PLAYING the waiting game is nothing new for Ryan Hampshire but now the waiting, it seems, is finally over.
The Wigan Warriors utility player joined Castleford Tigers on a season-long loan in November eager to get the regular first-team games under his belt that had largely been denied him at his parent club.
However, ironically, the 21-year-old has had to wait until Castleford’s fifth game of the season to even get a look-in – and that is only due to a knee injury to Kiwi stand-off Ben Roberts.
Nevertheless, Hampshire has been undeterred; used mainly as a full-back with Wigan – there’s a certain Sam Tomkins due back there shortly – he has always viewed himself as a No 6 and insisted, when moving to Wheldon Road, that that is where he wanted to play, even if he was again down the pecking order.
“I do see myself as a six,” he admitted, ahead of his Tigers debut against visiting Salford Red Devils tomorrow.
“It was a difficult decision (to leave Wigan). I won’t go in depth about what made the decision but I’m confident and I’m backing my ability to do it here at Cas.
“I knew it’d be hard to dislodge Benny (Roberts) or Luke Gale and it’s been hard to get up to the different style of play that it is here compared to Wigan.
“So, I’ve had to wait my time and it’s been a long time but it’s finally here now. I came here to get that chance at six. I am going to have to take it now, no two ways about it. But I’ve stayed ready so I didn’t have to get ready.”
Hampshire came to the right place to learn the true art of playing half-back – head coach Daryl Powell and assistants Danny Orr and Ryan Sheridan all represented Great Britain in that position.
Yet the form of a current England international thwarted his progress at Wigan, Super League’s Young Player of the Year George Williams.
“When I first signed full-time there Blake Green was stand-off,” said Hampshire, who actually hails from Normanton, the town just a couple of miles west of Castleford on the way to Wakefield.
“In my first year I played full-back and one or two games at half-back but I was going off Blake Green and Matty Smith mainly and then George (Williams) as well last year.
“It was a big season for him last year. I’m the same age as him so we played six and seven back in the academy and a few times at first-team but never got a good opportunity together.
“George is doing really well at the moment.”
A sharp, elusive half-back with plenty of pace, Hampshire is more in the style of Roberts – the former Melbourne Storm star who this week signed a new three year deal at Castleford – than Gale, so they should dovetail well.
In the three years since making his debut with Wigan, he has made 20 Super League starts, five more appearances from the bench and scored eight tries while also kicking 24 goals.
Scrum-half Gale is once more showing the sort of form that could see him finally make his England debut at the end of the campaign and Hampshire admitted: “He is playing well.
“That could bring good stuff into my game, too.
“He’s obviously an organising half-back and I think that takes a little bit of pressure off me and the way I play.
“I’m really looking forward to getting out there with him now and taking on Salford.”
Castleford suffered their first loss of the season when falling 28-22 at St Helens last week.
That defeat not only saw them lose Roberts – who could be back in a fortnight – but forwards Grant Millington and Junior Moors to injuries, too.
However, second-row Oli Holmes is fit again and Ryan Boyle, Gadwin Springer and Joel Monaghan are all also competing for places in the 17.
Salford have lost their last two games but only by narrow margins to Warrington and Wigan.
In Robert Lui, the Queenslander who has made an instant impact on his arrival from North Queensland Cowboys, they have their own stand-off in fine fettle.
Hampshire added: “We’ve been watching them this week how their half-backs have been controlling them around the pitch so they are a big threat.
“But obviously me and Luke Gale want to be the best halves on the field. And that’s what we’re going to be.”