FULL-BACKS are well used to tackling, not to mention gathering more than their fair share of ‘high balls.’
But at Lockwood Park, Huddersfield’s regular No15 Tom Owen is just as interested in getting his hands on the ball – and the ball over the opposition’s try line!
So far this season, the 20-year-old University of Huddersfield student has played in 19 of the first team’s 21 games, crossing the line just three times, and two of those came in the 26-22 away win over Kendal earlier in the season.
But then as the side’s last line of defence, no-one would expect him to be topping the try-scoring charts as well.
Not that he has played at full-back all season. As injury problems began to bite hard, Owen, who is studying sports nutrition as part of his Bachelor of Science Degree course, has occasionally been transformed into a stand-in centre, with new signing Ian Shuttleworth taking over his No15 shirt.
After coming through the club’s very successful junior set-up and Academy side, Owen really came to prominence last season when he played the bulk of the campaign at full-back, the first real regular in that position since New Zealander Rob McLaren in the 2007-08 season, after which the role had been filled by various players including Alex Shaw (now at neighbouring YMCA), Tom Ainsworth and the Paxman brothers.
Ex-Otley star Shuttleworth signed for Huddersfield during the close-season, mainly as a coach for the backs, but also as full-back cover and he has played a handful of games there, but more often than not, has come on from the subs bench.
But there is no denying that Owen, who is improving all the time, has the potential to hold down the No15 shirt for years to come.
“I found it quite hard at first, after coming out of the Academy and then playing for the Seconds before getting into the first team last year,” confessed Owen.
“It was certainly a bigger step up than I thought it would be, both getting used to the sheer physicality of the game at this level, and the speed of thought.
“When you’re playing in the Seconds or with the Academy and you make a mistake, very often you can get away with it, but not in the National League. At this level, the opposition capitalise on your mistakes and nearly always make you pay, especially if you’re playing centre.
“I don’t mind playing at centre, but I certainly prefer full-back, and I do find it hard changing from one position to the other.
“I’m reasonably happy with the way things are going for me this season, although I would like to get my hands on the ball more often and get over that try line, and to do that I know I need to improve my support play.”
As well as now being a valued member of Huddersfield RU’s first team squad, Owen is a dual sportsman, playing cricket with Drakes Huddersfield League Cedar Court Conference side, Rastrick, when his rugby commitments allow.
“I missed quite a number of cricket matches last year because the rugby season over-ran at the start of the summer (which it is certainly going to do again this time) and then starting again in August.
“I enjoy playing cricket, but then my rugby comes first.
“It’s good not to be involved in a relegation battle this year here at Huddersfield, and hopefully I think we’ll finish in a mid-table position. I thought we were a bit unlucky to lose by the odd point to Westoe as well as a narrow defeat to Preston Grasshoppers in the first game of the season.
“On a personal front, hopefully I’ll play well enough to retain my full-back shirt, and certainly there is no-one better to learn from than Ian Shuttleworth, who has so much experience himself and is a really good coach.”