Playing any sport for 18 months without a break would be tough enough, but for Josh Charnley to be playing elite level rugby for that long is remarkable.
Following the 2016 Super League season, which he wrapped up by helping Wigan Warriors lift the Grand Final trophy, he made the cross-code switch to join union side Sale Sharks.
He was afforded 10 days away, before being thrown back in to the thick of it with no pre-season, no preparation and having never played his new code before.
With four games left until he reaches his well-deserved break at the end of the season, Charnley isn’t kidding himself about the toll this year has taken on him.
“My body’s telling me to stop but I still have a job to do here, and I’ll try to finish on the season,” he said.
He hasn’t had it easy since making the move either, suffering a try-scoring drought that spanned 12 games before finally dotting down against Northampton Saints last month.
For someone so prolific in rugby league, Charnley was in unfamiliar territory while Denny Solomona, who had also swapped league for union, was busy on the other wing scoring nine from nine.
“It’s good to see Denny doing well,” Charnley explained. “We’ve had a lot of battles over in league and it’s good to play a part in him getting to the level he is now.
“We’re helping each other out on the training field, trying to make each other better players.”
“My job as a winger is to score tries and go so long without was tough, it was the longest dry spell I’ve ever had. Since I got the try, I’ve felt a lot of weight lifted off my shoulders.”
Charnley celebrates after scoring his first try vs Northampton Saints.
His remarkable record in Super League made his move to union hotly anticipated, having accumulated 164 tries in 172 appearances for the Warriors.
Charnley admitted leaving the club he’d spent a decade at was a difficult decision, but one he wanted to make in order to prevent his career becoming stagnant.
“I wanted a new challenge. I’d been in the same environment for nearly 10 years day in, day out,” said the 25-year-old.
“It was becoming second nature and I was getting comfortable. I wanted to take myself out of my comfort zone and try something new by switching codes – and doing it when I did, I thought it was the right time and I left Wigan on a high.”
The ex-league man hasn’t forgotten his old club either, making sure he watches them whenever he can.
“I’m down there whenever I can, and if I can’t get there I’ll watch them on TV,” said Charnley. “I’m more of a fan now than I ever used to be. When I played league I never watched it, but now I’ve moved away I’m watching on Thursday and Friday.
“When I was in it I didn’t watch it because I was in it all week, but now I’m away from it I try to keep an eye on it.”
Charnley left Wigan Warriors after winning the 2016 Grand Final.
Despite taking his time to pick up the new rules, the wing is determined to make his union career a success – and he has the backing of English head coach Eddie Jones, who has tipped Charnley for an England call in the future.
Sale Sharks Director of Rugby has also kept faith in the Chorley man – something he says he is reaping the rewards from.
“The game management is difficult. You don’t realise how much running off the ball you have to do in union,” he said.
He’s also thankful to be training and playing with experienced players, like ex-British and Irish Lion Mike Phillips and Ireland legend Peter Stringer.
“I have to be in and amongst the boys in order to learn and feed off them. There are players here who have played internationals, they’re massively experienced and are helping me out with their knowledge.
“I had one week off and it was good to have a bit of a chill, but I was still watching clips at home, trying to do my homework and making sure it becomes second nature.”
It’s been a challenge, but Charnley is determined to make his union career a success, and has committed his future to the Manchester club. Games against Worcester, Gloucester, Leicester and Bath await, before he can begin to focus on next season.
“I’ve only been here six months, so it’s still a learning curve. It might take another year to fully get to grips with the game, but I’m here for the long run and I’m enjoying it,” he revealed.
“I want to do the best I can, but if I stay in and around the team, I’m just aiming to improve as a player.”
Header image credit; Sky sports