Why progress is name of the game for James Cunningham after his big Hull FC breakthrough
ACROSS the country this summer, while the Olympic Games played out a resoundingly successful backdrop to the everyday lives of most, 18-year-olds across the land were heading off to celebrate college success.
The holiday abroad to sunny climes like Ibiza, Greece or Majorca brings with it for many a coming of age trip that lives in the memory.
While his friends were making those trips to southern Europe this summer, James Cunningham was writing a totally different but significantly greater chapter in the book to mark the end of his adolescence.
In a quirk of fate, as his brother Liam had done two years previously, Cunningham found himself plucked, almost out of obscurity, and placed in Hull FC’s first-team squad for the tough trip to Catalan Dragons.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
Emulating Liam, there came a cameo appearance off the bench as an unexpected Super League debut was handed to the teenage hooker, who had only recently turned 18.
In the goldfish bowl of Hull, Cunningham was catapulted into the public consciousness and further expectation on his young shoulders followed when, less than two weeks after his league debut, he found himself on a plane to Australia to represent England Academy against the Aussie Schoolboys.
Seemingly only just catching his breath from a whirlwind six months, Cunningham reflects on a summer he’ll never forget with great fondness.
But, as he prepares for the new Super League season, the well-spoken teenager admits the expectation and anticipation placed around him has gone a little too far.
“I think expectations were raised a lot on me last year because I made my Super League debut. That was quite hard and I felt I had a lot of pressure on my shoulders,” explains Cunningham in a refreshingly honest and open manner.
“I felt as though I had to do something in games to justify that, when really I didn’t have to.
“I made my Super league debut and some people were talking like I’d be playing regularly. But I still qualify for the under-19s and I think that will be the plan for this year.
“Sometimes expectations got a bit too much. Because I had a Super League appearance next to my name and I went to Australia with England, people expected a lot of me and it was a bit unfair.”
There’s no doubting Cunningham’s potential or the confidence coach Peter Gentle has in the hooker, given the 18-year-old is the youngest member of the Hull squad out in Tenerife for the warm-weather training camp.
There’s also no arguing with Cunningham’s assessment of how his debut was met.
Eager to welcome the next home-grown thing into the fold, fans and media alike have a tendency to talk up emerging talent.
But emerging is what Cunningham still is, and he has no pretentions otherwise.
“What it is all about at the minute for me is progressing and learning my trade,” he adds.
“I am not looking to be playing Super League week in and week out, I want my focus to be on improving my game and improving as a player.
“Last season, being in the full-time environment and around the senior players was great for me and helped a lot.
“I do feel as though I have come on in leaps and bounds since this time last year, but I also know I have a lot of work to do.
“It is obviously nice being in the limelight and playing Super League games and getting selected for England, but I want to put all that to one side. I want to get my head down, knuckle down and make sure I improve as a player.”
While many of the fringe Hull players are expected to be sent on loan to York City Knights this year, Cunningham’s path is set to see him stay closer to home as the senior figure in the new-look under-19s competition.
With Danny Houghton and Aaron Heremaia in front of him, the focus remains on progression.
Making the most of his first warm-weather camp, the youngster is delighted with the way his game has improved.
Shadowing both Houghton and Heremaia, he acknowledges he’s learning from two of the best players possible.
“Danny has only been back training a few weeks with us, but he’s been great with me and has given me a lot of tips,” says Cunningham.
“It’s great the England Knights captain takes such time to pass on what he knows to me.
“Aaron is just the same, they are great to work with and I’m learning a lot from both.
“Pre-season has been really good. We have done a lot of testing since we started and compared to where I was eight weeks ago my fitness has improved a lot.
“I did a full pre-season last year and it has been a bit easier this year knowing what to expect.
“I knew it was going to be hard, I was prepared for the worst and that makes it easier.
“I had an ankle niggle in the off-season, but that got sorted and since the start of training I’ve felt good so my only concern has been getting as fit as possible. I love being a professional and to come on camps like this is fantastic.
“I think sometimes players don’t realise how well we have it. There are people out there working nine to five every day for five days a week and we are getting paid to get fit and play rugby. It’s a privilege and one I intend to make the most of.”