David Clegg Continues His Series Reviewing the Season Through The Eyes Of Up And Coming First Teamers, With 2016’s U19s’ Captain, Liam Bent
It surely must have come as something as a surprise to him, when, at the start of the season, U19s prop forward, Liam Bent, still only in his second year since moving up from the U16s, was awarded the captaincy of the side, for the coming year.  It must have been even more of a surprise, however, when, mid-way through the year, he was taken out of the Youth environment, altogether, and sent to finish the season playing open-age with link club, North Wales Crusaders.
“I really enjoyed the role of captain with the U19s,” he proudly acknowledges, “and felt I coped well with it.  It had meant a lot to me when I was given it by our Head Coach, Garreth Carvell, and I feel that I did all I could for the boys in the time I was with them.”
In conjunction with his responsibilities there, however, he was also training fulltime with our first team.
“Being with the first team really helped me,” he considers.  “It was an extra step up, providing an increase in speed and intensity, and I really enjoyed training with them as it gave me a platform, from which to progress.”
Playing at prop with the U19s,during the previous season, as a mere first year, he had had to get used to dealing with opponents up to two to three years older than himself, and that can present a considerable difference in size, physicality and maturity.  Having become accustomed to this over twelve months, he was able to take this further advance in his development, in his stride.
“Playing against older Academy players always meant adjusting to a considerable increase in size, particularly in the forwards,” he explains.  “Having got used to playing against bigger bodies than me helped me a lot, just as training at Super League level also helped me adjust to it, further.”
The decision for him to leave the U19s was first team Head Coach, Ian Watson’s, Liam tells me.
“Ian thought that it would be better for my development to play open age,” he recalls.
Although he did not know it at the time, his final game for the U19s turned out to be the home fixture against Widnes, in mid-July, and from that point on he was up against grown men, in the principality of Wales, for the rest of the season.
“I’d become dual-registered to them, a few weeks earlier,” he explains, “Once I got there I found playing was a lot slower, but much more physical.”
All in all, he played a total of nine matches against Oxford, Coventry, Keighley, Toulouse, together with home and away encounters against both Gloucester All Golds and Newcastle Falcons.
“Keighley were a big Yorkshire side with big lads throughout the team,” he recounts, “but in no way did I find that overwhelming.  It’s rugby league and you have to get stuck in.  After a while, the game just takes over, as you are focused on doing well for the team.  Everything else just goes out of the window.”
Despite that very level-headed and professional outlook, he was unable to rescue the game for the Crusaders as their visitors ran out 30-22 winners, and even at the time of our meeting, Liam still could not hide his disappointment, even though he had only been playing through his dual-registration.
“No-one likes losing any game,” he reflects, “and everyone had made me feel so welcome.  I just wanted to show my appreciation for everything they had done for me.  I learned so much in my time there.”
And it was not just from the coaches either.  Among those whom he lists as having helped him along is our old friend, and former captain, Steve Wild.
“It was great to play alongside him, with all his experience,” enthuses Liam, “and I learned so much from him.”
The encounter he enjoyed most of all was the visit of French side Toulouse, even though this also ended in a defeat, 32-14.
“It was the most challenging of them all, and I do like a challenge,” he admits.  “Their team contained a lot of Aussies, and their whole side were full-time players, even though they were only in Championship 1.  We took the game to them, though, and I think they were a bit shocked at how we performed.”
The team spirit they showed in that match was crucial in enabling Liam to enjoy victories in the Crusaders’ shirt over Newcastle, Oxford and Gloucester, whilst the fixture against Coventry resulted in a draw.
Next Time David Clegg Reports The 2016 Season Of Second Rower, Jordan Walne