Wakefield’s Andy Raleigh is staging his testimonial on Sunday against his hometown former club Huddersfield. Peter Smith reports.
THE FACT he has played in the first round of the Challenge Cup and also the final illustrates what a varied career Andy Raleigh has had.
A one-time stalwart of the student game, he played in the old Northern Ford Premiership and National League Two for Sheffield Eagles, then National One with Hull KR before finally establishing himself as one of Super League’s most consistent forwards at Huddersfield Giants and now Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.
Raleigh’s contribution to the rugby league over the past 12 years will be rewarded on Sunday when his current side take on his previous team at Rapid Solicitors Stadium (3pm).
The benefit game is the first major event of a three-month testimonial awarded for services to the sport.
“I’m excited about it,” Raleigh said of his big day. “I’ve been speaking to Eorl [Crabtree] over at Huddersfield and he’s said their boys are looking forward to it and they are hopefully putting out a strong side, so it’ll be a good test for us.”
Typically of one of rugby league’s most modest figures, Raleigh, 32, is more concerned about what his team will get out of the game than he is individual gains.
Wakefield were embarrassed 24-8 in their previous trial, away to Featherstone Rovers, two weeks ago and need to be better on Sunday, Raleigh accepts.
“It wasn’t a fantastic performance, but that’s what friendlies are for,” he said. “They are about getting combinations going and getting used to playing alongside each other again. It is a long pre-season so fingers crossed we will hit our straps this time and put on a good show.
“The season is three weeks away and playing against quality opposition like Huddersfield we are going to find out where we are at and hopefully we are not too far off.”
Raleigh is from Huddersfield and was a Giant for six seasons. He said: “When the opportunity came up of a game in pre-season I asked [Huddersfield coach] Paul Anderson and he jumped at the chance.
“Huddersfield have been fantastic and I have got a lot to thank them for.
“For me it’s a funny one. There is a lot going on testimonial-wise and I am going to enjoy that, but I have got to treat it as the pre-season game it is.
“When I am on the pitch I’m not going to be worrying about my testimonial. I am going to stay focused on the job in hand.”
Raleigh, who is donating some of the proceeds of his game to the Laura Crane Youth Cancer Trust, began his professional career with Sheffield in 2002, but insists he has lost none of his enthusiasm for the sport – despite Wildcats’ recent financial problems.
“That seems like a long time ago,” he said of his first pre-season. “I think it’s the environment that makes it, all the lads and having a good bunch like we’ve got here.
“There’s still a good spirit here and I think that’s because of the underdog tag. I don’t think that label’s going to leave us any time soon.
“We have got a good bunch and that makes is easier even if you are getting a bit achy and a bit older. I have really enjoyed pre-season. It has been tough and my second baby – Eliza – came along in pre-season, which has made it a bit more interesting. But it is a big season ahead and hopefully we can match the enthusiasm and camaraderie with good performances.”
Raleigh and his wife Emily’s first child, three-year-old Joseph, will be mascot on Sunday. Given his background in the student ranks and his experience in all three levels of the professional game, Raleigh has probably played on more rugby league grounds than almost anybody.
He said: “I don’t know if it is unique, but when I played student rugby up in Newcastle we played in the first round of the Challenge Cup.
“I have played in every round and that’s a nice thing to have done. It has been a good career.
“When I finished uni and started playing I just wanted to progress. Luckily I was able to progress through to Super League and I’ve been able to do that for nine or 10 seasons.
“Hopefully there’s a few more left. If I feel like this going into the end of the year I will be keen to carry on, but it’s a tough sport and we’ll see.
“I am enjoying it and if I am in decent shape I will continue.”
Meanwhile, Wildcats forward Chris Annakin will miss the start of the First Utility Super League season due to a knee injury.
Coach Richard Agar said: “He’s got a medial ligament injury. He is seeing the surgeon and he could be out for anything between four and 12 weeks.
“It is a blow for us, because he’s had a great pre-season again and really set his stall out in the couple of games we’ve had.
“If we were picking a side for round one today, he would have been in it.”