Dan Grange: ‘I now love the sport which I once hated’

Dan Grange has been talking to TRU about his battle against nerves, his cross-code move and life at Leeds Beckett.

“To be honest, I hated it at first,” said the Leeds Beckett forward.  I was very quiet guy growing up. No-one could get me to say a word on or off the pitch.”

“But I stuck with rugby, and grew to love it! Now, the next step for me is hopefully progressing into professional rugby and hopefully getting an opportunity to showcase myself as a player.”

It has been quite a career story for Dan Grange from the first day he picked up a rugby ball when he was 10 years old.

When he looks back on his rugby career to date, he will reflect on all the incredible things he has achieved in such a short period of time, but remember from 11 years ago that he was a shy young boy who first and foremost, never had any interest in rugby at all.

Throughout the interview, there always seems to be a light hearted moment which is stark contrast to how Grange suggests he was when growing up. He says as time has gone on, he has grown as an individual and as a player.

“I first started playing rugby at Wharfedale Rugby Club,” he said.  I had previously just played football, until my mates Dad, who'd played for Wharfedale back in the day, asked if I'd fancied it.

“At that age and growing up I was a bit of a freak of nature. I was about 6 foot at 11 years old, and about a foot wider than everyone else too, so rugby was pretty suited to me I think! From there, I got invited to join Carnegie's junior development squad (under 16s), after a Yorkshire schools training camp. It was a 2 day camp at Pocklington School, and I was so nervous at the time. I’d only ever played rugby with my mates at club and school, and back then I was a pretty shy lad.

"I got asked by Dave Duxbury, who is now a very good mate of mine and was one of the Yorkshire coaches at the time, if I wanted to train with the age group above, probably just because I was bigger than the kids my age. But ultimately I ended up doing okay, and I got the invite to join up with Carnegie. I suffered very badly with nerves back then especially when going to train at Carnegie. Sometimes I'd try make up some excuse not to go, just because I got so nervous going. I kind of saw training there as like a trial, but I kept going, just trying to get better and better.

“The years after that, I began to love playing rugby, It'd become my life pretty much. It got to a point that if I trained at Carnegie twice a week, I'd be playing 2/3 games a week for school at a variety of age groups, it was great! I got a fair bit of time off school too so that's always a bonus!"

There is no risk of telling you the details of how Grange felt about rugby heading into the next part of his story. His attitude and determination to continue despite dreading stepping out on the training field is quite remarkable.

Grange doesn't look like he has made one wrong choice in his short career, even if that thought crossed his mind when he took the opportunity to join Carnegie. He cannot look at himself in the mirror and regret many things even when he switched codes for a brief spell.

It is always a huge step for someone to go from Union to League and as a 17 year-old, Grange got that chance. However, rather than being nervous and apprehensive about it which he may have been in the past, he was relishing the opportunity to give the sport a go with the Leeds Rhinos.

"As a lad growing up in Leeds, rugby league is huge around here, but I'd never played as a kid so I was pretty excited to give it a go. I trained for a few weeks with the Under 19s, and I was loving it at the time, but I never thought I'd actually play for them as it was initially just to train through the union off season.

“But they got a couple of injuries, so I got given a chance to play off the bench against Featherstone Rovers. I think I only got about 20 minutes, but I was absolutely blowing! Luckily for me, probably more due to injuries, I kept getting given a shot to play and in the first season, I ended up doing pretty good especially as I finished off the season starting in the academy grand final against Wigan.

“In my second year I got a late call up to the first team in a pre-season game v Wakefield, which was surreal at the time. I didn't get many minutes but I was just happy to be in that environment!”

However, a rugby league career that was starting to blossom ended sooner than Grange would’ve liked.

“In the same season, it didn’t go as I’d hope,” he added. I got three injuries back to back, a dislocated shoulder, two broken ribs, and a pretty bad concussion.

“I got very frustrated that year. I could never get into the flow of things, every couple of games id start playing well again then I'd get injured and out for another couple of months. But all in all, I am huge fan of rugby league and I loved playing it.”

So with Union and League experience now under his belt, it was time for Grange to make a decision about which avenue he would take next in terms of his rugby career. With his Rhinos days now behind him, Grange had now begun studying sports and exercise science at Leeds Beckett. Beckett is regarded as one of the top universities for rugby union in the country and it was only a matter of time before Grange switched codes once again.

“Playing for Beckett turned out to be one of the best decisions I've ever made,” says Grange. I've loved every minute of playing for Uni. I've probably been the most happiest I've been playing for Uni. The whole student athlete environment is great. You're always with the rugby lads, either in the gym, out on the field, in the library trying to work and on nights out. So it's great.”

It is unsurprising to hear Grange mention that playing at Beckett is the ‘happiest’ he has been when playing rugby. BUCS success is certainly a highlight for Leeds and Grange who picked up the biggest prize in university rugby 13 months ago at Twickenham.

Not only did Grange start that final against Loughborough, but he also got himself on the scoresheet at England HQ making it a memorable first season for him with Beckett. A boy once shy to even take part in a training session was now making his mark on a very big stage.

“The Twickenham final and the journey leading up to it was incredible last year,” he adds. The day itself went so fast, but it was just surreal. To come back from such a deficit at half time is credit to the character and attitude everyone had that day. Although we were so far behind, everyone still had a lot of belief we were going to do it. I was lucky enough to get on the scoresheet, but I can't take much credit for the try as I only had to run about 5metres!!”

Grange may be much more confident in his only abilities but he remains humble despite having an impressive CV to his name at just 21 years-old. He is now on the verge of completing his second year of his degree at Leeds Beckett and is still an integral part of their rugby set-up.

This year, Beckett failed to repeat their success and fell at the semi-final stage of the BUCS competition, but Grange is confident that they can bounce back next season and challenge for silverware once again.

He describe the 2015/16 BUCS season by saying his side have ‘come a long way’. Likewise, Grange has come a long way towards being a confident and talented player and is set to continue progressing when the new season gets underway in five months time.