TALK about a baptism of fire!
Former Academy scrum half Joel Hinchliffe must have felt he was right in the firing line when he found himself thrown in at the deep end against high-flying Caldy a fortnight ago.
It was a call-up which came virtually out of the blue after regular No9 Damian Clayton was unavailable, and team chief Mark Sowerby had chosen to keep his normal scrum half cover, Tom Ainsworth, at full-back.
Not that Hinchliffe was overawed by making his first-team debut against one of the most powerful outfits in National III rugby this season.
“I was just happy to be there as part of the first team, and glad to be involved on the field,” admitted the 22-year-old from Mirfield.
Hinchliffe is one of several promising products from Mirfield Free Grammar School, who was introduced to the game by one of Huddersfield Rugby club’s former coaches, Russell Lawrence, who then taught at the school.
After leaving MFG, Hinchliffe came to Huddersfield, making his Academy debut as a 16-year-old, and spent two seasons there under the guidance of coach Peter Walker, before joining Halifax for a brief spell.
“I was obviously not going to get into Halifax’s first team so I moved across to Old Crossleyans (where Lawrence was the then coach) to get some first-team experience,” said Hinchliffe.
“After playing two-and-a-half seasons at Crocs, I left England to go travelling, the intention being to do the South East Asia/Australia tour, but in the event I finished up in Sydney and played for seven months at a club called Petersham.
“When I came back home I decided I wanted to come back to Huddersfield because I’ve got a lot of friends here. I played in the Academy here at the same time as people like Nick Sharpe, Mark Whitehead and George Hinchliff, so it was good to come back and see so many familiar faces.
“Obviously I was over the moon to get the call from Mark (Sowerby) telling me I would be making my first-team debut as I’ve only played twice in the Seconds since returning to the club, and I was just happy to be on the field, even though it was under difficult circumstances.”
Hinchliffe was rewarded with another 40 minutes last weekend when he played the first half of the EDF Energy National Trophy match against Aspatria, and this time he had more opportunity to spin out his passes to half-back partner Chris Johnson, and the Huddersfield pack proved far too strong for their North II opponents.
“Obviously I’d like to continue as part of the first-team squad, but now I know I need to work on my fitness,” added Hinchliffe, who has just started a new job as a recruitment consultant in Leeds.
“But it goes without saying I definitely want to be in the selectors’ thoughts.
“For the moment, I’m more than happy to keep on learning off Damian.
“That’ll do for me.”