David Clegg Introduces U19s Centre And Former Judo Champion, Ben Calland
It is hardly surprising that when young Ben Calland eventually turned from judo to rugby league, that he eventually slotted in as a centre three-quarter, because, as the younger brother of that renowned, former Bradford centre, Matt Calland, he had a readymade role-model, within the family.
His first attraction, however, was judo, which he took up at the age of five, and for which he quickly found he had an aptitude, rising to become North West Champion, for his age group, having attended lessons at a club, in Haydock.
This turned out to be significant, for when, as a six year old, he began to become interested in rugby, Haydock Warriors ARLFC was just round the corner, so, despite his having been born and bred in the Ashton area of Wigan, it was to this St Helens based club to which he gravitated. He certainly made an impact, winning the award of Most Improved Player, three times in a row.
Much as he enjoyed his six years there, his obvious talent meant that he spent the whole of this period playing against opponents twelve months older than himself, and while this will have been clearly beneficial to his development, he always held an urge to see how he performed against players of his own age.
Consequently, when the team started to break up he moved even further into St Helens to join Blackbrook U12s, which initiated that significant move for him from the second row, where had previously operated, to centre. Both of these changes proved to be inspired from the outset, as the team swept all before them.
On a personal level, Ben continued to catch the eye by twice winning the Player of the Year Award, which he believes was significantly helped by the intensity he showed in training. In his final game for Blackbrook, he was part of the team which won the War of the Roses, beating West Hull, 22-20.
It was unsurprising, therefore, that, with so much success surrounding him, he was snapped up by St Helens to join their Scholarship side, but unfortunately, this did not work out as well as he had hoped, owing to an injury ridden first season, and so he made the possibly long overdue move to his home town side Wigan, for the following season.
Not that the Saints – Wigan rivalry had ever been an issue for him, as, with brother Matt firmly ensconced in that all-conquering Bradford side of the early noughties, he regarded himself purely and simply a Bulls’ fan. He enthusiastically recalls marvelling at the likes of Joe Vagana and Lesley Vainikolo, alongside whom his own brother was playing.
Having overcome the injury niggles which had marred his time with Saints, Ben buckled down to his time with Wigan. When the time came for him to move up to the Academy, with all the older talented players which grace the Warriors’ U19s side, Ben, again, find his opportunities limited, and decided to look elsewhere to pursue his career, and was put in touch with Salford Red Devils.
Invited for a month’s trial, he was signed up at the end of it, and despite the team’s slow start to last season, has never regretted it.
“I’m much more relaxed and happier here than I have ever been,” he confides, “as I am simply allowed to play my own game. The club is on the way up, and I want to be part of it.”
In one of those remarkable twists of fate, his first game for the Red Devils was against Saints, in a fifty point defeat, but in which he actually scored. He was, nevertheless, totally undeterred because he had no doubt about the quality of the players within the Salford squad, and, as we know, that is how things turned out. In particular, he feels he benefitted from the individual coaching he received from former international centre, Martin Gleeson, who, in another twist of fate, had played alongside brother, Matt.
That coincidence has recently been repeated by the acquisition of a number of other former St Helens players to the present Salford squad, and this has pleased Ben considerably, as they were all people with whom he had got along really well.
Now, as one of the senior players in the squad, he is endeavouring to repay the help he, himself, received, by being one of the leaders within the team.
“It is nice being able to give a boost of confidence to the younger lads in the squad, when they need it,” he maintains.
With the quality of guidance he has had available to him, over the years from the two aforementioned top quality players, I am sure he has much to impart which will be of benefit everyone.