When Get ’em Onside met Andy Lynch over coffee, it was clear from speaking to him that he is a man who is happy with his lot in rugby league. Despite finishing just two games short of Kevin Sinfield’s Super League appearance record – one he admitted that he doubts will ever be broken now – the 38 year old confirmed that he was ready to hang up the boots at the end of 2017 following one of the most impressive seasons in Castleford’s rugby league history.
Having made his debut for the club in 1999, Lynch saw an awful lot in his rugby league career as the game developed and changed but, upon returning to the Tigers in 2014, he revealed that the change hadn’t affected the Wheldon Road club. When asked what had changed at the club during his near-decade away from the club playing for Bradford and Hull FC, he laughed that “not a lot really! A couple of licks of paint here and there!” Lynch, though, added that “I saw it in a different light [when he returned] to when I was younger, all I wanted to do then was play rugby but when you get older you realise more what else is going on behind the scenes.”
Shortly before Lynch’s return to the club from Hull FC, Castleford had hired Daryl Powell as their head coach and, from the outside looking in, that seems to have been the trigger for the transformation of the Tigers from low-to-mid table Super League side to 2017 League Leaders’ Shield winners and Grand Finalists and the veteran forward paid testament to the work of the former Featherstone Rovers chief. “The professionalism within the club and the standards he drove when I came back were unbelievable and the main thing was that everybody brought into it,” suggesting that this laid the foundations for the rapid progress the club has made on the pitch over the last few years.
His move back to his first club was something of a surprise to Lynch who admitted that he felt his career would be over once he left Hull FC and it was one of his good rugby friends who told him of the Tigers’ interest. “It was strange really, it was Danny Orr who asked me about returning but I’d thought that I would play two years in Hull after I left Bradford and that would be me done really,” he said, further adding that “Danny asked me what my thoughts were and asked whether I’d come back to Cas – I thought ‘why not?’ and to do that, play three more years and for it to end how it did was incredible.”
The longevity of his career is certainly remarkable – being a prop forward who ran hard and true on a weekly basis for almost two decades and made over 450 Super League appearances is something extraordinary. Only Leeds Rhinos legend Sinfield is ahead of him – just – and it is something that Lynch is proud of and added that “I never imagined it when I first started and I was quite fortunate to play to 38.” It is a testament to his professionalism and fitness that he maintained the ability to play for so long to a high standard and the Leeds-born forward revealed one of the secrets to his longevity. “I play a lot of squash. I played most days and, sometimes, if I had a match on Friday I’d be playing squash up to the Wednesday and they were pretty tough games,” he revealed, agreeing that work on the squash court benefited his agility and fitness on the rugby field.
All the way back in 2004, when Castleford were relegated from Super League, Lynch left the club for Bradford Bulls, that season’s beaten Grand Finalists. Understandably a hard decision for the forward to leave his only professional club after their demotion, he admitted it was “disappointing, heartbreaking really and I’ve had a lot of stick in the past for leaving.” He did, however, suggest that the move to the then-superb Bulls was something which furthered him as a player in a big way. “Going to Bradford really helped me improve,” further adding that he perhaps felt that some of the criticism he – and many others – receive when leaving a club is unjustified, explaining that “some people don’t realise that it’s our job. When Cas were unfortunately relegated, I had the opportunity to better myself somewhere else but if they weren’t relegated I would have probably played there for my full career.” It is the fact that rugby players – or sportspeople in general – represent the fans’ teams and they hope that those wearing the shirt are as loyal as they are and, when players move on for whatever reason, it is taken badly but, ultimately, while they more often than not love the game, if any of us were offered better conditions of work in our walks of life then we would take them, something which Lynch believes could possibly be understood better.
That move to the Odsal club saw Lynch don the shirt of a team relegated in 2004 and then that of the Grand Final winners in 2005, a match he missed out on due to the return to the UK of Adrian Morley, something Lynch believes helped make him the way he is today. However, that didn’t take away from his enjoyable maiden Bulls campaign nor that self-confessed improvement, something he put down to those around him. “Bradford, at the time, was full of world class players and to learn from them was great,” he explained and, speaking of the disappointment of missing out of the 2005 Grand Final, he revealed the motivation it gave him going forward. “It was a case of asking ‘do I sit back, take it and sulk and give up?’ No, I thought I was going to show them what I can do and then the next couple of years I won the player of the year awards. It gave me that motivation and I still face people now at Cas who are going through tough times, saying that ‘I’ve not played for a couple of games.’ I tell them about my situation and just tell them to use it as motivation through the week and be involved, prove the coach wrong.”
That 2005 Grand Final success saw the Bulls earn their place in the next year’s World Club Challenge and they played host to the NRL champions Wests Tigers in early February at the Galpharm Stadium. Lynch confirmed that it was a superb occassion and one he was glad to be involved in as the Super League team beat their Australian opponents 30-10. The opportunity he had was one that wasn’t afforded to Castleford after their 2017 heroics and, while they didn’t win the Grand Final, the last few years have seen more than one Super League team face Antipodean opponents in the UK but, following the NRL teams’ refusals to travel over for the occassion, Leeds were the Super League’s sole representative as they travelled to Melbourne. Speaking of the fact that the Tigers didn’t get the opportunity to test themselves against an NRL team, Lynch outlined his belief that the club should have had the chance, saying “I think it would have challenged any NRL team and I don’t think they will have been ready for it. The game there is very structured and Cas like to throw the ball about and test teams. I think it would have been very interesting and the lads were disappointed, too, that they didn’t get the opportunity to play against them.” The prospect of one of the NRL’s finest visiting the traditional ground of Wheldon Road was one which was bandied around last season as people realised the potential of the Tigers team and Lynch agreed that seeing the occasion at The Jungle may have been a shock to the system for the team from Down Under, further suggesting that “it’d have been an experience for them, too. When you walk out on that field the atmosphere is outstanding and it would have been great. Hopefully we can push on this year and get the opportunity to have them over or go to Australia.”
The time he spent at Bradford was one Lynch admitted he thoroughly enjoyed and, in an ideal world, he wouldn’t have left and explained that the financial struggles Bradford were suffering from were one of the causes of his move from West Yorkshire to East. “That was one of the reasons behind my move,” he outlined, continuing that “I got approached by Hull FC and Bradford didn’t want to extend my contract at the time. I had a year left but they wanted to wait till the end of that year before offering anything and Hull approached me. The chairman at Bradford explained to me that the club were struggling for money, he said that Hull are going to offer you an extra year and asked me my thoughts. It wasn’t done in a bad way, we sat down and spoke about it and it was the best thing for all parties.” The move saw him join another big rugby league team in the shape of Hull FC and Lynch commented that the environment around the club was impressive. “Adam Pearson was unbelievable and you can see how well the club are doing now, all the staff he’s got and everyone is working well there together. Everybody in the city knows what is going on, both teams fans know what the other team is doing and it’s like a big fishbowl,” he explained and added that he thoroughly enjoyed his time at the KC Stadium.
After retiring at the end of last season with almost two decades of professional rugby league under his belt, Lynch has played under a fair few coaches but joined the many people involved in rugby league in singing the praises of the final one who managed him. “Daryl Powell and his coaching team have a superb knowledge of the game. He’s got Ryan Sheridan and Danny Orr there with him and then even more, the physio Matty Crowther and Ben Cooper do great work and get the players right for match day so Powelly, Danny and Shez can focus on the skill aspects, the game plan and tactics. Everybody that works for him knows their role and what they are doing so, when the players get to Powelly, they’re in the right frame of mind and right state to do what is needed.” Despite the quality in the coaching ranks, Lynch admitted that he didn’t see the superb season the Tigers experienced last season coming, although he felt good progress was being made at the club. “I felt we were heading in the right direction. I didn’t really know what to expect when I came back and I went in open-minded. It probably helped the club in my first season that Daryl had been there for half of the season before so he knew exactly what we needed to work on and he brought people like me and Luke Dorn in, experienced pros to drive standards,” he explained. “Along with him and senior players driving those standards, slowly the culture of the club started to turn and the younger kids then who are first teamers now started to follow – that’s instilled in them now to pass down.” He explained that culture now means that anybody who comes in and diverts from those standards is pulled up on it by their peers to ensure everybody is working towards the same goals, suggesting that the fact the players are self-policing is something all teams should be doing. “As professional rugby players, you should be able to look after yourself. It’s discipline, Daryl trusts his players to do the right thing but, if something did go wrong, he’d be down on us like a ton of bricks!”
After the enthralling rugby league the team played last season, Lynch agreed that it was a great shame the Tigers couldn’t do their incredible season justice in the Grand Final last season. Discussing the current campaign thus far, he explained that “the way they’ve started is scrappy,” agreeing that the weather probably played a part in that, but further suggested that “they’d rather be getting the scrappy wins and going under the radar whereas last year everyone was saying that nobody could touch us. Now, we’re winning games but Powelly’s probably still not quite happy with what they’re doing – not playing for eighty minutes,” giving the 25-24 victory over Leeds as an example. After a humbling defeat to St Helens on their opening night, many fans may have been concerned as to what this season held for the Tigers and Lynch confirmed that he felt that there was more pressure on the club this year to deliver and show that they weren’t a one-season-wonder. He further suggested that last season saw the club tail off a little bit as the club approached the business end of the season. “We want to be hitting top straps when we get to the play offs whereas last year we’d gone all the way through but towards the back end we sort of tapered off and lost it a bit,” agreeing that their performance in the opening Super 8’s match against St Helens wasn’t great and that the semi final against the same opposition was “a bit rocky.” Both Get ’em Onside and Lynch outlined Leeds’ consistent ability to hit top form in the play offs rather than in summer time and the veteran forward agreed that is something the Tigers need to aim for this season.
What is clear and obvious from speaking to Lynch is that he is content with what he achieved in his career. In fact, the last question Get ’em Onside asked the Tigers legend was about whether he considered staying on after the club’s impressive 2017 campaign. His answer? “Not a chance! I was ready to retire. I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I used to and no money in the world would have changed my mind,” further confirming that he was enjoying his retirement with his family – something which nobody could begrudge him after putting his body on the line at the top level for such a long period of time.