To suggest there will be mixed emotions for Jarrod Sammut this weekend is somewhat of an understatement. On Sunday, Wigan’s Malta international returns to London Broncos for the first time since guiding them to promotion in last year’s Million Pound Game.
It has been a rollercoaster six months the 32-year-old will not forget in a hurry. Sammut is sure of a hero’s reception in Ealing but the story could have been so different for a player who experienced the euphoria of promotion replaced by the shuddering fear his career at the highest level had come to an end days after arguably his biggest achievement in the sport.
“On the run to promotion last season, my family moved back up north to Leeds, and I was in London on my own,” Sammut says. “My days off and free weekends were spent travelling up the M1 to see them, and it started to take its toll on me mentally. I found myself exhausted and ended up in a really dark place away from the game.”
Sammut managed to put those off-field issues to one side enough to help London secure promotion, kicking all their points in the 4-2 win against Toronto in the Million Pound Game. Even then, though, things weren’t right. “The emotions were sky high after that game and I even went back to pre-season with London in a good place, looking to play on there. But I found out quite quickly I couldn’t do it and I had to go home. London were so understanding and they happily released me to get something back up north – but in the blink of an eye, I was unemployed.”
It was a surprise to many when no offers were instantly forthcoming for the flamboyant stand-off, who has established a reputation as one of the most creative players in the game in recent seasons. “For the first time in years I had no job – and I remember the first week after coming home,” Sammut recalls. “I was sat on my couch wondering if that was my career done. ‘How do I get a proper job? How do I provide for my family?’ I became willing to play part-time, drop down the leagues, anything – so long as I was near my family and playing again.”
As talks progressed with several Championship clubs, however, a call from a familiar face from his days in Australia transformed his plans. “Adrian [Lam, the Wigan coach] just said he wanted to give me a chance and find out what I wanted from these last few years of my career.”
Within days, Sammut had signed for one of the biggest clubs in the world. Now, he is intent on repaying them – even if it means inflicting a fourth straight defeat on the club he gave his all for until six months ago. “I’m no whippersnapper now – this might be my last crack at Super League after a few years away. I’ll tell everyone I feel I’ve got five years left, but who knows? What I do know is there will be a few emotions running high on Sunday. But I’m excited about the future, too. I’ve got this chance. It’s crazy.”
Sammut, the beating heart of London’s promotion push, may have left but, in surprising Wakefield on the opening weekend, the Broncos underlined what he already knew: that London are to be taken lightly at their peril despite being overwhelming favourites to be relegated this season.
“Look, they’re not the most talented team but boy, do they work hard for each other,” Sammut says of his former club. “They’ve got the culture where everyone gives absolutely everything they can for the badge and the club. You’ve seen already they’ve claimed a scalp and I think they will get a few more. Hopefully we’re not one of them, but it will be great to go back and share some memories of what we did last year.”