Anthony Gelling arrived in Wigan as a 21 year old unknown rugby league player in the biggest rugby league town in Britain. The New Zealander has turned himself from unknown to cult hero.
Now 25 and an extremely important member of a Warriors side once again in the hunt for silverware come the end of the season. Gelling has one Super League and one Challenge Cup medal to his name from the Warriors' 2013 double winning season.
He's appeared in two Grand Finals since then both in losing efforts but Shaun Wane's men are chasing the title and the Challenge Cup once more. We spoke to Gelling a few weeks ago about all things rugby league:
DG: I always start these interviews in the same way so, what was your first experience of Rugby League and why did you want to start playing?
AG: I got into rugby because I used to go to school with my mate Ashley. His dad was coaching and I was playing football at the time. I used to go to this kids house every day after school and stayed on the weekends - I pretty much lived there at his house - and his dad said "why don't you come play rugby" and I just wanted to do what my friends were doing really.
DG: There was a rumour that Dean Bell and Kevin Iro were the men who said to Shaun Wane that Wigan should sign you. Have you ever heard any of that?
AG: Waney touches on it sometimes. He keeps in touch with a lot of the guys he played with over the years. He was looking for new players and got on to Kevin Iro. I'd played a bit for the Cook Islanders at that time and he just put my name forward - said there was this young guy in Auckland who was going good and then he gave me a call. He hadn't seen me play or really heard anything about me so he wanted to see something. I made some DVDs and sent them to England for them to look at. A few weeks later I got the call.
DG: So that all happened at the end of 2011 and you come over in 2012. Young lad at that point - just 21 - was there a part of you that hesitated about making the long trip to England?
AG: It was quite hard. When I was in Australia I was quite home sick and it was good to move back home. I could see my lifestyle slipping though, to a place where some of my friends were and a lot of family were. They played footie on the weekend, heavy drinking all the time - lot of drinking man - and the ambition of playing first grade footie were getting further and further away so I definitely couldn't turn it down.
DG: You came over in 2012 and started with a bit of inconsistency in terms of form. What was it like when you were trying to find your feet?
AG: It was pretty sh*t man. Wigan's known for having a big youth base and when they sign this kid from New Zealand it's a bit like, you've got hundreds to pick from. When I'm still trying to learn the game and pick things up there's that thing of, he's come from New Zealand he should be ripping it up but I never trained full time. I was showing up late to training and getting used to the schedule - it was hard, a lot of pressure. I think it's just that expectation. I mean a lot of players have it but people are used to players coming over from the NRL and having played for their country and there's that expectation that they'll do well, but there's not too many young players who come over.
DG: You think we'll see more young players from NRL coming over?
AG: It's tough man. There are a lot of issues with visas. There are a lot of players better than me who aren't getting a game but they're stuck in NRL reserves. If they came over here, there's a load of team that would sign them but you have to have the right paperwork. The visa restrictions are quite hard so it's hard to see young players come over.
DG: After a slight stuttering start, you got your chance with a few injuries in the side and you took it with both hands.
AG: Yeah. There was a rule that if you get the visa you could only play for that one club but that year they said you could go out on loan. I was on the phone to Tony Rae at London and was all set to go play there that weekend but Darrell [Goulding] got injured so I came in to cover that game, I think it was over Easter and I played well. Waney then went I killed it so played the next week, and the next week, right up to the Grand Final that year.
DG: You've settled in now at Wigan and last year signed a new four year deal. What do you see your Wigan career looking like over the next few years?
AG: This pre-season I felt like a senior member of the team. I've only just turned 25 so to say you're a senior member it still sounds a bit funny you know I still think I'm 21 and I've just arrived but you look around and we have a young team. Especially when players are injured like Micky and Joel and Lockers, you look around and there's not much age in team. Waney says I've been here longer and played a lot more games than some of these boys and they look to you as an example.
DG: There's definitely a feeling that you're a character in the game - the "Pie-smash" parody springs to mind. What did you think when you saw that and why did you create your own?
AG: I thought theirs was a parody! I just thought that can't be real! I like to take the piss really. I'm a film student at uni, and TV production. I've only just started but it's always been a hobby - you know making videos and stuff - so I do it pretty much every week for the boys. We all sit down and watch our review of the other team and then finish with something I've made. It's a good laugh and I think the boys find it funny. They'll come up to me and say to make a video about this or whatever!
DG: Another point of you having a bit of fun, you showed up to Good Friday clash against Saints in 2015 on a BMX.
AG: My house backs on to the stadium. I was leaving the house and the traffics packed and I was leaving a bit late so I just thought "oh f*ck it I'll bring the bike.
DG: We put up an article about this at the time of you coming out on your bike and stopping at some fans house after the game. What happened there?
AG: I just was riding back and I turned this corner and there was a guy outside this house just having a piss in the middle of the street. He just shouted "Oi Gells come here!" and I'm thinking "oh f*ck!" So I popped in for a bit just to say hello. Went in and had some food - didn't stick around for long - but they were all bind drunk man! It was some house-warming/Wigan game piss up!
DG: Stepping away from Wigan now, you're a Cook Islands international. Is that a big part of the game for you?
AG: Oh definitely man. It started I think back in 2009. A coach at Roosters came up to me and was saying that I was a Cook Islander. He mentioned that a friend of his was setting up a team to play in the Pacific Cup. We had a training run at the park one night and they said "listen boys, we know it's your off-season and stuff but we need you to be at the airport tomorrow cause we're flying to Cairns to play Samoa in a week!" I was just like "what the f*ck?!" Nobody knew anyone's name or anything. I mean we'd just shown up at this park! We showed up at the airport and they'd called in a few extras - it was really last minute. We got to Cairns - basically went on the piss for a week and got to know each other and then we saw a plane and it was the full Samoan national team with people like Francis Meli and Kylie Leuluai and I just though we're gonna get pumped. We had a team of 18 year olds up against a team full of Super League and NRL guys. We just thought we'll get on the piss and enjoy it but we ended up beating them! The next morning we got up and they said because we beat Samoa it was actually a qualifier and we were going to Papua New Guinea for the next two weeks! Half the team had to leave to go back to work and we had to bring some new guys in. Nobody picked us to win and then we beat. I love playing for them and representing them.
DG: There's this big thing at the minute about players going out for one country and then pulling on a different jersey later down the line. You're a New Zealander. Would you ever consider pulling on the jersey if the call was made?
AG: 100% man. I'm a Kiwi before anything else. I was born and raised there - my mum was there. I mean the Cook Islands thing; I mean 10,000 people live in the Cook Islands so the whole team lives or was born in Australia or New Zealand. It's more about representing your family and your heritage it's not you do it for this, or that. I can understand why people find it difficult to understand but me, I'd have no problem pulling on the Kiwi jersey.... If it ever came around!
DG: Looking to the future, do you see yourself remaining at Wigan or could the NRL be lure you over? Also, do you want to take up a leadership role on the international stage with the Cook Islanders?
AG: I see myself staying at Wigan but to play for my home town that would be a dream. With the Cook Islands, last year we had Johnno Ford at captain and me and him are about the same age and the oldest boys there. He kind of lead the team but it's just getting older you've got that sense of responsibility and you've got people looking up. I want to be like - well when I started I was looking up to guys like Zeb Taia - and lead us around.
DG: Finally, I always end with the same question - what's the chances for Wigan this year. Is silverware a possibility?
AG: I think so yeah. The main thing we've got going for us is our attitude. It's nothing we talk about, we don't mention it or speak about it but you can feel it on the field. If we can keep it up, and whatever injuries we have or whoever comes in, I think our chances are good.
Interview by Dom Gane.