Grif can't wait for fans to be back

Posted: Sunday 15th November 2020 - 9:05 AM


This feature interview is taken from November's edition of our monthly club magazine ROAR, which you can read in full by visiting castlefordtigers.com/ROAR.

November 11th 2019 was the day Castleford's pre-season began for the 2020 season and George Griffin was not expected to be at the first session due to playing in the Grand Final just the month before, and yet - he wanted to be there for the day one at his new club. A year on he has become a settled member of the squad and like all the players in the sport, has had to get accustomed to the new normal due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The 2020 rugby league season has been one of, if not the most, memorable seasons in the sport’s illustrious 125-year history mainly due to the sacrifices and commitment of every player and staff member at clubs across the country. Griffin joined Castleford as one of the five new faces for this campaign and it all went well at the start as he discusses.

“The first five or six months was awesome when everything was running smoothly and I was really enjoying my time, I still am enjoying it but it’s a bit different now as you can expect due to Covid. We set off flying with five wins out of seven and the boys welcomed me really well, I get along with the coaching staff great and I was loving it. Obviously, the world was flipped on its head and we had a four or so months break away from it all before coming back to training and we’ve hit a bit of a bad spell, copped a lot of losses and a lot of injuries.

“It’s been sort of weird in and around training with all the protocols we have to follow, but still enjoying it as much as we can and I love being around the boys and being at the club but it’s just a bit different and I’m ready for things to get back to normal and kick on from where we left off before lockdown.”

Much like the whole world is experiencing, normal day-to-day experiences have been changed because of the pandemic and more people are working from home, however, rugby league players have obviously been still training and playing together. But it is greatly different than these men are accustomed to.

“As rugby players we are usually in each other’s faces all time and tackling each other, doing gym sessions together and wrestling one another. So it’s gone to not being able to do all that, we have to follow one-way systems at training which everyone in the world is doing that sort of stuff at the minute but for us it’s weird. We can’t spend time with each other, not allowed to socialize away from training and it’s sort of taken away the social life away from you and we are very social people, but we understand it all because we have got to keep the sport going.

“It’s been a massive change in and around training but also no crowds, it’s so weird and you watch it on telly and they play the noise so you don’t notice when you’re watching but going out there and it’s dead silent is strange and surreal, a bit of weird feeling but we’re all just keen to get fans back in and get back playing in front of them.”

Matches being played behind closed doors with no supporters is another new reality that players have had to deal with, and George knows it might not seem that different on broadcasted matches, but actually being there is a surreal experience.

“I think I’ve noticed it most when you walk out for kick-off and when they announce the teams with the music and the fans going mental, or the noise around tries, like I said before you watch it on TV and they still play the noise of the crowd so at home you don’t really notice it but when you’re there and on the pitch or you score a try and you all run up to each other but you’re not allowed to touch each other, there’s no crowd roaring.”

Castleford’s supporters have often been credited with being the difference in matches, especially at The Mend-A-Hose Jungle which can be an intimidating place to come for opposing teams, and Grif knows that the Fords faithful give our players a boost on the field.

“It’s probably what we miss most, to be honest, the fans are like an extra player sometimes and they can spur us on. We’ve been close in a lot of the games since the restart and a bit nip and tuck towards the end, you never know if we had crowds there with us to push us through maybe the result could have gone differently. That’s hindsight though and we’re all keen to get them back in attendance.”

During the suspension period of the season, George initially filled his time by making hilarious videos that he would share on social media, little did he know how viral they would become and how much pressure he would feel to make more!

“It was getting on top of me in the first few weeks, but you know what? I was loving it! It was getting too much and I felt pressure to keep putting them out there and I was getting messages saying ‘We need more videos!’ then The Sun rang me and I was getting paparazzi at the door. I like being a goof of course, I mean I’ve got a moustache at the moment so I like being a goof but I thought I may as well try and use this time to do something that could maybe help me after rugby, to try use my time wisely instead of wearing dresses!”

Well, Grif will definitely have to use his time wisely now as a new father, the 2020 season has seen a number of the Tigers players welcome new additions to their families, in late August it was George and his partner Rose who introduced their beautiful little girl into the world.

“We were over the moon she was born August 24th and it’s been the best thing ever, I’m still on cloud nine at the minute.”

Their daughter Nellie joins one of the great families of rugby league, the Griffins. George is the youngest of three brothers who have all played in Super League, but when reflecting on how he originally got involved in this sport, he says he did mainly because his two older brothers did!

“My oldest brother Darrell he played it and then Josh ended up playing so I pretty much had to follow, I ended up liking it and sort of followed in their footsteps. Darrell is eleven years older than me so he was playing professionally when I was young, we would go to games watching him and I caught the bug and took it from there.

“We were in Oxford and we all played union to start, I didn’t even hear about rugby league until I came up north and played union until I was about fourteen or fifteen. When I went school after moving up here and there was not much union about, it was all league, so I played at Stanley Rangers and came through the Scholarship and Academy at Wakefield.”

Being brought up in Oxford probably explains why Grif can speak so eloquently.

“They reckon I speak posh up here, but I think I just speak properly!”

Recapping George’s rugby league pathway; he was with Wakefield at a youth level before spending a year in Australia in Canberra playing for Queanbeyan Kangaroos, then moved back home to play for Hull Kingston Rovers, then London Broncos before settling at Salford Red Devils, a club he has a lot of love for.

“Signing for Salford was where both of my brothers were at the time and there was a bunch of us young lads trying to get a Super League club once London dropped out. Salford came in and I remember looking at their team sheet and it was full of internationals so I thought ‘How am I going to get in here?’, I worked hard and I was lucky to play about 25/26 games in my first season and just kept progressing. I love Salford as a place to live as well, being right in the centre of Manchester and it was a good move for me that was.”

Within the Tigers squad, there are a few former Salford players such as Derrell Olpherts and Gareth O’Brien, who Grif affectionately called the Saviour for his famous Million Pound Game winning drop goal, but in 2021 another player George has played with at Salford is joining Castleford’s ranks too.

“We all get along pretty well, I used to see Derrell a lot outside of rugby before Covid but it’s always good to have familiar faces around and share stories about what we used to do and stuff. I think I’ve known Niall (Evalds) about six years and I still don’t think he’s said more than three words to me… so I’m still trying to get to know Niall!”

Well, next season George will get more chances to get to know Niall Evalds and it will be on the back of a challenging season in 2020 with lessons learnt and foundations to build on for Castleford Tigers.

“It’s definitely going to be a learning curve for us, it’s frustrating because we haven’t been too far away from winning at all and it’s always come down to the bounce of a ball, this and that or one more missed tackle, something like that and we’ve been so close in some games. Rugby league is a game of confidence as well and so when losses start building up you start, I wouldn’t say doubting yourself but it can make you feel a bit more down than you should.

“We needed to take a step back to have a look at our performances and realise we are not that far off, hopefully, we can turn things around whatever goes on at the backend of this year and get some momentum into next year.”

Read more interviews with Tyla Hepi and Brad Graham, catch up with our Women's Team and much more in November's edition of ROAR. Visit castlefordtigers.com/ROAR to read it for free, now!

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