Ben Cockayne has paid tribute to his Wakefield Trinity Wildcats teammates and coaches after being named in England’s 30-man Elite Training Squad (ETS) today.
The 29-year-old became the first Wakefield player since Ryan Atkins in 2009 to be included in an England squad after Steve McNamara rewarded the Normanton wing wizard for his superb performances since joining the Wildcats last season.
Cockayne, who led the try-scoring for Wakefield in 2012 and has already chipped in with six tries from his opening five matches of Super League XVIII, is the first Wildcats player to be included in an ETS since it was formed two years ago and is also the only new addition to McNamara’s squad since last year’s international matches.
Wakefield’s jet-heeled no5 was quick to pay tribute to those that have helped him enjoy the best rugby of his career, saying he could not have achieved England selection without their help.
“I’ve got to mention Wakefield, the coaching staff and the players,” he said.
“The players are the best bunch of blokes that I’ve ever played with and I’m not afraid to say that. The players around me, I can’t thank them enough, without them I wouldn’t be here today.
“There are lots of people at Wakefield that I want to thank for helping me. The coaching staff have been fantastic in getting the best out of me. Rich [Agar] and Webbo [James Webster] and the rest of the coaching staff have been unbelievable.
“They’ve given me a chance to get back into Super League. I spoke to Rich and he’s obviously over the moon for me as well. I can’t thank him enough for giving me that chance. He stuck his neck on the line a bit when he signed me and it’s unbelievable where I’ve got to since then.”
Wildcats signed the former Normanton Knights junior following a short spell with Featherstone Rovers, who he joined after being released from his contract at Hull KR midway through 2011 due to off-the-field problems.
Cockayne was worried his behaviour away from the game may have thwarted his chances of ever being involved in the England set-up, but as well as improving his performances on the pitch he told the Express that his “life away from rugby is as good as it can be.”
“I’ve never been given international honours at any level, be it junior, amateur or professional and to be honest I thought through some of my behaviour it might not come,” he admitted.
“I’ve been a bit of a nuisance so to get recognised is really something special, I’ve been walking around all day with a big smile on my face.”
He received the call from head coach McNamara on Monday morning before travelling to the Rugby Football League headquarters at Red Hall in Leeds to meet him face-to-face.
He said: “Steve called me this morning and the first thing I said was ‘is it good news or bad news?’ He said ‘it depends which way you look at it’ and then we had a good chat and he invited me over to Red Hall where we did some interviews and I had a chat with him.
“He said he was looking at my form at the back end of last year as well which I was surprised and really pleased about.
“It’s unbelievable. I thought my form warranted some kind of recognition but whether I got in the squad was another thing entirely because I know how strong the squad is.”
Cockayne will meet up with the England squad for the first time over the weekend of March 16 and is set to be involved in a further four camps throughout the year, including high altitude training in Potchefstroom, South Africa, when the domestic season has finished.
He will be hoping to be involved when England play their first competitive match of the year against the Exiles in June and McNamara’s men will also take on Richard Agar’s France in a warm-up game before the Rugby League World Cup gets underway on Saturday, October 26, when England face Australia at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.
It is one step at a time for the Wildcats ace, however, with the hard work starting now as he aims to maintain his top form throughout the campaign ahead of the World Cup.
“I’m not looking too far ahead, I’m just delighted to be in the squad first and foremost,” he said.
“I’d love to put my hand up for the World Cup but that’s another step. I’m grateful just to be in the squad. The pressure’s on now because I need to keep my levels as they are, someone will be watching how I do every week. It should be a good pressure, it should keep me on my toes.”