Robbie Hunter-Paul was always a little different. Part of his appeal was that you never knew – and often got the impression he didn’t either – what was coming next. In an era when Super League was establishing itself and part-time players were getting used to life as full-time professionals, Robbie was the fast-talking, hot-footed star who always did something, anything, to catch the eye.
Robbie Rugby Warrior follows the same mould. Not content with a traditional autobiography, the former Bradford scrum-half has, at the end of each chapter, included his guide to life as a professional athlete. Whether it’s a concept that works is going to differ from reader to reader. Younger readers, perhaps still dreaming of their own rugby league careers, will soak it up. Older readers might be forgiven for skipping to the start of the next chapter, where it’s back to the rugby and life as one of the sport’s leading figures.
And it’s there, in the thick of the action, where Robbie Rugby Warrior comes into its own. Hunter-Paul, or plain old simple Paul as he was back then, starts with a bang: the moment he claimed his place in rugby league history as the first man to score three tries in a Wembley Challenge Cup final.
“Get it down, just get the thing down. Brain’s whirring. I’m at full tilt. It’s for the hat-trick, I know that… I’m nearly there. Rather than slide and get grass burns, I roll. It’s as I come up, fist pumping, that it hits me with a blinding force. A wall of 30,000 Bradford Bulls fans losing their minds… for that one fleeting, glorious moment, I knew just how it felt to be a rock star.”
Hunter-Paul worked tirelessly with ghostwriter Chris Irvine of The Times to produce a book that is both energetic and considered. He had his scrapes, which he talks about in detail, but he will be remembered as Super League’s leading light during its formative years.
There are touching moments too, with a tale involving Bernard Dwyer highlighting Bradford’s determination to succeed at all costs. Dwyer had already injured one arm, before things got particularly difficult.
“He went into a tackle and tore the other bicep. Both his arms hung limp, but like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, there was a staunch refusal in him to give up. Matty Elliott showed us the footage the following day… (he) put the video in slow motion mode, which showed the moment Bernard tore his other bicep. ‘Watch what he does,’ Matty said. ‘He gets back and launches at them with his head. The guy’s career has finished in that moment, but he didn’t come off until we got the ball back.’ For everyone who witnessed that footage it became the stuff of legend.”
This isn’t a Sean Long-style confessional, but it’s far from dry and there are plenty of hidden secrets, some of them dark, that Hunter-Paul does reveal. Robbie Rugby Warrior is a worthy addition to any rugby league bookshelf.
Robbie Rugby Warrior: The Autobiography, by Robbie Hunter-Paul, is available now. ISBN 978-1905080106, published by Great Northern Books. Buy now and save on the cover price. Kindle Edition also available by clicking here.