CHRIS Bridge says he is revelling in the extra responsibility on his shoulders this season.
The absence through injury of both Richie Myler and Stefan Ratchford led to a switch from centre to the half backs last month, giving him more say in Wolves’ attacking manoeuvres and barking out the orders to teammates.
His current partnership with Ratchford is the sixth half-back pairing of the season so far but coincides with four wins in five outings, showing he has repaid Tony Smith’s faith for keeping him in the role.
“It’s like the olden days because I played there as a kid,” said the 29-year-old.
“I’m enjoying it, getting my hands on the ball more and running about.
“In that role when I was a lot younger, I struggled with communication and talking to the boys on the park.
“But I’m a lot older now, one of the senior players, so I’ve had to step up.
“I feel I’ve grown as a player and as a man.”
He anticipated a good year after several seasons affected by injury, and even a minor ankle operation at the back end of 2013 did not hinder his growing confidence.
“I felt really good over the pre-season,” he said.
“I didn’t play for Ireland in the World Cup so that I could have my first full pre-season for many a year.
“I’m feeling the benefit now. My body feels the best it’s been in years and I’m really enjoying rugby as well as life. You play better when you’re enjoying it.
“It can be tough when you get injury after injury. It’s part of rugby but it’s frustrating.”
He has also taken on the goal-kicking again, after Ratchford suffered with his marksmanship form early doors in the wake of Brett Hodgson’s departure.
In the past Bridge had been considered Wolves’ best kicker, but injuries then limited his opportunities.
“The last couple of years I wasn’t able to practice because I had tendonitis in my knee,” he said.
“But the physio Ben Sterling has got my knee sorted.
“I work hard on my knee every week in rehab and it’s been fine, allowing me to practice.
“My kicking was bad against St Helens (a fortnight ago) and the wind was strong against Wakefield, so I’m not too worried about the ones I missed there, but my early percentages were good.”
Bridge is pleased that the team’s consistency appears to be shining through at last.
“We’re still not fully there but we’re a lot better than we were,” he said.
“We’re starting to win games back to back. At the beginning of the year we talked about being ruthless in defence but some of the points we have let in have not been good enough for a team like us.
“We didn’t let a lot of points in against Catalan or Wakefield, and our defence was good against St Helens until the last 15 minutes.
“So we need to keep working on our defence and our combinations.”