On a bitterly cold afternoon in Widnes, rapid winger Jack Johnson touched down his second try of the game against Oldham RLFC, cementing his side’s name in the round five hat of the Challenge Cup. This isn’t Johnson’s first Widnes rodeo, however, as the former Wire player spent a stint at the club back in 2017, and three years later, Halton Stadium became his part-time home.
“I came on loan a few seasons ago, so I was looking forward to getting back and I enjoyed my time here. Which made it a lot easier to come back,” said Johnson as he stopped on his way to the exit door.
You may think that a move across Cheshire is simple. Not too far, no need to move house and it is in a great location, however, there is one catch. Going part-time. All their career, players chase that full-time dream because to any sportsperson, having the opportunity to play their respected sport, all the time, is a dream come true.
But after spending five years at the Wire, Johnson’s time at the Halliwell Jones came to an end, with West Yorkshire being the favourable destination until the end of the season.
The move to Featherstone was temporary, but that lingering thought at the back of his mind was about to become reality, as the part-time option became the only way. “I had weighed up the options and it looked like I was going to have to go part-time, so I had a lot of time to get my head around it. I had a lot of time to sort out a job and it is what it is, really,” said Johnson.
“It is a little bit of a shock [at first], you are working in the day and training at night, but I think it will stand me in good stead for life after rugby. If I can get something behind me now, I can carry that on once I call it a day but the aim is to go back full-time at some point.”
Coming to the reality that full-time rugby league is out of the question can be hard, but trying to find a full-time job in something different to what you have spent your entire life perfecting can be an even bigger task. Not only do players have to find a job, but they also have to find something that they are good at and can excel in, which can sometimes mean a bit of chopping, changing and sometimes, a bit of luck.
“I did start with a sales role at an electrical company, but the cold calling killed me,” Johnson explained. “I am a joiner now and have started my apprenticeship. So, hopefully, I will start college and will graduate as a fully qualified joiner.”
And much to the same tune as normal, the winger didn’t waste any time in giving his employers a shout out. “If anybody needs anything doing, this will be my second shout out and the company I work for is called Swan Joinery,” The 23-year-old said with a chuckle.
The joinery route has fitted in quite nicely with the winger’s life as a part-time player and having an understanding boss can sometimes be the difference between success and failure. When the average person hears the term ‘full-time professional sportsperson’ it is mostly met with moans and groans of ‘you don’t know how easy you have it’, which is something that Johnson can now echo. Going to training in the morning and finishing at midday can only be described as bliss, but now the Vikings player is balancing two jobs, he has a totally different outlook altogether.
“To be honest, you look back at when you were full-time and you feel as if you are quite hard done to, but in reality, you are finishing at two or three o’clock,” Johnson explained.
“Now, I am on my way to work at about seven and not getting in on a training day until about half nine at night, so it was a bit of a shock to the system at first but I enjoy playing rugby and I would never stop that. I am enjoying the work as well at the minute, so that helps.”
After a couple of difficult seasons – which nearly ended in administration – stability is key as Widnes progress through the Championship standings and now with former World Cup and NRL winning coach Tim Sheens at the helm, there is no better foundations to build from.
“Tim is great, all the lads love playing for him because he loves attacking rugby. I think the whole squad’s attack has improved massively [since the start of the season], we enjoy playing under him and I think he is enjoying coaching us.”
For a club the size of Widnes, chasing the pack at the top of the league has to be the aim. With the club currently sitting fifth in the second-tier and a cup clash with Swinton Lions on the horizon, life is currently on the up for Vikings supporters. But Johnson believes that the club has to push for that elusive single Super League spot.
“I want to keep playing consistently and at a good level, however, as a club, the eventual goal will be to get back into Super League,” he said. “It is not as easy as saying that we have a good squad and that is all we need. It is a working progress and we know what we need and hopefully, if it goes as it should, we will up there at the end of the season.”