Gavin Henson may play his first competitive rugby league match against Widnes; the 39-year-old former Wales and British and Irish Lions fly-half switched codes to join West Wales Raiders who have been drawn against Widnes in the Betfred Challenge Cup
By PA Media
Last Updated: 11/02/21 7:18pm
Former Wales and British and Irish Lions fly-half Gavin Henson could make his rugby league debut against Widnes, the team that courted him early in his rugby union career.
The 39-year-old has switched codes with League 1 club West Wales Raiders, whose first match of the 2021 season will be a Betfred Challenge Cup tie against former Super League club Widnes, who were known as the Cup kings in their heyday.
Widnes made six Challenge Cup final appearances at Wembley in 10 years from 1975-84 but were not one of the major players when Henson was bursting onto the scene.
Henson revealed in his first interview since his signing that several rugby league clubs showed an interest in him when he was around 20 but rejected their advances on the advice of former Swansea coach Clive Griffiths.
“I told Clive a few clubs were interested but he said I only really wanted to go there if it was St Helens or Wigan and it was neither of those two clubs,” he said.
“I think it was Widnes. But I did contemplate it a little bit. It’s something I wish I did, but didn’t. It’s nice now to have a go at this level and see where it takes me.”
The Raiders, who suffered an embarrassing defeat at home to community club Underbank Rangers in 2020, have been drawn at home in the first round of the Cup, which will be played on the weekend of March 20.
The Llanelli-based club stunned the game with the capture of Henson and former Super League Man of Steel Rangi Chase, a former Widnes player, and the Welshman believes a Cup run could raise their profile further.
“Definitely,” Henson said. “There’s been a lot of stuff happening off the field which has been positive but the main thing is on the field.
“If we can take a scalp, that would be great. People would probably respect us a bit more and youngsters coming through might start looking more at rugby league as well.”
The Raiders are one of three League 1 clubs involved in the first round, alongside the 13 UK-based Championship teams.
The highlight is a clash between five-times winners Bradford Bulls and Featherstone – a repeat of the 1973 Wembley final – while 1998 winners Sheffield Eagles take on York.
In the second-round draw, also made on Thursday by former St Helens and England forward Jon Wilkin, the winners of the Raiders-Widnes tie will be at home to either Whitehaven or Dewsbury on the weekend of March 27.
The 12 Super League clubs, including holders Leeds, will enter at the third-round stage on the weekend of April 10 and the final will take place at Wembley on Saturday, July 17.
Swinton or Newcastle Thunder v Oldham or Barrow
Featherstone or Bradford v Halifax or Batley
London Broncos or Keighley v Sheffield Eagles or York
West Wales Raiders or Widnes v Whitehaven or Dewsbury