Craig Kopczak Looks Back Over The Career Which Resulted in His Joining Salford
All in all, Craig stayed with Bradford for nine, quite wonderful years, though towards the end, a few cracks began to appear.
“It was a great place to be at that time,” he enthuses, “but then things behind the scenes began to slip a bit. There were comments the coaches made that filtered it down to us, although, they, too, seemed pretty much in the dark, themselves.”
The eventual outcome for Craig was that move down the M62 to Huddersfield, following an approach from their then, coach, Nathan Brown. By the time all the negotiations and paperwork had been completed, however, Brown had left to take up the reins at St Helens, leaving his assistant, Paul Anderson, in charge. This was extremely beneficial to Craig, in that the two had become well acquainted, whilst at Bradford, and, consequently, Anderson took a particularly personal interest in Craig’s development, giving him lots of encouragement and guidance.
“We were a really good pack, and that, basically, was our game, underpinned by the skills of Danny Brough, and the pace and strength of Jermaine McGillvary,” Craig recalls. “All in all, it was a very good side, and in my first year with them we won the League Leaders’ Trophy.
“That was massive for the club, as it had been eighty years since they had last won it.”
One thing on which we both agree is that that trophy deserves a much higher profile and status than it currently receives.
“To go all year, and win all those matches has to be worth much greater recognition, definitely,” he insists.
It certainly was the highlight of Craig’s time with the Giants, but once again, as had been the case with Bradford, things started to drift for him.
“It was my third year there, and, while the club was still doing well, I wasn’t. I was in and out of the side, and not playing my best,” he ruefully reflects.
Consequently, when he received an approach, at the end of 2015, from Ian Watson, to join Salford, he was more than interested, having known Ian extremely well, through their respective, Welsh international careers.
Yorkshire, born and bred, Craig qualifies for representing the principality through his grandparents on his father’s side, and had been initially sounded out for the Dragons, by Bradford team-mate, Iestyn Harris, before receiving an official approach from then, coach, Martin Hall. Having satisfied himself that his qualification ticked all the boxes, Craig immediately set about buying into the distinctive culture of the Welsh squad, and quite quickly, really began to feel Welsh, himself.
“I made my debut from the bench against some massive human beings from Papua New Guinea, in 2007,” he relates with a grin. “It was an extremely proud moment, not only for me, but for the whole of my family, as it is every time I pull on the shirt. I always think of the number of talented players who have done so in the past.”
Over the years, he has appeared in so many international encounters that he now ranks in the top ten, most capped, Welsh players, but not only this, the ultimate honour of becoming their captain was bestowed upon him by their next coach, Iestyn Harris, after Craig had been recognised as Welsh Player of the Tournament, in the 2011 Four Nations.
His proudest moment in this most auspicious of roles came with his leading out his side in the 2013 World Cup encounter with Italy, at the Millennium Stadium.
“That was a magical feeling walking out into the packed stadium,” he recalls. “The atmosphere was immense, at that moment.”
And so it was, therefore, that our own Head Coach, Ian Watson, was able to tap into their international histories together, to persuade Craig to make the move over here.
“As soon as we met up, again, I believed it to be the best move for me, because I recognised how ambitious the club is,” he continues. “Luckily, I followed my instincts, and here I am, with things going really well. Even at the start of last season I was convinced we would do well, because the players we have here are really talented, and they are all prepared to work hard and pull together. That’s a good recipe for success.
“I’m really enjoying playing among them, and we’re all up for one another. As soon as we start getting into finals, we’ll know we’ve done it. Last season’s cup run that took us into the semi-final was the first step that could take us into that category.”
His having now signed a new three year contract with the club is evidence enough to support all his claims.