Whalley's try earns mate big pay day
SUBIACO Oval erupted into a wall of noise when prop A J Whalley crashed over for his, and the Western Force's, first five-pointer of the Super 14 season last Friday night.
Local home fans entered a delirious state of cheering and applause as the former back rower's try pushed the home side into the lead against the New Zealand-based Auckland Blues.
The fevered support was soon quelled with the Blues claiming a bonus point, 25-19 victory, but one local fan refused to allow the score line to disrupt his celebrations.
“It's funny because one of the guys I work with said he was going to put $100 on me to be the first try scorer,” Whalley, a former Redmen player said.
“He eventually put on only $40 but he still managed to win two grand.
“He said he would take me out to dinner through the week.”
Dinner is scant reward for a player who, after three years with the Western Australian franchise, is starting to figure in the plans of coach John Mitchell.
Whalley, 26, thanks to the coaches of domestic rival, the NSW Waratahs, has slowly adapted his game to force his way into the Force starting line-up.
“I was involved with the Waratahs Academy when I was playing club rugby in Sydney,” Whalley said.
“The coaches at the academy said I was too short for a number six and too slow for a number eight and I should give playing in the front row a go.
“I could take the hint.”
The switch from the back row to the front has not been without incident.
“I'm glad I did it ... but the first couple of years were tough,” he said.
“Scrummaging has been hard to get used to because it's quite technical.
“It takes a while to get it all down pat.”
Whalley is not one to shirk his responsibility in the squad, but the move further into the engine room has forced him to literally, pull his weight.
“I'm 117 kilograms now so I had to put on about 12 - 17 kilograms to move from the back row,” he said.
“It actually wasn't that hard to put it on, but it hasn't been easy getting used to carrying it.”
Melding his former back row skills with his now permanent position at prop, Whalley could become a hybrid free-scoring forward.
However last Friday night's try was only Whalley's second in Super 14 competition.
“Tries don't come too often to front rowers and in the back row I didn't score too many anyway,” he said.
“Coming from the back row, ball running has stuck with me and it has also helped me around the ruck and picking out the ball.”
The narrow opening day loss for the Force was a bitter pill to swallow for Whalley and his team-mates.
“We are disappointed in ourselves for not coming away with the win,” Whalley said.
“It was good to get the Blues out of the way but they had three or four players missing and we really should have won.”
Whalley said Mitchell had given him a simple game plan to adhere to.
“When he picked me he said my first priority was the scrum and the line-out,” he said.
“Anything else around the field was more the merrier.”
Whalley said 'week in week out' he was faced by the some of the best players rugby had to throw at him, but packing into the scrum on Friday night, Whalley was confronted by All Black Tony Woodcock, arguably the best prop to have ever played the game.
“I've played Tony about three times before and the other night I think I had a positive result,” he said.
“You just can't beat that kind of experience.”
However, it is not only in his adversaries Whalley notices the skill and sheer brilliance in players.
“At the Force you have Sharps and Gits (Nathan Sharpe and Matt Giteau) and their experience is vital to our campaign,” Whalley said.
Whalley said the ferocious environment of a Super 14 scrum was a shoulder-to-shoulder physical battle but lacked the war of words accustomed to rugby a decade ago.
“I'm always too busy sucking up the air to get involved in that,” he said
“There is always a bit of niggle in the domestic games because you know each other so well, but not so much against the internationals.
“We're all gentleman up front.”
Whalley, a founding player of the Force, has only managed to rack up 18 caps with the club, but the West coast's 'laid back' nature seems to suit his personality.
“I'm starting my fourth year with the club and it's really nice,” he said.
“I've have only ever been with this club in my professional career and it has been great.
“Western Australia has traditionally been an AFL state, but rugby is starting to get a good following.”
If Whalley, a former Australian 21s and Sevens player, can continue to perform with the Force, there is the possibility of Robbie Deans calling him up to the national squad.
“I would love to play for the Wallabies, but the best path is to be a regular starter for you club,” he said.
“I just started my first game and I want to continue to start as many as I can.”