I’m proof that dreams can come true: Jason

The Leeds Sports Awards . Lifetime Achievement award winner Jason Robinson .14th February 2011.... Picture by Simon Hulme

The Leeds Sports Awards . Lifetime Achievement award winner Jason Robinson .14th February 2011.... Picture by Simon Hulme

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THE rugby union World Cup and numerous Super League titles, not to mention a plethora of cups, Leeds-born Jason Robinson has won just about everything.

Not that it takes any gloss off being recognised by his home city this week, with the rugby ace “honoured” at his lifetime achievement award and admitting Leeds will forever be in his blood.

Robinson has spent the last 19 years outside Yorkshire – first dazzling Super League in eight years at Wigan before making the switch to rugby union with Sale Sharks, but more famously England.

The first former rugby league player to captain his country’s rugby union side, it’s fair to say Robinson more than made the grade upon switching codes. But it was in rugby league where it all began – and very much in Leeds.

It was at first Hunslet Boys Club and then Hunslet Parkside where the wing ace initially made his mark before his switch to the big time with Wigan.

But even before that, for Robinson life was all about growing up in Chapeltown and the 36-year-old has never forgotten his roots – or how important sport has been in his transformation.

Nor has the city forgotten Robinson, with the 5ft 8in star rewarded at the Leeds Sports Awards this week with a lifetime achievement award. He was clearly delighted and touched with the prize and clutched it as hard as any rugby union World Cup or Super League Grand Final crown.

The Yorkshireman afterwards revealed his pride at the award – and insisted that his success story proves that anyone can do it.

“It’s very nice – I’ve been out of Leeds for 20 years but Leeds has never been out of me!” said Robinson, minutes after receiving his latest honour.

“It’s nice. You do all these things over the years, you play against various players and teams and travel the world and that’s why I love sport so much.

“I look back and I think of growing up in Harehills, Chapeltown, Shadwell, Beeston, Hunslet...and there were many who said I would never do anything.

“But through sport, a bit of talent and a lot of hard work, it just shows what you can achieve.

“To come back to Leeds and to receive the reward is certainly an honour. I’ve been in Lancashire a long time now but I’m a Yorkshireman and you can’t take that out of me!”

Robinson has remained quite simply synonymous with Leeds throughout his career, despite having only made around 30 first-team appearances for Hunslet before the big switch to Wigan.

A move instead to Headingley Carnegie so nearly materialised, with Robinson no doubt reminiscing about that during discussions with Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington after Monday night’s dinner.

Robinson admits to being somewhat saddened that he never actually represented his home city’s number one club, but he has few qualms with the manner in which his career developed, especially given his own unprivileged background.

“I kind of look back and I believe that things happen for a reason,” he said on nearly joining the Rhinos.

“For me it was a blessing in disguise and I would never have been able to achieve the things I did if things had been different.

“But I still have that affinity with Leeds, even though I didn’t play there, and you don’t get bitter, I just thank the course of my life.

“What I have been able to achieve has just been fantastic, it really has.

“You start with these dreams and one day you want to be a professional sportsman and all of a sudden you are there – you’re at Wembley, you’re playing in Challenge Cup finals, you’re playing in World Cups, you’re scoring tries. All of a sudden it’s come from a dream into reality.

“It’s hard to describe to be honest because if my career had finished in rugby league then I would have still had a fantastic career.

“I played against and with the best players in both codes but to go into rugby union and play something that I knew nothing about, and to excel and be England captain, win a World Cup and score the only try in a final, again is just fantastic.

“I’ve got so many memories of that.”

Robinson also hopes that his own background now gives him the ideal opportunity to help other youngsters hoping to make the grade.

“I’m so grateful for my background, even before I started playing because I can go into lots of different places and I can connect with those people and think ‘I was there’,” he said.

Opportunities

“Quite often as a young child you think ‘well it’s all right for him, what does he know? He doesn’t know what it’s like for me.’ Well I do know. I didn’t have my father there, I’ve been brought up in all the toughest areas in Leeds, it’s not been easy and I’ve witnessed lots of different stuff.

“But for me, it’s not about where you start in life, it’s about taking opportunities and chasing them. Now I’ve got the memories and the medals and everything else to go with it.”

Not that he’s finished just yet, with Robinson still playing rugby union in National Two North with Fylde, who just last month despatched Harrogate 35-12.

Robinson combines playing with coaching at the Lancashire outfit and is still relishing his rugby union opportunities, so much so that even at 36 the end is still not nigh.

“I’m actually in quite good shape and it’s quite strange because I actually feel quite good,” said Robinson, a born-again Christian.

“I’ll be 37 this year but I’ve looked after myself and I’ve kept myself out of the public houses for the last 15 or 16 years so that’s certainly made a difference in how I feel!

“But at the moment I’m enjoying it. I’m playing some games for an amateur club in Fylde and being involved with their development and coaching, going to the schools and not having that same pressure, I’m just really enjoying it.

“Every game, whatever you do, the main thing is about enjoyment.”

The dual-code star has certainly enjoyed most things since his sporting career took off with matters turning back to where it all began on Monday night when Robinson was honoured in Leeds.

Representing the city’s leading rugby league side was about the only accolade that got away but, even with the Rhinos, Monday night’s star feels an affinity that will last forever.

“I still go to the games and it’s nice to be able to do that,” he said.

“They’ve got a great set-up there, it’s amazing to see.

“Many, many years ago I was a ball boy. To see how the whole club has now developed, the facilities are second to none and they are probably the envy of many clubs throughout the country.”

Robinson, too, will be the envy of many, the working-class lad made good and now an international superstar in both rugby union and league.

However, the former Chapeltown lad says his ascension is proof anyone can make it, and he is highly- encouraged by the sporting talent in Leeds and certain there are more young stars waiting to burst through.

He added: “It’s good to see what Leeds continues to produce.

“There’s a lot of talent in Leeds and there are many, many sports men and women who will continue coming through and who will receive many, many awards I am sure.”

Leeds Rhinos captian Danny McGuire.
 PIC: Bruce Rollinson

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