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Thursday, 23 October 2014

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Workington Town ace Ewan Dowes, the man whose rugby career has been one big contradiction

RUGBY league was largely borne out of a working-class rebellion in the newly industrialised north against a sport with its roots in the public schools and privilege of the educated middle classes.

It was during a time when the mine shafts and cotton mills were the place to unearth the sport’s next ready-made star.

The playing fields of a private school would have been the last place you’d find a future Challenge Cup winner.

But Ewan Dowes’s whole career has been one of contradiction.

Ewan, Workington Town’s new captain, is from the wrong side of Cumbria to have dabbled in rugby league as a child.

From the picturesque village of Low Hesket,near Carlisle, rather than the West Cumbrian hotbed, he rose through the ranks of Carlisle Rugby Union Club.

He attended Sedbergh public school, whose old boys include England internationals Will Carling and Will Greenwood, but ended up spending a decade playing Super League.

After nine years with Hull and Leeds Rhinos, the 6ft 2in prop is now back in the county where it all started after signing a two-year deal at Derwent Park.

While at Sedbergh, England head coach Stuart Lancaster, then occupying a more humble role of academy coach at Leeds Tykes, scouted him.

Then, while he was preparing to represent England U20s at the Junior World Championship, Leeds Rhinos invited Ewan to train to keep himself sharp over the close season.

He became the first player to hold a dual-code professional contract with Leeds Tykes and Leeds Rhinos.

But within a short space of time Ewan pledged his allegiance to Rhinos, although it was hardly surprising that switching between both codes could end up being so confusing.

In his first game for Rhinos he was sin-binned for accidental off-side even though he didn’t have a clue what he’d done wrong, and was laughingly labelled a posh ex-public schoolboy by his new team-mates.

Dowes’s accent, however, is pure Cumbrian. He is the son of a car mechanic and the only reason he got into Sedbergh was because he won a scholarship to attend the sixth form.

“At the time I was starting out, rugby union was going through a transitional stage with the professional era and rugby league was very stable,” says Ewan.

“I didn’t enjoy playing prop in union as you didn’t get your hands on the ball.

“As a front rower in league you are taking 20 carries a game and making 30-40 tackles, which suits me more.

“It was the enjoyment factor that nudged me towards league and it was the right choice.”

Workington Town’s old school ground is a contrast to the lifestyle he is more accustomed to during a glittering Super League career.

The high point came as Hull won the Challenge Cup final, beating Leeds in 2005.

He played in all but one of Hull’s Super League games and stood out during their run to the Challenge Cup final at the Millennium Stadium with eye-catching performances against Bradford Bulls in the fifth round and St Helens in the semi-final.

In front of 74,213 fans, Hull pulled off an upset against odds-on favourites and Super League champions when Paul Cooke’s late converted try handed them an epic 25-24 win.

He counts Andy Farrell, Jamie Peacock, Willie Manu, Richard Swain and Adrian Morley among the best he’s played with or against during his decade at the pinnacle of the 13-man game.

After nine years at Hull, Ewan would have been expected to have his loyalty rewarded with a testimonial season and admits he was hurt it was never forthcoming.

After Bradford Bulls and Wakefield pulled out of deals, Dowes headed to Australia with wife Amy to play for Illawarra Division outfit Thirroul Butchers.

The club owners had strong links to the mining industry, and Ewan was set to become a miner, before a call from his agent saying Workington Town were interested in signing him changed the course of his life.

His experience of playing part-time Down Under prepared him for life in the Championship in England.

But Dowes is loving every minute of the new chapter of his career, which he is combining with what he calls a proper job outside of the game as a consultant for insurance giants Metlife.

He’s been appointed joint club captain at Derwent Park and is relishing the opportunity to pass on his experience to his younger team-mates.

Ewan led them out to a rousing opening game of the Championship season when Town came from behind to beat Swinton Lions 14-10.

“I’ve a great opportunity that I’m excited about,” says Ewan.

“I want to be a leader and I’m loving the added responsibility of being captain.

“The lads are keen to learn and I love passing on what I’ve learned during my career. When you drop out of Super League, you have to mentally adjust and keep yourself motivated, but it has given me back the enjoyment of playing again.”

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