First published in the Saddleworth Independent
SADDLEWORTH’S Super League contingent has grown by one after Delph’s Kyle Eastmond returned to rugby league after 10 years.
The Oldham-born and raised star spent a decade in rugby union, earning six caps for England after playing for his country in the 13-a-side code.
But he has joined Leeds Rhinos on a two-year contract after being convinced to return by fellow Saddleworthian Kevin Sinfield.
And Eastmond, who played for St Helens between 2007-11, is ready for the ‘honesty and integrity’ he missed from rugby league.
The 31-year-old turned down ‘more lucrative’ offers to stay in the 15-a-side code, from both English Premiership and French clubs to come back to the sport where it started.
And after filling the gap left by half-back Robert Lui’s long-term injury, with Luke Gale battling to be fit for game one, he is ready to experience again what he felt the absence of the most.
Eastmond, who played union for Bath, Wasps and Leicester Tigers over a nine-year period, said: “The big thing I missed is probably the honesty and the integrity you get with a bunch of rugby league players and staff.
“That’s massively important to me and helps me on the field once I understand I’ve that infrastructure around me.
“The move happened quite quickly, over the last week or 10 days but there were a few occasions where I gave coming back serious thought.
“I had some opportunities in France and with a couple of Premiership teams but at this stage of my career the most important thing is for me to get to an environment where people trust me, believe in me and want me to do well.“Regardless of what else was on the table, this move’s about coming to the right place with the right people.
“It’s a challenge, that’s what I like but I’ve got the understanding of what it takes to cross codes having done it before. I’ll do it.
“I’m at a stage where a new challenge is right for me. I feel like I achieved what I set out to do in rugby union.
“Making an impact in union and playing for my country is something I’m proud of. I feel I should’ve won more caps but there were a few times when I missed a few through injury and at international level, when a team starts winning, it’s hard to get back in.”
Leeds coach Richard Agar, who worked with Eastmond for England Academy when he was younger, admitted his drive convinced him he was worth signing.
He said: “Kyle’s skill set as rugby player – league or union – is phenomenal.
“He’s never been frightened of taking a challenge on and part of our conversations was, ‘This is a challenge, you’ve really got to want to do it.’
“It would’ve been easier for him to stay in rugby union – and probably more lucrative.”