SIX months on from digging holes for a living, Josh Drinkwater is preparing to play in rugby league’s showpiece final at Wembley.
The 26-year-old Australian half-back was forced to seek work outside the game after Leigh were relegated from Super League at the end of last season.
Drinkwater returned to Sydney to play part-time for Western Suburbs Magpies under former Huddersfield and Warrington full-back Brett Hodgson and took on a labouring job to help pay the bills.
But he never gave up hope of returning to the big time and, after being thrown a lifeline by Catalans Dragons coach Steve McNamara, he helped them preserve their place in Super League and yesterday kicked seven goals to propel them to a shock 35-16 Challenge Cup semi-final victory over St Helens.
“It was a kick in the teeth what happened at Leigh, but I think it happens for a reason and I’m going to Wembley now,” he said.
Having experienced the heartbreak of relegation with London Broncos in 2014, Drinkwater must have felt he was due a lucky break when the same thing happened last September, ironically through defeat by the Catalans in the Million-Pound Game.
“My life had turned upside down with relegation,” he said. “I went home and had nothing, so I rang my best mate and starting digging holes with him for a bit.
“I was getting up at 4am and driving to Sydney, digging holes all day and going training in the afternoon.
“It was tough, but I didn’t think of throwing the towel in. I thought I was still good enough to play at the top level and I was lucky enough to get a call to come over to Catalan.”
Despite producing a strong finish to the regular Super League season, the Dragons went into their semi-final against table-topping St Helens as the 10-1 outsiders to win the Cup.
“No-one gave us a chance, but we were pretty confident,” said Drinkwater, whose side will play Warrington in the August 25 final.
“They played great all year, but we thought we had the right game plan to put them under a bit of pressure.
“And, being honest, we got lucky, we got a few good calls early and a couple of bounces went our way, but you get that luck when you work hard.”
The Catalans have lost just three of 14 matches with Drinkwater in the side, but he insists they are no one-man team.
“I don’t think I’d put it down to myself,” he said. “I think what I’ve done is probably just allow everyone else to play their natural game.
“I take control of the team and let the likes of Tony Gigot and Samisoni Langi play their own roles.”
Drinkwater’s short-term contract runs out at the end of the season and the Catalans have been linked with a move for out-of-favour St Helens scrum-half Matty Smith.
But the former St George Illawarra half-back has not ruled out a permanent move to the French club.
“I’ve been talking to a couple of clubs and hopefully it’s all sorted in the next little bit,” he said.
“I’m loving my time there. Everyone’s been really good to me and obviously we’re winning, so I’m happy.”
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