NEW SIGNING Ian Kirke will need to be on the ball when Wakefield Trinity Wildcats arrive at Headingley Carnegie on Boxing Day for their opening pre-season game.
The Tetley’s Festive Challenge (11.30am) will be Kirke’s first appearance for Wakefield after nine seasons with opponents Leeds Rhinos – and remembering to turn left into the changing room rather than right when he gets into the players’ tunnel will be Kirke’s first test.
“It will be a bit strange, playing a friendly against my old team,” Kirke admitted.
“In the league it wouldn’t bother me, it would just be another game.
“Playing a friendly – or what’s billed as a friendly – will be a bit more strange, but I am sure I’ll be all right once we start playing.”
Kirke joined Rhinos in 2006 and played in five Super League Grand Final wins, as well as this year’s Challenge Cup triumph.
“Some of them are among my better friends,” he said of his former team-mates.
“But we don’t talk much about rugby outside of it, so there hasn’t been much banter going on.”
Kirke admits he isn’t a big fan of the Boxing Day game, which comes six weeks before the start of the competitive season.
Celebrating his birthday – his 33rd this year – the day after Christmas, he would usually prefer not to have a fixture, but with new colleagues, coaches and fans to impress, he admitted he’s keen to get back out on the field.
“The older you get, the less you like training without a game at the end of it,” conceded Kirke, who made 214 appearances for the Rhinos after joining them from lower division York City Knights.
“You’d rather be playing games, so it’s good to have one coming up.
“That’s what we do, we are rugby players, not rugby trainers.”
Kirke has been training with Wildcats since joining them at the start of November.
“Obviously everything is a bit different,” he observed.
“It was never particularly my expectation I would be leaving this year, so to do it kind of last minute was a bit of a shock.
“But they have all been pretty welcoming and that has made it easier. Training’s been not too bad and we are looking fairly good.
“The way they play is quite different to the Leeds way so it has probably been a bit more difficult for me than the other guys who are used to the system, but I am getting there slowly.”
Wildcats went on camp to Wales earlier this month and Kirke said that helped the settling-in process.
“There was a good 3g indoor pitch,” he said.
“Some of the other players probably didn’t benefit as much as I did; because we were indoors, you could hear what people were saying and it was a chance to learn new calls.
“It is always good to have more time together. I knew some of the lads before I came here, like Macca [Paul McShane] and Ali [Lauitiiti], but everyone gets on really well together and the team spirit is really good.
“The only thing that wasn’t good about Wales was the travel – five hours there and back in a minibus isn’t ideal, especially with my height.”
Friday will be Wildcats’ first chance to put their efforts in training so far into practice.
“We should have a good side if we can keep people fit,” Kirke predicted.
“A lot of the pack are seasoned players who have played a few games, so it should be good.”