“I’m still obviously a skinny lad. I thought that I’d be given at least another year until I’m playing to let myself get a bit of beef, but he [Francis Cummins] threw me in the deep end and it’s been alright.”
The words of Widnes Vikings’ young winger Owen Buckley, who didn’t expect to be given a chance in the first team in 2018.
Under interim head coach Francis Cummins, however, the 19-year-old has shone on the right wing in his short Super League career as far.
Three tries in as many games, a debut try away to Hull FC and a brace against Hull KR on his home debut, and Buckley has suddenly become the Vikings’ in-form winger.
His ability to get above his opposite number in the air has become a potent weapon for Widnes with all three of his tries coming from high kicks.
“I know that I’ve got that in my locker, that’s what I’m paid to do, that’s what my job is really, to score tries and get above people in the air. To actually do it at the highest level has been decent.
“There’s a lot more that [the fans haven’t seen] like my rugby brain. I feel like I’m one of the smartest in my position, I feel that’s a real strength. Then also my finishing, I’ve not had the chance to show that yet,” said Buckley.
The youngster is another in a long line of academy graduates to step up to Super League in recent seasons and excel.
The skills that Buckley, along with the likes of Danny Walker, Owen Farnworth and Olly Ashall-Bott, have brought to the first team couldn’t have happened without the under 19’s set up at the Vikings.
Past and current coaching regimes have helped Buckley develop and hone his abilities as a player and allow a clear pathway towards the first team.
“It’s been really important, the coaching I’ve had, especially when Brett Hodgson was here and the coach now, Grant Gore, has been really impactful and has helped me loads.
“[The transition between Hodgson and Gore] has been a big one. You can tell the difference but Grant was already there when Brett was there but he was just helping out so it was just getting used to Grant.
“You can see with all the lads, there are still people in there who are trying hard and they’ll get the chance as it’s shown. So we just need to wait and hope for [the chance],” said Buckley.
With the youngster not expecting to get the call to the first team this season, the call to make his debut came just 48 hours before the game.
“It was only a couple of days before the game, I’d been training well in the past couple of weeks and Franny told me in front of all the lads so it was a good feeling.
“It was an amazing feeling, it’s something I’ve been working for the past three or four years in the academy and in the scholarship so to actually do it is amazing.
“There weren’t as much [nerves] as I thought; they were still there but I thought I was going to be bricking it, but I was fine to be fair!” said Buckley.
The former West Bank Bear and Halton Farnworth Hornet was under no illusions of how tough the transition from under 19’s to the first team would be but has so far seamlessly adapted to life in Super League.
“It’s a huge step up but I always knew it was going to be a big challenge but it’s one I’m enjoying at the moment.
“It’s definitely easier with the talk I get from the players and the fact that I know they’ve been there and done that so I know I’ll be helped out, especially from Joey [Joe Mellor]. He and Krisnan [Inu] are both loud so it makes it a lot easier for me,” the winger said.
Having signed his first professional contact back in April and with a debut under his belt, it is fair to say that could go to the heads of other players.
Buckley, however, is keeping his feet firmly on the ground and isn’t getting carried away with recent events.
“Really short term, the goal is just get as many games in and if I can carry on playing just get as many games as possible in these first couple of years.
“With the team, the aim is just to survive and make sure we’re staying in Super League next year and get as many games in as I can for myself.
“Obviously it’d be an amazing feeling [to wear number two or five] but that’s something I’m not looking at yet.
“I’m still only 19, so I’d expect one of the more experienced lads to be given that role and I’ll just be pushing them for that,” said Buckley.
The humility and humble nature of the young winger’s character makes the 19-year old a sure bet to be a hit with the Vikings faithful.
The 19-year-old is expected to keep his place on the wing for tonight’s fixture against Leeds Rhinos as he faces up against one of the game’s great wingers in Ryan Hall, who recently secured a dream move to the NRL.
That won’t overawe the young winger, who clearly has the right character and possesses all the skills needed to succeed at the top level.
Widnes should be proud that this young talent is representing them both on and off the field, and will be eager to see how he develops in the weeks and months ahead.