NATIONAL League success at Lockwood Park has come as no surprise to one of the team’s longest-serving players, Lee Paxman.
The 28-year-old centre has been an integral part of the side’s climb up the League structure, and he believes both the club and First XV have now adopted a more professional approach, both on and off the field, which is now paying dividends.
Last week’s big win at Kendal (41-5 representing their biggest-ever victory at Mint Bridge) cemented Huddersfield’s fifth position in the National II North table as the club continue to go from strength to strength.
“The club has changed massively since I was recruited by the then Director of rugby Mike Lumley in 2004,” said Paxman.
“The previous season Huddersfield had been relegated to North II East which led to Lummers (Lumley) being brought back as Director of Rugby, and it was he who instilled the sort of team ethos which is still in place today.
“Mark Sowerby and Neil Summers then came in as player/coaches and built on that ethos, before Glenn Wilson also joined the coaching team, and he who introduced set patterns, making the game more akin to chess.
“And finally Dan (Hyde) came along and moved it up to a whole new level, with the result that we are now very much more professional – with a little p!”
Paxman began his rugby career at junior level (along with twin brother Ben, who is currently on the injured list) at Wath in Rotherham, before they ran out of age groups, after which they moved to Dinnington, regularly playing against the YMCA in the Yorkshire Leagues.
Lee then came to Huddersfield University and was soon installed as First XV captain, which is where the link came with Hamish Pratt, who at the time was the University’s coach and first team flanker at Huddersfield.
It was the popular Kiwi – now the rugby development officer for West Yorkshire – who took Paxman to Lockwood Park, and in turn it was the latter who was responsible for brother Ben joining him as well as stand-off Chris Johnson.
“I did a lot of work with Hamish and the Rugby Football Union when I was the club captain at the University, eventually getting club accreditation for the Uni, which led to me getting presented with an award from the RFU at Twickenham in recognition of my contribution to Student rugby.
“When I then moved to Huddersfield, I found myself playing alongside players like ex-Bradford Bulls professional Neil Summers, Andy Metcalfe, Sean Merrick and Soggy (Mark Sowerby).
“When Chris Johnson then came to the University from Rochdale I persuaded him to join me at Lockwood Park, and since then the club has grown massively.”
The two players are still closely linked, both now employed together at Mobus Fabrics Ltd in Elland, but Paxman came close to quitting the game last year after suffering a horrendous eye injury at Preston Grasshoppers.
“I suffered a fractured eye socket, which eventually needed an operation to fix, with the result I was out of the game for almost a year, and that nearly made me quit.”
Fortunately for Huddersfield he didn’t, and after returning to the first-team squad, played in the Yorkshire Cup final against Hull in May and bagged a match-clinching opportunist’s try to set the seal on a memorable victory.
“After the injury, winning the Yorkshire Cup was a great way to round off the year, and what made it even more special was that it was the first time I can remember us getting past the first round!
“But we now have a good balance of experience, with the older heads of players like Tony Stringwell and Gareth Lewis, combined with the younger players like Ben Morrill, Alex Battye and James Davies.
“We just have to keep everyone fit and hungry now because the club is generally on the up, with all three sides doing well. The Firsts and Seconds all train together, and we usually have at least 40 players turning up on training nights.”
Paxman readily admits he’s not the fittest person in the side, but is working on it, and has played in all but one game, the disappointing defeat at Hull Ionians.
“I was unavailable for that game, and I got some stick from my teammates, until they discovered that weekend I was down on one knee in Ireland, proposing to my girlfriend Claire – and they let me off!”
Paxman and partner Claire, who is a physiotherapist in Dewsbury and was introduced to by his former Huddersfield teammate (now current YMCA skipper) Mark Whitehead, live in Almondbury and are planning to marry in a couple of years.
“Since we began moving up the Leagues we have improved year on year, never finishing lower than the previous season, and after finishing round about mid-table last year, fingers crossed we can get a top-six finish this season.”