Very few people in life are ever lucky enough to meet their sporting heroes.
Even if you do, it can often be a massive disappointment. Those great on the pitch, aren't always great off it. It can be a huge let down.
I had the privilege of interviewing one of my sporting heroes last week when I met with Jonathan Davies for Super League Super Stars; I wasn't disappointed and never have been since the first time we met. He's a legend on and off the field in my eyes.
I've known him since a cold day in February 1990, when I first played rugby for Wigan against Widnes and my respect for him was cemented in that first game.
We talk about that moment in the show, his try for Great Britain against Australia in 1994, plus many others and he is as impressive now as he was back then.
Incidentally, the try at Wembley wasn't his favourite, neither was his length of the field effort against the All Blacks, but he does tell us which one he is most proud of.
Whilst doing some research prior to our interview I came across a 3-and-a-half minute video clip on the internet. Somebody had put together some of the best action from his days in both union and league and something struck me when I sat there watching it.
When Davies gets the ball in each clip you think that there is no chance of him scoring, yet somehow he manages to get over the line.
Quotes of the week
It is first worth saying that there are 24 of the best tries that you will ever see in the clip. Secondly, all of the tries had speed, skill and bravery in them. When he gets the ball in each clip you think that there is no chance of him scoring, yet somehow he manages to get over the line.
At 12½ stones (or c. 80kg) he was usually the smallest man on the field. If you squint slightly, the tries look just like the best ones that Sam Tomkins has scored over the last three years.
As I thought more about it, the similarities became even clearer. Both had/have tremendous balance and great resilience. They might get knocked down but they always get back up.
In the World Club Challenge of 1989, Laurie Daley almost decapitated Jonathan, who then rolled over the line to prove that he was still alive and score. Sam has shown his bravery on many occasions and Jonathan speaks in the show about the need to hide the pain when he was crunched in a tackle.
Both of them have played at stand-off and full-back and yet manage to find a way to put themselves into the best attacking positions. Their acceleration seems to be the thing that's created so many opportunities and the reason why both of them have been voted as the Man of Steel.
So what's the point that I'm trying to make here?
It's about their size. Nobody mentions when a small player like Davies, Tomkins or Burrow makes it to the top of the game but I wonder how many were discouraged or turned away from rugby because some coach said "you're not big enough to make it" when they were in their formative years.
Does the sport do enough to keep these types of players in the game? (It's worth remembering that Sam Tomkins was released by Wigan at the age of 16).
I believe that we lose so much talent and that we need to address this issue immediately. Most people who follow rugby league know that the competition for players with rugby union and the NRL Down Under is stronger than it has ever been and many players will leave the game in the near future. Hence the reason to act.
We must all do what we can to encourage the 'little fellas' who are playing rugby league, show them clips of Jonathan Davies, Sam Tomkins, Billy Slater etc and highlight what they've achieved.
Put the Rob Burrow solo try from the Grand Final in 2011 to easily demonstrate that smaller players can be Super League players. Help them to learn the ways in which they can maximise their strengths (with either their skill or speed) and work on their weaknesses. Make sure that the game at a junior level caters for these types of players whilst they are physically maturing.
It's too easy for some coaches to say that the game has moved on now and size is all that matters. I've often heard people say 'he's not big enough, he can't tackle.' I've even been guilty of it myself in the past.
But looking back at the career of Jonathan Davies has helped me to look forward and I know the sort of player that I want to watch in the future.
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Kevin Lester says...
I have watched all of the players mentioned at some point and would say Davies in my mind was a master of the on field trade, I likened him to the great Alex Murphy, he could read a game well, had a good eye for opportunity and usually took it. Sam Tomkins at Wigan does exactly the same today, he reads the play brilliantly, puts himself in the right place at the right time, Burrow can strike fear into any defending line with those darting, ducking runs, just as JD used to. The other facet that really strikes me is the versatility of most of these type of players, full back, half back, hooker, centre, or winger, brilliant players every one of them.
Posted 09:49 18th May 2013
Paul Thwaites says...
Jonathan Davies was an awesome player with amazing abilities, the same as Sam Tomkins and Rob Burrow and now you mention it the same as Brett Hodgson, and Darren Lockyer isn't the biggest either. The problem is, that although the smaller players are sometimes the best I could never envisage a game without the big guys. They make up a large percentage of the game for a good reason. I think this is the simple answer as to why so many of the smaller players with potential get overlooked.
Posted 19:06 14th May 2013
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