Luke Thompson: All I wanted to do was to play rugby for St Helens
From making his debut on his 18th birthday to being rated as the best prop in the world, Luke Thompson has come a long way.
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 21/06/20 7:13am
An 18th birthday is a special milestone in life, marking the passing into adulthood. Luke Thompson, however, celebrated the occasion in a much different manner to most other people.
On April 27, 2013, the prop was making his professional rugby league debut for hometown club St Helens as they took on London Broncos in Super League, although the hosts spoiled his party as they triumphed 21-14.
Nevertheless, Thompson had impressed then head coach Nathan Brown enough to feature against Widnes Vikings the following week - a game in which he scored his first try - and was well on the road which has led to international recognition and a move to the NRL with Canterbury Bulldogs.
"It's pretty mad looking back now," Thompson told the Golden Point podcast. "My uncle said to me when I was younger, all I wanted to do was to play for Saints and play rugby.
"At the time, when I was given my debut and scored that try in front of the home crowd, I couldn't believe it.
"That's why I never take it for granted, work hard in training and try to do all the right things to be the best I can be. I'm really fortunate to do the job I do."
Teenage talent to international star
Thompson's talent was clear from an early age, joining the St Helens junior set-up from one of the town's amateur clubs, Bold Miners, as an 11-year-old and progressing through the ranks to earn a professional contract.
His room-mate ahead of his debut against the Broncos at The Stoop was a man he would come to form part of a formidable Saints front row with, Alex Walmsley, and he remembers incessantly quizzing his future Great Britain team-mate the night before.
"We went down the day before and stayed over, and I was rooming with Big Al," Thompson said. "I was saying 'What's it going to be like?' and I think I kept him up all night asking him questions.
"But I got there, and Nathan Brown gave me my debut. I came off the bench and I can't remember much, but I remember it being really fast and like a bit of a fly in the headlights.
"But I think I did pretty well and got another shot the week after against Widnes, made my home debut, scored a try there and kicked on from there."
Fast forward to the present day and Thompson has made 180 senior appearances for his hometown club, been capped by both England and the Lions, plus been part of two Super League Grand Final-winning teams and named Harry Sunderland Trophy winner in last year's triumph.
Now he is in Australia, counting down the days of his two-week quarantine until he can link up with his new team-mates for his first training session at Canterbury.
This will not be his first experience of club rugby in the Southern Hemisphere though, having toured with St Helens' academy side as a 16-year-old. Little did he know he would be back there one day on a permanent basis though.
"At the time, you don't really think about it and you don't really know about it," Thompson said. "All you want to do is play for Saints and you're over the moon to be on the tour.
"When I was packing all of my stuff to come out here, I went into my wardrobe and found an old Canterbury Bulldogs vest I'd had for years.
"I bought it when I went to Australia with Saints when I was 16. It's pretty mad that I bought that back then and now I'm going to play for them."
Following in Graham's footsteps
The reason he owns a Bulldogs vest is due to James Graham, who he looked up to as a youngster and followed when he made the same journey from St Helens to Canterbury for the 2012 season.
Graham was able to offer some advice to Thompson, who turned down an offer from New Zealand Warriors to move to one of the competition's Sydney-based clubs, and he is keen to make the same sort of impact in the NRL the 34-year-old did with Canterbury and St George Illawarra Dragons.
"I spoke briefly Jammer a couple of times and it's funny I'm going to the Bulldogs, because obviously that's where he went to," Thompson said.
"I've always followed the Bulldogs ever since he left Saints and went there, so it's quality I've ended up going there. I've had to pinch myself a bit at times.
"I think it is viewed as the best competition in rugby league and I want to challenge myself among some of the best players in the world."