Grand Final winner Chris Clarkson will channel his inner Jamie Peacock as he bids to inspire York City Knights to Betfred Challenge Cup glory live on The Sportsman this weekend.
The Knights captain leads his side against ambitious Newcastle Thunder in Sunday’s all-Championship Fourth Round tie, having tasted Wembley glory as part of the legendary Leeds Rhinos team of Peacock, Kevin Sinfield, Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow.
“I always think about the things that JP and Kev used to say and I try to reiterate that now to pass on to the lads at York,” Clarkson tells The Sportsman.
“Some of the stuff that I say now is from JP 10 years ago. I massively look up to him and often think about things he did and said, take it on board and use it in how I carry myself as a captain now.”
Clarkson’s own story is one of those great life stories of sacrifice, hard work and a desire to achieve.
The 31 year-old spends five days a week working as a builder, three nights a week training with York, and then a match at the weekend. He is also awaiting the imminent arrival of a third child.
He enjoyed remarkable success with that iconic Leeds team between 2010 and 2015, playing in a 2011 Grand Final win lit up by Burrow’s brilliance, and forming a key part of the squad that won it again the following year.
But the Challenge Cup proved elusive. A beaten finalist at Wembley in 2010 and 2011, Clarkson saw Leeds lose for a third straight year in 2012.
When their hoodoo was eventually broken with a 2014 triumph over Castleford, Clarkson was the unused member of the matchday squad. Yet those years remain powerful memories of the true magic of rugby league’s most iconic Cup competition.
“When Leeds won it in 2014 I was 18th man and it was great to be involved," he says. "I played in the final in 2010 and 11 and that memory of walking out in front of 80,000 people with the flames burning either side of you and feeling that scorch your face, forever lives in my memory as an amazing experience.
“As a young kid that is what you want to be able to achieve. You probably don’t appreciate it until years later how special it all is. They are memories in your mind forever that you will keep going over.”
Life these days is very different. Sent on loan to Widnes by Leeds in 2015, Clarkson spent the next two seasons with Hull KR before finding himself without a club or a job.
“That was a big period of change for me,” he continues.
“I ended up getting a trial at Castleford in the New Year ahead of the 2019 season, but I already had the wheels in motion of wanting to semi retire from rugby.
“I’d had three months without a job and slotted into bricklaying and building then started my own company. When I left school my mum and dad pushed me to have something to fall back on in case rugby didn’t work out. So I did a bricklaying apprenticeship which I’m lucky that I did.
“Throughout my career I have dabbled in it and kept my hand in doing jobs for team-mates, so it was a fairly easy transition. But it was difficult knowing my full-time rugby career was coming to an end as that is what I loved and wanted to do.
“I love the building side and running my own business which has been great leadership-wise. This will be the next 30 or 40 years of my life now. My dad is a builder so if he ever needed a hand I would jump in and help doing small porches or walls on a day off or in the off-season.
Clarkson was speaking to me while sat in his van looking at a flooded field in Thirsk.
“I spent about six months last year building a large extension here, and I’m back up here now doing the garden walls, patio and making it look pretty! “
York made it to Wembley last year in the 1895 Cup competition, and Clarkson says that run gave them a hunger to experience it again.
On Sunday he captains York against a Newcastle side coached by former Wigan forward Eamon O’Carroll and overseen by one of rugby league’s greats Denis Betts.
“I was fortunate to play for Denis in 2015 at Widnes.
“He’s a hugely impressive guy, with an impressive demeanour. When you look at him and how he talks you automatically listen.”
Join us live from the LNER Community Stadium this Sunday for York City Knights v Newcastle Thunder.
I’ll be alongside St Helens forward Kyle Amor for commentary, a 3pm kick off live and exclusive on The Sportsman.