Former Ireland international and Warrington forward Ben Harrison has explained how his brother and Rob Burrow have inspired his decision to come out of retirement with hometown club.
The 33-year-old Barrow-born forward last played in 2016 before injuries forced him to step away from the game where he won three caps for England between 2010 to 2012, while he also represented Ireland at the 2008 Rugby League World Cup.
Harrison had featured in two Super League Grand Finals for Warrington, won a League Leaders’ Shield in 2011 and claimed three Challenge Cup winners’ medals during his time with the Wolves.
He now returns to the sport five years later with his hometown club for the 2021 League 1 season.
Discussing his return, Harrison said: “There was a couple of instigators really that happened around the same time. Covid hit and with the lack of sport, you don’t realise how watching on TV and little bits like that, it just gives you a revaluation on what’s important.
“Also, at same time, what had happened and happening to Rob Burrow and how something can get taken away from you. That really hit home and was big factor.
“Due to circumstances, I was working back in the area and bumped into Paul Crarey and had a conversation with him. I had injuries at Warrington and had operations to correct the majority of them and I was in good shape and he said do you not fancy it and do you not miss it. I said I do miss it more of late. I was always proud of being sort of a one club person in terms of being at Warrington the majority of my career.
“The fact it was my hometown club and my brother had played here were all key factors in the possibility but after speaking to Paul and Steve (Neale, chairman) and realising their ambition and the cultural change and progression in the team and getting up in the divisions, I was really interested. The community aspect helped too with the Ladies team and the academy. It wasn’t just a case on just focusing on rugby, it was sold by the community aspiration for them all.”
Barrow were relegated to League 1 at the end of the 2019 season, but are heavy favourites to make the instant return back to the Championship with the likes of Harrison, Jamie Dallimore and Carl Forster within the 2021 squad.
Head coach Crarey has also added several local players to his playing roster ahead of the upcoming campaign, with a strong connection to their club’s academy which has seen a player promoted to first-team in every year since its launch.
And Harrison, who took a career in site management since 2016, is looking forward to the prospect of helping the youngsters shine.
Harrison added: “Across the board the club are putting a massive emphasis on local talent and progressing talent through local teams.
“Cumbrian rugby league in itself has a lot going for it but it sometimes gets pushed to one side. To have a chairman and a coach who genuinely care about the players as well was a massive selling factor, but they realise the importance of rugby and what it can do throughout the community and it’s a privilege to be a part of.
“It was always a consideration [playing for hometown club]. Unfortunately, where my head was at when I went away, injuries took its toll on my body and I had sort of fallen out of love with rugby. I’ve managed to take a career path straight away which sort of distracted me from it, but I’ve always had aspirations, for example to play with my brother who was there at the time.
“It was always back of the mind somewhere. I don’t think it would have been any other club bar Barrow. I wouldn’t have done it for sake of doing it, I was sold the opportunity on not just getting back playing but my involvement and helping with that professional environment which they want to achieve. They have a good young base of talent who I could hopefully improve the cultural change within to help progress them to the next level and setting standards both on and off the field.
“The squad that has been assembled is of high quality. There are some tough teams, it’s a tough league. There’s tough outfits throughout the league and tough places to go play away from home. I can’t say I’ve got a vast experience but the friendlies I’ve been involved in so far have given me a taste of it. We’re well capable and have good backing from the board, the facilities are improving. I think we should be able to get some good performances strung together.”
Fans can purchase an early bird stream for £4,95 via Our League for this weekend’s clash against Coventry Bears, rising to £10.00 on the day.