THEY say one man’s misfortune is another man’s gain - and that’s exactly the case for Wakefield Trinity Wildcats hooker Andy Ellis.
The 27-year-old was seemingly surplus to requirements at the Rapid Solicitors Stadium when he was sent out on a one-month loan to Co-operative Championship side Featherstone Rovers in May.
The move followed just two appearances for Wildcats after his close season switch from Harlequins on a three-year deal.
But injury to the impressive Paul Aiton has opened the door for the former Hull KR man at Wakefield.
His chance may have come in unfortunate circumstances, with Aiton - arguably Wakefield’s star performer in 2012 - suffering a broken jaw during a mugging while on holiday in Spain.
But Wildcats head coach Richard Agar says it’s a big chance for Ellis to make an impression.
And the timing couldn’t be much better with one eye already on shaping Wakefield’s squad for 2013.
“For Andy it’s a great opportunity for him,” said Agar.
“His ability has never been in question, it’s just that we’ve had a guy in front of him [Paul Aiton] who took his chance early on in the year when it was up for grabs and he has been our most consistent and probably best player over a long period of time.
“That’s just one of those things that happens in sport.”
Ellis was one of Wakefield’s first recruits for 2012 as the club made wholesale changes to both its coaching and playing staff.
But he had to wait until the Easter Monday clash at Wigan Warriors, a match which Agar rung the changes owing to a derby game against Castleford Tigers four days before and a Challenge Cup tie at Leeds Rhinos four days later, to make his competitive debut.
One more appearance followed, in the 38-12 loss at St Helens, before the 2009 Championship Man of Steel was loaned out to Rovers.
He made seven appearances for Championship leaders, six from the bench and one from the start, nothing two tries.
He showed signs of improvement with each game at Featherstone before Aiton’s injury saw Wildcats recall him for Super League action.
“He’s waited very patiently,” Agar continued.
“He’s been very professional. I thought the stint at Featherstone got him more game time, ready to play for us.”
He added: “I don’t think Andy’s ability has been in doubt for us, we’ve never said that.
“I’ve always been very respectful of the way he’s handled the situation. We’ve talked regularly and he’s trained and performed in a very professional manner at a high level.”
Ellis’s return has coincided with three wins on the spin for Wildcats.
He returned in the 35-14 win at Huddersfield Giants and also played key roles in Wildcats’ back-to-back derby wins over Leeds Rhinos and Castleford Tigers.
Agar has been impressed by the game-by-game improvements in the hooker’s game and he’ll be hoping they continue as his side continue their slim hopes for a play-off place.
“Defensively he’s shown some improvements that we’ve wanted in him,” he said.
“He’s certainly been a lot more pro-active and aggressive defensively. His tackle selection he’s getting in the right areas at the right time.
“The difficult thing for him was we played with fairly consistent pivots throughout the year so it was finding a spot within that.
“I’m sure the longer the season goes on the easier it’ll get for him.”
Ellis has been sharing game time with Kyle Wood, who’s come in for plenty of praise from Agar throughout the season.
The former Castleford Tigers man has been the preferred option from the bench in 2012 but Agar has been pleased at the efforts of both players in orchestrating Wakefield’s play.
“Pauly’s [Aiton] spent the bulk of the time at hooker and we’ve used Woody sparingly,” he said.
“But last two weeks he and Andy Ellis have pretty much played 40 minutes apiece.
“The problem being for Andy was Pauly’s form was that good and he’s stayed fit and well for a long time.
And we feel Woody just gives us a better fit with the ten substitutions off the bench.”
Ellis is again expected to be in Agar’s starting line-up when Wakefield host third-placed St Helens on Sunday (kick-off 3.30pm).
It’ll be Ellis’s toughest test on paper but it’ll be yet another chance to prove he’s up to being a key cog in Wakefield’s squad next season.
Matches against his former club Hull KR, at Craven Park, Widnes Vikings, at home, and Salford City Reds, away, are expected to involve the Derby-born hooker, with Aiton expected to be sidelined for the rest of the Super League season.
See this week’s Wakefield Express for all the latest Wakefield Trinity Wildcats news.