TOM Whitehead, another product of Saddleworth Rangers’ successful junior set up, has signed a four-year professional contract with Super League side Warrington Wolves.
The 18-year-old loose forward from Springhead admitted it was a surprise when he was offered a new deal.
“It was unexpected because it was only about 12 months after signing a three-year academy contract,” he explained.
“The club wanted me as full time professional and to be given a four-year deal was amazing.”
Whitehead, who began life as a stand off with Rangers, has already spent time training with the first team.
The former Friezland Primary and Saddleworth School pupil explained: “I had a spell with the first team when the first lockdown happened.
“It definitely helped going back to the academy as the standard with the first team is 10 times better.
“As a kid going into an environment with adults, it makes you better as a player and a person.
“You realise how seriously they take it and that there and men with families and their livelihoods are on the line every time they play.”
Whitehead, who played for England at Under-16 level, is still studying at Birchwood College Monday to Friday for this BTEC qualifications. Once they are completed in May he anticipates he will be full time with the first team.
Now training is combined with education and that means 6am starts at training two days each week.
Whitehead is up at 4am for something to eat before leaving Springhead one hour later for the drive to Warrington.
He has been with Wolves more than three years having started out at Rangers aged eight – the family used to live on Shaw Hall Bank Road and a stone’s throw from the ground.
Whitehead came through the junior teams to the open-age squad just before Wolves came knocking at the door.
Dad John, who helped coach his son, said: “Tom played a couple of games for the seconds, but it was his ambition to play for the first team
“Wes Rogers was the first-team coach at the time and was going to play him at the end of the season, but Wolves would not allow it.”
Whitehead is one of three former Rangers’ players now professionals with Wolves as he joins Eribe Doro and Nathan Roebuck while they have another local in their squad, former Waterhead Warriors’ player Josh Thewlis.
“I had known Nathan from primary and secondary school and the others, too, and that helped me settle in at Wolves,” he said.
He also pointed out two other Rangers’ players, Nolan Tupaea and Jake Thewlis, brother of Josh, are on scholarship forms with Wolves.
Whitehead, whose younger brother Connor plays for Rangers’ U15s, was a talented sporting all-rounder.
He played junior cricket for Uppermill, badminton in the Saddleworth Village Olympics and basketball and swimming before having to make a choice of which to pursue.
There is clearly a sporting gene in the family as dad John was a professional squash player who attended England training sessions before being forced to retire in his early 20s through knee problems and mum Rebecca played rounders.