These days most players are in Super League academies by the age of 16 and if you’re not at a Super League club by then you have a tough old ask of living your dream.
If this had been the way of the past, we might never have seen the likes of Jamie Peacock or Ryan Hall grace Super League.
But even their journeys to rugby league glory pale in comparison to the strange journey Paul Wellens had.
Speaking on the Out of your League podcast, the strangeness of Wellens’ journey to legendary status at St Helens can be summed up by the line: “I didn’t actually join a junior rugby team up until the age of 11 when I left the choir.”
Wellens would then elaborate on his journey “Because of my dad’s connection with the club he would go up and watch sessions and I would almost just tag along at times.
“So sometimes after games my dad would end up getting access to the changing rooms and I’d be walking in and there would be Kevin Ward, Paul O’Loughlin and Shane Cooper and I’d just be like an 11 or 12-year-old kid just looking at my heroes, and getting access that not every kid would get.
“Being in and around the place so much probably gave me an extra thirst for the town and the team.
“I first started playing just through school rugby, I had a headmaster called Brian Higgins who sadly is no longer with us but he was quite influential on getting me playing,
“It was kind of a weird way that it came about. My dad was a scout at Saints and a lot of the team at Blackbrook, it must have been about 13 of the 17 players, signed professional contracts but I wasn’t one of them. So my dad was the scout and when your dad thinks you’re crap then you’re up against it.
“He never quite got involved deeply in the rugby side of things, he said ‘if it happens it’ll happen for you’, but he never tried to push me.
“Funnily enough I went to an academy training session with my dad. I wasn’t part of the academy, I just went kicking goals on the field on the far side because I was playing rugby union and was a goalkicker and I was just practising.
“The academy team were quite short on a few players and it probably wasn’t run as well as it is these days but they were short on players for the week after. The coached asked a good friend of mine, Scott Barrow, ‘do you know any scrum-halves who could play this weekend’, and it was one of them really. The coach went and asked my dad if I’d want to train and my dad just said ‘ask him yourself’, so he did and I joined in training. I kind of signed an RFL contract, nothing official, but that was the Tuesday or Wednesday and I played in the academy on Sunday.”
This prompted former teammate Jon Wilkin to note: “There’s a lot of people who don’t go through what you consider the obvious route to get to the top of their game. Think about that, Paul’s just stood at one end of the field kicking goals and if he hadn’t have been there that night then you just don’t know do you?”