THINGS could have been very different for Ryan Atkins.

Unlike many professionals in rugby league, he was not playing the sport from a very early age.

A career in rugby union, or even football, would have been considered more likely at stages of his childhood.

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His new direction came about thanks to Julie Burgess, the mother of famous rugby league brothers Sam, George, Tom and Luke.

But even then a point came when he was contemplating quitting.

The eventual arrival at Warrington Wolves came out of the blue for a proud Yorkshireman who had not been seeking an exit from Wakefield Trinity back in 2009.

This is his story in his words.

“I was a football player growing up, I was football mad.

“And then at high school when I was about 13 the school rugby union team was short of players.

“I played football and did athletics, so it was Julie Burgess – Sam, Luke, George and Tom’s mum and my head of year when she was head of PE, who asked me to play.

“She knew I was a bit of a character and cheeky chappy who loved sport.

“I didn’t have a clue how to play rugby in general, not just rugby union.

“I agreed anyway.

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“The team we were playing kicked the ball, I was chasing back but one of their players beat me to it.

“I chased him back and tackled him. I got up and he stayed on the floor.

“I looked around as if to say when do I get in trouble for that and I never got in trouble.

“From that moment, I knew rugby was for me.

“I quit all ties with football and started playing rugby more regularly.

“I played a little bit of rugby union with the local team and then I went to Stanningley – some great players have come from there, the likes of Jamie Peacock, Micky McIlorum, Gaz Carvell.

“I had the season with them and then went back to rugby union. I played for Yorkshire and North of England.

“And then Bradford Bulls picked me up. I was offered a trial weekend after a scout watched me play for the first team.

“I was 17 and used to play for the first team on a Saturday at Bramley Phoenix and then on Sunday I played in the colts team.

“The Bradford scout came to watch me on the Saturday. We got beat something like 57-7. I spoke to him in the bar afterwards and he said it wasn’t the ideal game to watch me play but that they’d like to invite me down to a trial weekend.

“I did the training and I qualified to play in the under 18s which Phil Veivers coached, while Steve McNamara coached the under 21s.

“There was a bit of debate about which team I’d play for because Steve wanted me to play straight in the under 21s but Phil said no – the under 18s.

“I turned up in a tatty old rugby union shirt not having a clue about rugby league – still don’t really – and all the other lads were regulars at these type of events and had Leeds Rhinos and Bradford Bulls shirts on.

“I didn’t really fit in, but I was raw and they saw something in me.

“I was messing up the drills, I couldn’t do the footwork.

“Some of the core skills was something I’d never done before.

“I was just brute strength and speed. I’ve learned along the way, and I’ve even learned to pass nowadays!

“I think I only played twice in the under 18s, always in the under 21s, but never really made it at Bradford because at the time they had some great players.

“I went on loan to Wakefield and the rest is history.

Warrington Guardian:

In 2009 playing for Wakefield against Warrington at The Halliwell Jones Stadium. Pictures: Mike Boden

Warrington Guardian:

“When I was 17 a lot of my friends who were playing rugby had all been selected for scholarships and I wasn’t asked so that was tough.

“I had a bit of an open training session at Leeds and told them I was a centre. They said I was a bit too small to play centre, try wing. I said I can’t play wing, so they said no then.

“So that was a hurdle I had to overcome.

“Playing at rugby union I was a flanker. I was too small to be a flanker but I loved being in the middle of it all.

“Note to Steve Price – I don’t want to play in the middle in rugby league, so I don’t want to go in the pack now. Then I did.

“I was faster than the forwards and stronger than the backs. So if I wanted to carry the ball I could rip teams apart and I loved that part of rugby union.

“After going to Bradford I was there for three years and never got a shot.

“And I was getting to the point where all my friends had finished apprentices, they’d done work trades, a couple of the lads that I played with had made the first team debuts including a couple I thought weren’t as good as me at Bradford.

“I was thinking do I quit and play amateur or semi-pro instead and get a job.

“Luckily, the support group around me just said no, stick at it, you’ve stuck at it for so long, you’ll only regret it in later life, so I dug my heels in and I was lucky enough to get a chance at Wakefield.

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Warrington Guardian:

“At Wakefield, I found my love for rugby league again.

“Sometimes you just like to be liked and feel like you’re wanted and a part of it.

“I kind of felt like cannon fodder at Bradford at times.

“But that was part of my journey.

“I love my journey. One thing I could say to a young lad aspiring to become a Super League player or professional rugby player is don’t give up.

“A lot of people will say it to you but you’ve got to believe in yourself, that’s the main thing.

“You’ve got many years ahead of you where you could just work, but there’s not that many years where you’re that close to achieving your dream so what’s another year or another two years. Believe in yourself, go for it and you can go and live in the real world after that.

“I was a bit of a big fish in a small pond at Wakefield.

“To move to a bigger club, and that’s no disrespect to Wakefield, that had bigger name players and more stars it was going to be a challenge and take me out of my comfort zone.

“I was very comfortable and happy at Wakefield doing what I was doing, and then to be fighting for a position and challenge great players like Chris Bridge and Matt King for the centre spots at Warrington was a tough decision to make.

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“Did I stay in my comfort zone or at that point go to a much bigger club and challenge myself? I took the risk and it paid off.

“I was a bit reluctant to move over because I was a very proud Yorkshireman and always thought I’d never live over this side of the Pennines.

“Having looked around the town, spoken to the lads who had done the travel, it was a no-brainer to move over and I’m glad I did that straight away – no sitting on the M62 in a car full of rugby lads letting gas go and stuff like that.

“It was a great move all round, to sign for Warrington and to live here. Everybody knows I have a wife now and both of our children are born and bred Warringtonians.

“It helped in the decision to sign that I’d just worked with Tony Smith in the mid-season Test against France in Paris, which was a great occasion.

“I think it was only a matter of weeks after that that Warrington approached Wakefield.

“Then going forward, the time spent with Warrington under Tony was amazing. Everyone’s aware of my relationship with him and I still speak to him quite often.

“It was great to work under him and now I’m working under another great coach in Steve Price, and I’m excited about the year ahead.”

Ryan Atkins was talking to Mike Parsons