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Peers pay tribute to Chris Thorman’s super career
“I couldn’t hold a candle to the guy,” says Kiwi legend Robbie Hunter-Paul.
“He gave arguably the best-ever individual performance by anyone in a York City Knights shirt,” says Knights general manager Ian Wilson.
“He’s arguably the best half-back in the competition... and could carry on playing in the Championship for years,” says Knights captain James Ford.
Those are some of the compliments paid to Knights player-boss Chris Thorman ahead of his retirement as a player.
As most readers know, Thorman, who turns 32 next month, hangs up his boots and joins Huddersfield Giants’ coaching team after this season, and so tomorrow’s Champion-ship wooden spoon decider against Hunslet is his last professional game.
His playing career has spanned 15 seasons, 332 games (plus tomorrow’s), 1,618 points, a Challenge Cup final as captain, a year in the NRL, two world records (fastest hat-trick, and most points in a match – with 56 for York v Northumbria Uni last year), a Great Britain squad call-up, Yorkshire representative honours, and two England caps – all summed up in the career stats box, below.
He is likely to get his fill of tributes over the coming days, but not many will be as valued as that from a peer such as Hunter-Paul, a former adversary and team-mate during their illustrious Super League careers.
Now a pundit, club marketer at Huddersfield and autobiographer – his book Robbie: Rugby Warrior was out last week – the New Zealand great spoke at length about his old mate ‘Spuggy’.
“I referred to him quite a bit in my book,” he told The Press. “When I was at Bradford we rated Chris very highly. He was a great reader of the game, a great ball-player and had a good turn of pace, and he had an amazing core fitness base.
“I didn’t quite understand that fitness until I came to Huddersfield. Fitness was one of my strengths, but I couldn’t hold a candle to the guy.
“He was used to being so far out in front of everyone else. I ended up just thinking, ‘Who is this guy?’ I’d come from the powerhouse that was Bradford Bulls to Huddersfield – it was disgraceful.
“I always thought this guy could do any sport he wanted to.”
Hunter-Paul hung up his boots a year ago, aged 35. Asked if Thorman would regret finishing now, he said: “It’s a collision sport, and the grind and everyday impact takes its toll on your body. When you’re over 30, you take longer to recover. I’ve never regretted retiring, although I was 35 so had a good stint.
“I think the key is to stay busy – and coaching is extremely busy. They can start at 6am and not leave until 7pm. After a particularly bad result and the coach wants to know why, you could work all night going through videos.”
Asked if he reckoned Thorman was cut out for coaching, despite a frustrating first season as a boss at the Knights, Hunter-Paul said: “York got promoted the first year he was involved (as player/assistant-coach in 2010), which is a big positive. Going from strength to strength takes time and the resources aren’t available to many clubs at that level.
“Chris is extremely intelligent, he’s a thinker and that’s what you need. He’s passionate about the sport and he has ideals. Working in a full-time environment will be a lot different and I think he’ll be greatly looking forward to the challenge.”
Ford, named Knights skipper under Thorman, backed up that opinion.
He said: “I’m sure he’ll do a great job at Huddersfield. I think they’ll respect him immensely. He’s been a fantastic player and he talks a lot of sense, and you can see he’s very passionate.
“He also thinks outside the box and is creative. A lot of coaches are followers but the great ones are innovators. He didn’t have the personnel to pull things off here but at Huddersfield they’ve got a big budget and some of the best players in the world.”
On the point of Thorman’s debut year as a head coach, Ford added: “It’s been a disastrous season – we’re bottom and we need to beat Hunslet and not finish bottom. But he’s had ridiculous things to deal with, with the amount of players injured or out, including a lot of players you’d base game plans around. The dual-reg has been a disaster as well.
“On the performance side, he’s not struggled – we’ve struggled as a group of people.
“But in one way it’s been a success. There are three or four young players who’ve been thrust in there and he’s nurtured them well enough to look like they’ll be good players.
“His legacy at the club is there, with these youngsters and with increased professionalism and players’ education, with what’s right and wrong. On that side he’s done a really good job.”
As for his input as a player, Ford added: “He’ll be missed. He’s played half-back for us just about on his own all season. He’s arguably the best half-back in the competition. He’ll take some replacing.”
Will Thorman miss it too? “I hope not,” said Ford. “He could carry on playing for much longer. How he controls games, organises, kicks – he could sit behind a pack for ten years. But he’s got a great opportunity and I’m sure he’ll make the most of it.”
Wilson reckons Thorman’s display in the 2010 Championship One grand final will go down in club annals. “It was an ambitious signing when it first came about,” he said of Thorman’s arrival at the end of 2009.
“From initial discussions, coaching was something he wanted to go into and it was a good fit for him to come in as assistant.
“We brought him in to help us get promotion, which we achieved, and that grand final performance could be described as the best performance by any Knights player in the history of the club.
“His class, the way he controlled the game, plus he scored a try, kicked a drop goal and was named man of the match. There have been some memorable performances and that has to be up there.”
Wilson added of Thorman’s time at Huntington Stadium: “His attitude and professionalism – it rubs off on others.
“He’s had a massive positive impact on and off the field. He’s been a great role model in schools and at York College , and it’s been great to have someone of that calibre promoting the club.”
Wilson also reckoned the poor results did not “detract from his coaching ability”. “It’s been a difficult season but if Lady Luck had smiled on us we would be higher up the table,” he said.
“There’s no questioning his qualities as a coach. He’s dealt with a lot of adversity but I hope it doesn’t detract from the contribution he’s made to the club.”
IT’S in some way fitting that Chris Thorman will sign off his career by lifting the last Press Player of the Month award of this season.
Thorman topped the poll of Press readers to collect the accolade for August after his quality shows against the Championship’s top three, Featherstone, Halifax and Batley, despite it being in vain on the scoreboard.
He will be presented with his award ahead of tomorrow’s match, and here’s hoping he can also sign off with a victory so the club don’t finish with a wooden spoon which the man himself does not deserve.