22 Jul 2021
The Long Read: Leroy Cudjoe at 300 games
When Leroy Cudjoe says what he'd say to his younger self ahead of his debut today, facing the prospect of his 300th game for Huddersfield Giants, his message would be simple - "Back yourself and enjoy it". After a landmark career featuring a League Leaders Shield, the clubs first major trophy in 51 years, Challenge Cup finals and many great moments, Cudjoe insists that something much simpler has been the best part for him - representing his hometown club.
"Representing my hometown club at the highest level, playing home games in front of my family, friends and a community I've always been a part of that for me gives me so much pride and desire to do well. In the period from 2009 to 2015, we had some success with the league leaders shield which is something I’m proud of, we played in a final, and many playoff games and we probably missed an opportunity to add a big trophy in that period" said Cudjoe.
"It means a lot to play for this club for so long, I’ve spoken about how proud I am to wear the shirt and represent the club and that's never changed. The club has evolved over the years as it should always look to evolve and improve, the training facilities are miles better than they once were and the structure from scholarship to the first team is a big area where the club has improved too."
"I want to be a role model for young kids coming through like Eorl Crabtree and Paul Reilly were for me."
There are many great games that Leroy has been a part of in his time at the club and indeed when representing his country. He picks out two Semi-Finals as the best games in his career: one won, one lost.
"Best match I’ve played in I'd say Challenge Cup Semi-Final against St Helens in 2009. That day everything just clicked for us. I'd also say the World Cup Semi-Final in 2013 at Wembley we lost in the last minute which was tough to take but one of the best games I’ve been involved in."
There isn't split loyalties, however, when it comes to his favourite try - and most Giants fans, surely will agree.
"Isn't it obvious? The interception against Warrington" he says, laughing.
Praise has come from across the game ahead of this landmark achievement, with former and current teammates lining up to praise the Giants centre. His current teammate Michael Lawrence, broke into the team at the same time as Cudjoe, under Jon Sharp and recalled the start of his career and his time in the Giants Academy.
"My first memories of him are playing in the Academy. I remember him in Newsome but he was a couple of years older than me. We got close when we first started playing in the Academy. We travelled to training together and we've progressed to the first team together" said Lawrence.
"It was obvious he would be a first-team player. He was one of the best players on the field. His size, skill, strength - he had all the attributes to be a top top player and he's fulfilled that potential.
"He was a first-team player in the 2007 season while I was an Academy player. I debuted just before him, but at the start of the 2008 season, he made his debut in the first game of the year.
"It all happened so quick - we'd played well in the Academy and we'd been fast-tracked into the first team under Jon Sharp and we accelerated our development under Nathan Brown and having such good coaching at the start of our careers put us in good stead.
Cudjoe initially arrived as a full-back, but Giants coach Nathan Brown, having brought Brett Hodgson into the club ahead of the 2009 season, encouraged him to move to Centre. Lawrence says that decision was the making of Cudjoe, who he calls the 'one of our best, if not the best in his position in the club's history.
"When he first broke through, he was a full-back and I don't think he'd ever see himself at that time as a centre. Then Brett Hodgson arrived and he knew that would limit his opportunities there so Nathan Brown told him to begin training at Centre and it turned out to be a masterstroke - he's played many international games there and he's been one of our best Centres ever, I think."
Cudjoe has played with some great players in his time, but the one that sticks out for him happens to be the coach of the opposing team for the occasion of his 300th appearance, Brett Hodgson. His aura and class have stood out in his time.
"The best player I’ve played with at the club? That's a tough one. Over the years we’ve had some great players and still have some great players in the squad today but for me, it's Brett Hodgson, he was class. Brett had this aura about him from the first day he came in when he spoke you listened, he had the respect of everyone and on the field, he was very smart knew what was needed at the right time and would always execute he was a class apart!"
Hodgson returned the compliment, admiring his work ethic, respect and commitment while playing together for the Giants.
"Got a lot of time for Leroy, he's a great kid," says Hodgson.
"I used to love playing with Leroy, he was always one of those kids coming through working hard to better himself. He was a respectful and competent player, he's worked hard to get where he's got to so it's no surprise to me that he's been playing this long."
"We played many games together, he came through as a full-back when I was there so I tried to help him with his games. He was one of those players you wanted to play alongside because everything he did he did with passion, and he always gave it all for his hometown club. I'm proud of what he's done."
That sentiment is shared by his former teammate, and current Giants Club Ambassador, Eorl Crabtree - "He's the utmost professional. It's a pleasure to have played with him - his attitude, commitment and passion to his hometown club is a model for the next generation. His skill, talent and ability are second to none."
Giants Head Coach, Ian Watson joined in the praise in his weekly press call, admiring his return to his high standards after a long injury layoff that saw him miss a large chunk of the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Having players like Leroy in your squad, Watson insists, is crucial, as is having hometown lads in the squad to set the standards for the Academy players.
"Leroy is someone who represents the team and the club. He works hard, doesn't rest on his laurels. He had a setback last year and he worked his socks off to come back. The main thing is, he loves Rugby - you need people like that in your team, those who enjoy playing a love it. Those kinds of people have that extra steel. He's important for us now and going forward" said Watson.
"300 games for the Giants is really special for people like Leroy and Bruno, for the people who've grown up around the club. He understands the game, he understands the situations you find yourself in and the best part about him is he helps the younger players and I know he spends a load of time coaching the local community clubs."
Cudjoe is a coach at local Community Club Moldgreen, an experience that he sees as part of replicating the inspiration he had to play Rugby League from coaches in his early days of playing.
"Coaching the youth team at Moldgreen is something I really enjoy, I started helping out one day and loved it I’ve been involved ever since around 5 years now. When I was a young kid myself playing up at Newsome I had a lot of coaches and parents who had a big influence on me and helped give me a chance to be where I am today I just want to give other kids that chance" said Cudjoe.
"It's not all about making them good Rugby League players but helping to educate them on life lessons and be good people. Coaching youth teams is something I’m interested in and maybe when my times up it's something I'll consider."
Tonight's game is a big one for the Giants, but Lawrence says the team are inspired by Cudjoe, that few have paralleled their commitment to the club and effort for the Claret and Gold than the 33-year-old and finally that the whole squad are itching to make sure the game is a memorable one for him.
"We 100% want to put in a performance to Leroy. We want to make sure it's a memorable one for him. Few've done more for the club and given more for Huddersfield Giants than Leroy Cudjoe. It's up to us to make sure that we give it our all and make it a memorable one for him."