x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Dubai Sevens: Sculthorpe swaps codes to join Jack's charity side

Former rugby league man of steel Paul Sculthorpe could find himself up against some familiar faces after switching to union to feature for the Joining Jack side this weekend.

Paul Sculthorpe won the Man of Steel award while playing rugby league at St Helens and will play sevens this weekend in Dubai.
Paul Sculthorpe won the Man of Steel award while playing rugby league at St Helens and will play sevens this weekend in Dubai.

Rarely has anyone come up with a better definition for the ethos of the Dubai Rugby Sevens than Paul Sculthorpe, the former rugby league Man of Steel, inadvertently managed this week ahead of his first trip here.

The former-Great Britain international is a union novice who retired from playing league four years ago and has maintained his fitness ahead of this weekend by boxing rather than rugby.

As a legend of St Helens in Super League, he will be playing alongside some of his fiercest opponents from the Wigan Warriors, as part of the Joining Jack charity veterans 10s team.

And, in all likelihood, he will be playing against some old friends, too. If the draw works out as expected - and it is by no means certain, given the strength of sides like the Xodus Steelers, Bali Legends and Barla Bulldogs - Joining Jack should play Christina Noble in Saturday's final.

If it does come to pass, that would put Sculthorpe - as well as fellow Saints such as Sean Long and Chris Joynt - in direct conflict with a former colleague known as "The Terminator", Apollo Perelini.

"I'm very good friends with Apollo," said Sculthorpe, 35, who was the first player to retain Super League's Man of Steel award back in 2002.

"It will be great to see him over there, have a good chat with him, then hopefully give him a good shoeing in the final."

Which more or less sums up the Sevens. With 14 tournaments running besides the main IRB competition, Dubai is renowned for being the most sociable on the sevens circuit. It is about renewing acquaintances with old friends, but playing hard on the field.

And, in the case of the leading sides in the International Veterans competition, raising awareness of worthy causes, usually by way of some star names from the past.

No team has been more liberal with the stardust this year than Joining Jack. They are a charity side set up by the former Wigan player Andy Johnson to raise funding for research into the incurable muscle wasting disease, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which his son Jack was diagnosed to be suffering from.

Even their water boy is an icon - namely Bradley Wiggins, the Tour de France winner and Olympic gold medallist.

"Bradley Wiggins has been a Wigan Warriors supporter for some time and when he learned about the charity he wanted to get involved," said Clare Sweeney from Joining Jack.

"He first got in touch via Twitter while he was competing in the Tour de France and he sent us a picture of himself doing the linked finger 'JJ salute' the morning he rode out in yellow for the first time.

"Bradley also raised his hands and gave a 'JJ salute' on the podium after winning the time trial [at the Olympics]."

With Wiggins in their corner, plus a host of the most recognisable faces from union and league, such as Jason Robinson and Martin Offiah, this weekend should be mostly hassle free.

Sculthorpe, however, does have his concerns. "I'm one of only a few in the squad who have never played union before," he said. "It is all going to be new to me, the rucking and mauling side of it. It is going to be a great experience.

"I am really looking forward to pulling the boots back on, and hopefully we have a good chance of coming back with the honours.

"I train more now than I ever did when I played but not on the rugby field. I have done a lot of boxing. I'm looking forward to getting the ball back in hand and having a run about."

sports@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE and Paul Radley @paulradley