The rise of John Bateman told by those who know him best

John Bateman’s entire career and subsequent rise has been characterised by a relentless will to win.

The Wigan Warriors forward does not recognise a lost cause and views defeat as simply unacceptable.

His desire and talent will be rewarded this weekend when he captains his country for the first time as England face France in Perpignan.

Paul Medley served as Bradford Bulls’ head of youth during Bateman’s time in the Odsal youth ranks.

Bateman was a rough diamond who just needed a little polishing and Medley played a key role in harnessing the youngster’s raw ability.

Bateman, by his own admission, has not enjoyed his best of seasons in 2021 following his return to Wigan from Canberra Raiders at the end of last year.

Yet Medley, who now works as the RFL’s National Player Development Manager, supporting club academies, told Rugby League Live: “John sets himself very high standards and that’s what drives him.

“You’ll find with the top, top players that they have their own internal drive and standards and if they don’t play well and perform then they know that themselves.

“I think people have to understand that John had shoulder surgery last year and sometimes it’s just how professional sport is – you can’t be a world-beater for 15 years.

“At some points you will have dips, injuries and a lack of form.

“What generally shines through with the true world champions and world-beaters is they always come back and prove their class.

“As the saying goes, form is temporary, class is permanent and that’s the way John is.

“Don’t you worry, John will bounce back and get back to where he needs to be because he’s a world-class rugby league player.

“After the Test match this weekend, he probably needs a good rest and then he can kick on again next season in a World Cup year.

“I know how fiercely determined and proud John will be lead England as captain this weekend. He deserves it.”

Medley fondly remembers nurturing young Bateman in the Odsal youth ranks and says his talent was obvious at a very early age.

Medley explained: “John would have been 12 or 13 and playing for Bradford Dudley Hill when I first came across him.

“He used to play in the year above – he always did until he was 16 – so it was a physical challenge for him that he always revelled in.

“Even then he stood out as a kid of promise and talent. He had an edge to him which helped him along the way.

“He had this tenacity and relentlessness to never give in. Two opponents might get hold of him but John was not prepared to stop and accept the tackle.

“I can’t put my finger on it but every tackle John goes into he thinks ‘you’re not going to beat me’.

“It’s almost like everything is a battle and he’s got to win every single battle he faces. That makes him the player he is.”

What is little known about 28-year-old Bateman is that, after joining the Bulls on scholarship, he subsequently spent time at Leeds Rhinos and Wigan, the club he eventually joined after quitting Bradford following their financial woes.

“He did a year with us and a year with Leeds and Wigan,” remembered Medley.

“Everyone was after John but we got him back here in his last year when he was 16.

“Then we obviously signed him professionally and the rest is history.

“How fierce was the competition for John’s signature? Very fierce.

“Every club wanted him and it was interesting because the back row of England’s Academy team at the time was John, Ben Currie and Stevie Ward.

“Those three players have all gone to have successful Super League careers, so it was a competitive market for their signature.

“Wigan, Leeds and Warrington all made a big play for John and we had to try and meet the deals that the other clubs were offering.

“We didn’t, but we got somewhere near to it and were lucky enough to hold on to John, yet we also had to make sure he got the right progression, development and opportunities.

“I did a lot of work with John about how he needed to mould himself and develop himself.

“Hopefully that guidance I gave him ensured there he trusted me to develop on what I had promised I would do while he was with us.

“I’d like to think we played our part in making John into the player he is today, but the rest of it is all the hard work he’s put in himself.”

Bateman’s career has been fascinating to chronicle.

He could have easily gone off the rails after growing up on the streets on inner-city Bradford.

Yet the arrival of his beloved daughter Millie when he was just 16 sent Bateman on the road to the very top.

He signed for Bradford, the club he grew up supporting, shortly afterwards and Medley said: “They always say that things in life make you or break you.

“I think for John, having Millie made him and he matured very much overnight.

“He had a responsibility and it gave him a focus in life. He knew that he could provide for Millie if he looked after himself as a rugby player.

“He had an opportunity to do that with his career and he realised it was something he needed to push hard with.

“You see kids who could this way or that way but John did everything you would expect a parent to do.

“He was a consummate father and totally dedicated to Millie, as everyone can see.

“He took on that responsibility at such a young age and grasped it with both hands, which is credit to him.”

Medley, who nurtured a whole raft of other stars during his time at Bradford – including Sam, Tom and George Burgess and Elliott Whitehead – believes Bateman will seize his opportunity in this weekend’s Test match.

He added: “Captaining your country is the pinnacle of your career and as a player it doesn’t get any better than that.

“John has now got that mantle and hopefully he will lead the country successfully this weekend.

“He captained the England Academy side over in Australia as a young lad and got the respect of his peers then because of how he played and how he carried himself.

“Like I said, with John it’s all about winning and that drives him and makes him the player he is.

“He hates losing, it’s as simple as that. I just love the way he plays… I love him to death and I’m really pleased he’s made such a success of his career.

“You talk about desire and determination and that streetwise grit from his upbringing has made him such a competitor on the field.

“John’s desire to play rugby league is motivated by the fact he just loves playing the game and wants to be the best player he can be.

“He’ll do anything to win a game and that’s the thing that marks John out from most players.

“He will not give in for one second of that game – he has to win and he has to play well.

“His desire is like no other player I’ve ever seen. To see him be given the England captaincy makes me so proud and I am sure he will do a fantastic job.”

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