon.

“But, the main reason I didn’t go is me and my wife had just had my son, we would be taking him away from family and grandparents and we are very close to our family, so that was a big decision.

“It also wasn’t a case of trying to prove myself in the NRL, because I think I proved myself at international level.”

Having won everything in the domestic game, Sculthorpe battered his way through on the international stage – and that is exactly where his current job lies, alongside a variety of other roles.

“I’m on the England Coaching staff,” Sculthorpe told Serious About Rugby League. “I work with Waney (Shaun Wane) and Paul Anderson with the England Senior team & Knights.

“I was approached about the role in 2016, and jumped at the chance to coach alongside the best players in our country. I also have an ambassador role with Saints, working more on the commercial side.

“Alongside that, I do media work with Betfred, including a column in the St Helens Star.

“Alongside my employment, I own Rhino Rugby League & Evolve Brand Sport, so still heavily involved in the game at both professional and community levels.”

Sculthorpe has clearly been busy since his retirement and also works with Birmingham-based high-tech recruitment firm Boardrm, connecting his vast network of contacts & clients.

Clearly busy both within and away from the game of rugby league, Sculthorpe revealed that his ambition was never to become a head coach following his retirement despite his reputation in the sport.

“Head coaching isn’t something I wanted to do, I’ve always enjoyed business and life outside of RL, and as any head coach will tell you, that is a job you have to live and breathe! When you finish playing you get a big part of your life back, and the ability to do other things.

“My business partner Tony Colquitt, was Sales Director at Gillette when I had the sponsorship deal with them back in the early 2000’s, and where we became friends.

“He went on to become Chief Executive at Saints, where we worked together on the commercial side before setting up in business in 2011.”

Back to Sculthorpe’s playing days and numerous battles in the World Club Challenge as well as international games with Great Britain and England made Sculthorpe world-renowned, with his name carrying so much weight in both hemispheres.

Like most rugby league supporters in the UK, the 44-year-old has had his own opinion on the World Club Challenge situation that seems to have developed a spat between Saints and Penrith Panthers Down Under.

With St Helens stating that they had received no contact from Penrith since sending out feelers at the end of last year and the Panthers saying exactly the same, communication has broken down.

But, Sculthorpe believes that administrators in Australia need to give more credit to Super League and Rugby League in the UK.

“It’s not surprising that it isn’t going ahead,” Sculthorpe told Serious About Rugby League. “I don’t think our game gets the respect in Australia that it deserves and that’s why.

“In that respect, it would be great to win the World Cup come November. If Saints are saying they’ve not had any response, then they haven’t, what’s to be gained in making that up?

“Everything that happened with the World Cup in 2021, that response doesn’t surprise me.”

Sculthorpe was, however, quick to point out that players in the NRL want such international fixtures to go ahead.

“I’ve played against Brisbane twice when we’ve won, you only have to look at the disappointment on the faces of Darren Lockyer and his teammates after the game.

“They are top class players coming over to the UK to win…at the end of the day it’s Great Britain vs Australia and those kind of rivalries are what sport is all about.

“I think we are in danger of the next generation of players not knowing what the rivalry between England or Great Britain against Australia means because we don’t seem to play them anymore.

“When you have to go back years to remember the last time we played them at club or international level then the rivalry starts to diminish and people forget what it means to get one over on them.

“If you think of a player who will play in Super League and for his country in the next five years, they are growing up now without any meaningful games to watch at international level.

“There is no Tri-Series, no Ashes Series lined up. Everything is pinned on the World Cup but with how the draw is set up we might not even play Australia then.

“I think the game and in particular those in Australia needs to start prioritising international rugby league and making sure these World Club Challenge matches happen because these are the games you remember as a fan and a player.”

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