Wakefield Trinity Wildcats wing wizard Ben Cockayne is aiming high this season.
The 29-year-old has put down the foundations for what he hopes will be a big year with six tries in Wakefield’s opening four Super League matches - tries that see him top the league’s try-scoring charts.
Cockayne also leads the way as the league’s top metre maker, with 597 so far, and believes he is currently in the form of his life with his hometown club.
That form is good news for Wildcats, but the former Normanton Knights junior is also hoping it is good news for England coach Steve McNamara with the Rugby League World Cup bringing an end to what is set to be a big year for the sport.
McNamara has a rich pot to choose from when it comes to English wingers but Cockayne is hoping he can at least give the England boss a selection headache with his performances this season.
“It’s something that’s actually on my mind now because I do feel as though I’m performing at my best that I’ve ever played at this level,” Cockayne said.
“I would like to think I’d be in with a shout and whether it comes or not that’s a different thing because you’ve got [Tom] Briscoe, [Josh] Charnley and Ryan Hall so I’ve got a lot to contend with. But if Steve McNamara wants something different I think I can offer him something a little bit different to those guys.”
The former Hull KR man enjoyed a good first year at the Rapid Solicitors Stadium last season with 16 tries to lead the Wakefield try-scoring sheet and help lead Wildcats into the play-offs.
His form was enough for the club to extend his initial one-year deal until 2014 and Cockayne believes it was the right move, with the winger saying he’s in the form of his life.
“On a personal note I’m as happy as I’ve ever been in terms of playing rugby league,” he said.
“My life away from rugby is as good as it can be in terms in interests away from the game so that probably all contributes.
“I thought at the back end of last year I was playing good and I think I’ve brought that into this season. I feel good about my game.
“I’m probably my worst critic at times, which is the best way to be I think if you want to keep improving and keep striving to be better. I think the best thing to do is be harsh on yourself and that’s what I do and that’s why I think I’m making some good improvements.”
Cockayne had made the headlines for the wrong reasons in years gone by but he’s quickly changing those columns in the front pages of newspapers to columns on the back pages.
In part, he believes it is down to a move back to his hometown, a move that gave him one last chance to succeed in the game.
“When I was over in Hull I suppose I was away from the spotlight a bit,” he commented.
“I wanted to make changes to my life as a whole and I knew coming back home, the first time I step out of line or do something wrong that’s me done.
“I wanted to make changes to my life and I’ve done that away from the field and by doing that I’m reaping the awards on the field as well.”
Featherstone Rovers helped the winger back to his feet after he was released from Hull KR following a police incident which saw the club suspended him and team-mate Liam Watts.
He signed for the Championship club in July 2011 and spent the rest of the season at Post Office Road before Richard Agar and Wakefield signed him on an initial one-year deal the year after.
Agar has been a big influence on Cockayne’s game, both on and off the field, and the Normanton star credits his Wakefield head coach with helping him hit top form.
“Rich has seemed to get the best out of me,” he said.
“I’ve been settled on the wing in one position whereas in the past I’ve played different positions here and there and I’ve not really been settled. Rich always told me that when I came here I’ll be here as a winger but I’ll get a bit of a free role and that’s what’s happened and it’s turned out alright.
“His man management and how he treats his players are second to none. Those skills are brilliant and obviously his game plans are working to a tee at the minute. There are not many teams this year that have put Huddersfield under the kind of pressure we did at the weekend and I think we deserved to win that game.
“He’s just a rugby league-mad bloke, I would imagine he watches rugby league every single day whether he’s watching other teams or our performances. He knows plenty to know about rugby league.”
Cockayne faces another test this weekend - he cannot remember winning against Catalans Dragons on French soil, either with Wakefield or former club KR.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever even won in France throughout my Super League career with Hull KR or Wakefield,” he said.
“To go out there is going to be a tough challenge but we’re in good form. Then again, they’ve come off a game last weekend that they probably felt they should have won so they’re going to be up for the challenge and they’re going to have big, physical French men that like to bash you up so it’s going to be interesting.”
There is still a long way to go but Cockayne would love to keep his place at the top of the try-scorers chart come the end of the season.
He will need the help of his team-mates inside him to put chances on a plate but believes players such as Ali Lauitiiti, Reece Lyne and Lee Smith are well equipped to do just that.
“I’d love to see that, I’d love to be sat at the top of the table but I’ve just got to take it as it comes,” he said.
“I’ve been fortunate, I’ve got great players inside me that are creating opportunities for me and I’ve managed to be on the end of a few things so long may that continue, whether it does or not is yet to be seen but hopefully that can continue and if those guys inside me can keep creating chances hopefully I can keep putting me away.
“I’ve been blessed this year. We’ve got Ali, obviously, who’s world class - we all know what Ali can do. Reece Lyne’s come in and he’s been a breath of fresh air, he’s been making breaks left, right and centre and putting me in for a few of my tries. Lee’s come back this week and got the winning try for us which was disallowed.
“I’m blessed, I’m fortunate to have those kind of players inside me, and Paul Sykes has started the season great as well.”
Cockayne will be eager to extend that try-scoring record on Saturday when Wakefield take on Catalans Dragons (kick-off 6pm CET).