JON Wilkin knows he’s a lucky man.
The St Helens ace has spent 10 years at the pinnacle of British rugby league with a club he truly loves.
He’s represented his country with distinction, and won every team honour in the domestic game.
But he isn’t prepared to buy into the notion that his path to the top is simply the product of hard work mixed with his own innate talent.
There is, says Wilkin, another powerful ingredient – chance.
“I worked hard, but so did a lot of other more talented players, but I was the one who made the grade,” the Hull-born second rower says.
“There’s this idea that you work hard and you can succeed, but luck and chance play a big part, too.
“Of course, I did hard work. I wasn’t mucking around as a young lad, going out, I was at training. And I was lucky to have parents who helped me massively.
“Some youngsters might not be too keen to got out training when it gets cold.
“I didn’t have that option, my dad would just come in and kick me out of bed.”
Indeed, chance was a key component in the teenage Wilkin siging for Saints in the first place.
“I was playing for Hull KR, and hadn’t really done anything that season, when we went to play a game against Leigh,” he remembers.
“I was a lad doing my A-levels playing against men, and I was getting knocked about, and to be honest I was thinking about giving up.
“Then came this game against Leigh. I happened to play really well, and I scored two tries.
“It also happened that the Saints coach at the time, Ian Millward, was at the game.
“He was impressed, and I remember being in the living room at home when he called to say he wanted me to come down to St Helens.”
That chance encounter proved the springboard that propelled the 18-year-old Wilkin to Knowsley Road, where he found himself pitched into a squad of experienced talent.
It left the teenager slightly bewildered, and wondering if he deserved his place at one of the biggest clubs in the land.
“This was a team with a number of great players, like Paul Newlove and Chris Joynt,” says Wilkin. “None of them talked very much, they’d just snarl bitter comments across the dressing room.
“I was living in a house owned by our skipper, Chris Joynt, and I was always petrified of damaging the furniture or leaving a black mark somewhere, and thinking that if I did I’d never play for the club again!
“I was a terrified, but within a short space of time I got to know Ade Gardner and Paul Wellens. We in the same position, and they became my best mates – they still are.”
Wilkin can pinpoint the exact moment that feeling of bewilderment deserted him, and he felt he deserved to be at the club.
He says: “It was a game against Hull FC in 2003, and about 45 minutes before the game, Ian Millward sat me down and said that it was between me and a player called Stewart Jones, and that he was going with me.
“I ended up going on as a scrum-half, and not really doing much, but I got confidence from that, and never looked back from that point.”
After 10 years with Saints, Wilkin now considers the St Helens area his home.
“I grew up in a small village where there were more pigs than people, so when I came over here it was such a refreshing change to be around people,” says the St Helens ace.
“St Helens is a unique place and I love it – people will just stop you in the street and start talking to you. Even before the rugby took off, I’d go into a butchers to buy something, and 40 minutes later I’d still be in there talking.
“I love it here and consider the place my home. I’ll spend the rest of my life here.”
Although he is now celebrating a decade as a Saint, Wilkin isn’t prepared to dwell on past glories.
“Yes, it is surreal to think I’ve been here 10 years,” he says, “but I’m really one for looking to the future.
“I’m 28, and I think my best years as a rugby league player are yet to come.
“When I first came into the team, my levels of responsibility were zero. Now, I consider myself one of the leaders of this team, and I really enjoy that extra responsibility.
“I’m really focused on making Langtree Park a difficult place for other teams to play, whether that’s by being smart with the ball, or by being aggressive on the field.
“It’s a big ask in a first season at a new ground, but if any group of players can do, then it is this one.”
l Jon has a host of events lined up already for his testimonial year, which will start once events for Ade Gardner’s testimonial ends in May.
As well as several fans’ forums, there is a Jon Wilkin race day at Haydock Park on May 24, a concert with Johnny Vegas and Friends at the Theatre Royal in May; a golf day at Mere golf club on July 9; a Question of Sport-style event plus dinner at Langtree Park hosted by Clare Balding. Dates for the forums will be announced throughout the year.
For details, visit Jon’s website at www.jonwilkin.co.uk.