David Clegg Continues His Series Reviewing the Season Through The Eyes Of Up And Coming First Teamers, With Fullback, Connor Williams
For young fullback, Connor Williams, the 2016 season was one in which he was required to adopt a role of dual identity, being involved primarily as an eighteen year old with the Red Devils U19s squad, whilst simultaneously training with the first team, and, against all odds, even being drafted into the side for one fixture, in early June.
Being involved with both camps, he was immediately struck with the significant increase in intensity, particularly in physicality, that was most evident while training with the first team, though this was more than compensated for by the considerable amount of support be received from the players, and he consequently believes he gained much from their experience and guidance.
Having three, only slightly older players than himself, in the forms of Josh Wood, with whom he has travelled to and from training throughout the season, Ryan Lannon, and Jake Bibby, was also of great help, and he says that they all provided a source of mutual support to one another.  Despite the fact that the likelihood of playing in the team was extremely remote, he tells me that he never let this blunt his enthusiasm for training, and he quite simply enjoyed just turning up and being part of the team.
The remoteness of that likelihood of actually playing in the team was shot to pieces, however, when he received an unexpected, late call to make his Super League debut in no less a fixture than the home encounter, with his home town team, Wigan Warriors.
“I wasn’t in the team, two days before,” he reflects, “but turned up to training with the U19s to learn that Gareth O’Brien had had to drop out, and that I was needed for the game.  It felt really great, as I realised this was a chance to show what I could do.”
It must also have been a great boost to his confidence to have been called upon for such a high profile match, and it also showed that he was regarded as a factor in the first team squad.
“Obviously I had a few nerves about it in the run up to the game,” he recalls, “but I was all right once I got here.”
Before he was called upon to take part, however, he had to endure thirty minutes of sitting on the bench awaiting the call.
“Being on the bench is nothing like spectating, because you know that you could be going on at any moment,” he explains.  “It was ten minutes before half time when I was called upon, and then played for a further twenty minutes in the second half.
“It was standing on the touchline, waiting to go on, when I really felt the nerves because I was preparing myself for taking part, but, by the time the opportunity to go on came, I felt all right, and once I was on, I just got on with the game.”
Getting on with the game he might have done, but there were significant differences between this match and any other he had experienced previously.
“It was the speed of the game which came as a really big surprise to me. It was just so very fast,” is his assessment.
Surprisingly, considering that Wigan are one of the most physical teams in the league, he did not feel that the game was much harder than he had encountered in training at that level.
“I still had a fair few bruises, the following day,” he wryly adds, “but at the end of the game I felt really happy, and quite proud.  Ian Watson said that I had coped well with the pressure.  There were a few things to work on, but that’s all part of the learning curve.”
He was not allowed to come back down to earth for almost half the following week because of all the supportive comments from members of his family, and of his friends.  Even when he had to return to the U19s, it did not feel an anti-climax, as all his team mates in that group were thrilled for him, and personally encouraged by his achievement.
Since that. for him. unforgettable match, he happily returned to playing regularly for the U19s for the remainder of the season, looking forward with keen anticipation to the next time he is called into first team action.
Next Time David Clegg Interviews Regularly Selected Prop Forward, Adam Walne