Mention ‘Rugby’ to just about anyone in Wales, and they’ll chew your ear off talking about 15 men forming rucks and mauls. The whole nation dreams of representing their country in a World Cup, facing the All Blacks, the Wallabies and even the old enemy from across the border.
But for one man, a full-time firefighter from Merthyr Tydfil, that dream is reciprocated in a different code, and could soon become a reality.
Steve Parry, captain of the University of Gloucestershire All Golds, managed to slip the Rugby Union net as a youngster, and has gone on to become one of the most talented hookers in League 1, even earning several international caps along the way.
And while he started his career on the conventional Welsh route into Union, it was his family who swayed him in the direction of the 13-man game, before he signed his first professional contract for South Wales Scorpions.
“I didn’t play Union until I was 15 so I started quite late, but sort of got into Rugby League that following season through my Uncle and my Dad,” he explains.
“They were big Rugby League fans and my Dad found me a team in Cardiff, so I signed up at U15’s and went from there.”
“I signed for Scorpions in 2010, which was quite funny because I’d just come back from playing Rugby Union in New Zealand and had plans in my head that I was going to go back travelling, possibly back to New Zealand, possibly Australia.
“But I got a call from (South Wales coach) Mark Rowley, asking if I wanted to go to an open trial for this new professional team.
“So, I went down to Sophia Gardens in Cardiff for the trial and managed to get picked for the squad.”
As is the nature of League 1 Rugby League, Parry combines his playing commitments with his full-time job as a firefighter for the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service. However, despite the demanding schedule, he says that the two jobs complement each other well.
“I’ve always liked the thought of being in the public services, something to help the community, it’s an exciting job.
“I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie so being a firefighter fits in well with what I want to do.
“The schedule is pretty hectic but it works around the Rugby well. I have to do my number of hours when I’m out of training and when I’m not playing so it does fit in nice.
“I think the fire service like having sportspeople work for them. They want fit people who can do the job effectively so they kind of encourage sportspeople to join and work around it.”
Just seven years after making his professional debut for the Scorpions, Parry could be about to embark on his biggest achievement to date; the 2017 Rugby League World Cup in Australia. With a place in John Kear’s squad beckoning, the 28-year-old knows he needs to stay focused to cement his spot.
“I know I’ve got to be on my best form because Wales have a lot of good players now and that’s been evident over the last two years.
“I need to work a little bit more on my kicking game, bring that to the forefront and hopefully that’ll give me a bit of an edge but it’s all about working on everything, trying to be a well-rounded player and not having too many weaknesses.
“I pride myself on my work ethic. I don’t stop and I give 110% every game and try and be a leader on the field so I’m hoping that stands out.”
Wales have a tough group, facing Ireland and Papua New Guinea, as well as a star-studded Fiji squad that includes the likes of Jarryd Hayne, John Sutton and Tariq Sims. And while they are far from favourites, Parry says the squad still fancy their chances.
“It’s a tough group,” he chuckles, “it’s a very tough group but Wales over the last two years have been a team based on belief and heart and have got some great results on the back of that.
“That’s the big thing for Wales at the moment, we’ve got a real tight-knit squad that work hard for each other and sometimes it’s not the best players on the pitch that win but the hardest working.
“We turned over a fantastic French team in Cardiff with probably a weaker side on paper, then beat Italy, who had some very good players including Terry Campese.
“So I don’t think you can write off Wales. If we play to our ability and stay tight-knit, then we’ve got a good chance of making it out of that group.”
As far as maximum effort and drive goes, Parry stands above almost all of his rivals. And should he get a place on the plane come October, I can guarantee that contrary to his day job, he’ll be setting plenty of fires on the pitch.