Newport teen Pugsley will celebrate birthday in style

RHYS Pugsley has more reasons than anyone to want Wales to win in today’s Autumn Series opener against France in Lens.

For the teenager, who switched to rugby league from a promising career in union, will be celebrating his 18th birthday on the very day that national coach Iestyn Harris’ men take to the field.

And Pugsley, part of the 19-man squad for the match, is hoping to make the final cut of 17 to mark his birthday with a debut senior appearance - and a try.

The game is being shown live on TV, so his family back home in Newport will also be able to see their son on the field on his big day.

Pugsley said: "I hope to get a spot as it is my 18th birthday on Saturday as well, so it would be a great present to make my debut."

The second row has enjoyed an incredible rise in rugby league from playing with the youth section of local amateur club Newport Titans as a 13-year-old.

He made his Welsh academy rugby league debut at 14 but then returned to rugby union and was climbing the ladder rapidly.

However, in a Roy of the Rovers-style leap, mighty Super League giants Wigan Warriors spotted him when he had a run for the Welsh rugby league age group team and offered the teenager a contract. It was an offer too good to refuse, particularly as he was not that happy in union anyway.

Pugsley is now learning his trade alongside three other Wigan-based Welsh players - Gil Dudson, Ben Flower and Rhodri Lloyd - while Warriors assistant coach Iestyn Harris doubles as the Wales national boss.

Pugsley, who is a star-turn breakdancer too, added: "It has been a big jump this year. I came from union last year and played my first game of league for about four or five years last October for the Wales Under-16s and then signed for Wigan.

"I had a phone call from the head of youth at Wigan after the Under-16s game against England last October and they took me up to the stadium, showed me around and I signed from there.

"It was a massive shock. I didn't see that coming at all."

Such a rapid advance and a move up north has also left Puglsey's family a bit shell-shocked.

He added: "My dad is mad for it more than me. He loves it but my mum misses me and comes up to see me sometimes."

And, for a teenager, that move to Wigan was an enormous decision to take as he had a budding career in the 15-a-side code, playing in the academy of Welsh region Newport Gwent Dragons.

"I was at the Dragons last year and in the senior academy. I played for Wales rugby union but I didn't enjoy the game half as much as league so I thought I'd give it a shot and see where it took me.

"It was a big step because all my family have come from rugby union and I always dreamed of playing union but I wasn't happy and I just chanced my arm and thought I'd try playing a bit of league. I'm just glad I did not now.

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