Shaun Lunt is a man who clearly loves his rugby league and, when Get ’em Onside was lucky enough to meet him and talk rugby with him, that is one thing that really does come across. Having come through the ranks and been in the lower leagues with Workington Town, he clearly appreciates that he is playing the sport he loves full time. He does, however, acknowledge his time with the Cumbrians as his most enjoyable rugby league. “I was living round my mates and just young, dumb and having fun – playing the game I love and scoring tries for fun,” he explained. “That’s before all the stresses come with full time rugby league,” adding further that he is aware of how lucky he is to play the game.
We met shortly after he had finished a training session with Hull KR as he continues his comeback from a horrendous looking knee injury after an unfortunate incident with a PVC door, a wound which left his knee cut to the bone and needing fifteen stitches. Speaking of the injury, Lunt explained that “it’s healing well but we don’t really know what’s going on inside.” Understandably, the player and the club are both keen to ensure that the damage done under the skin is properly healed to avoid, as the Cumbrian hooker put it, the wound “opening every game.” However, it was revealed that KR are hoping that their captain will be able to return to the fold over the Easter period – something needed after a home loss to St Helens on Friday night in a match where the club suffered a handful of injuries.
Speaking of his role as captaincy, Lunt explained that while proud he doesn’t see it as having changed his game. “It’s just a name. We’ve got a lot of leaders in the squad and it doesn’t change how I play. I get to talk to the ref, that’s all,” he explained, further revealing that he doesn’t have a bad word to say about the officials – “without them, there’s no game.” Going back to the role of being the captain of the club, it’s over a decade since Lunt held the role last. “I was given captaincy when I was about 18 years old [at Workington] for a couple of games. I don’t think many of the senior boys liked it so it got taken off me!” The man who gave him the armband was the Australian coaching legend Tim Sheens, Kingston Rovers’ boss since the end of 2016. Speaking of the 67 year old, Lunt revealed that “he’s brilliant – I can’t speak highly enough of him. He’s so calm and cool with any situation,” situations including Lunt’s injury. “He just lets me crack on with my rehab,” further explaining the relationship with his staff at the club which makes plain that there is trust on all sides regarding professionalism.
Such is the impact Sheens has had and his knowledge, Lunt admitted that he believes Hull KR would have stayed in Super League in 2016 as opposed to being relegated had the Australian been at the helm. Explaining this belief, “if we knew then what we knew last year about how to control a game – such as slowing things down at the end – we’d still have been in Super League.” Lunt regards his boss as something of an oracle and real student of rugby league, admitting that Sheens has been able to explain rules and aspects of the game to himself that he was unaware of, Lunt adding that “I’m thirty now – you never stop learning!”
Speaking of the season so far, the Cumbrian revealed that the feel good atmosphere from last year’s promotion campaign carried through to this season and has set the club up for a steady start. While the club have two wins and five losses – “it’s been up and down so far” – they hadn’t really been handed a thrashing so far before the 30-6 loss to Saints. Indeed, they had performed very well against Leeds Rhinos in the season’s second match and can count themselves very unlucky to lose that match, something Lunt acknowledged; “we could have won that game, Leeds weren’t great” further pointing out a couple of strange calls from the officials – he does not, however, blame officials for results. “We’re not kidding ourselves, we have a lot to work on. The next few games are all against top sides.” From the discussion we shared, it is clear that Rovers are aiming high and are confident of remaining in Super League this season.
One team who will be hoping to join Lunt’s team in the top tier in the near future is one from Cumbria – if Marwan Koukash has his way. One of the most talked about topics in the sport of present is the possibility of a full time Cumbrian team, dubbed the Lakers, entering Super League in the near future. Hailing from Cockermouth, it is a venture Lunt is 100% behind. “I’d absolutely love it – it’s a heartland that’s been forgotten about.” He is keen, however, to avoid merging the likes of Barrow, Whitehaven and Workington in order to form a new club, explaining that the history and tradition of those clubs needs to be maintained. Furthermore, there is an argument about preserving the livelihood of players. “If you look at there being three teams of twenty players, sixty doesn’t go into twenty – we would lose forty Cumbrian players looking for jobs. It’s detrimental to our game and it’s not viable for them to go play part time elsewhere,” he explained. Instead, he suggested the solution of using those three clubs as ‘feeder’ clubs for a new Super League team, providing a conveyor belt of Cumbrian talent. Lunt is just one of many players currently plying their trade in Super League who herald from the area with the likes of Brad Singleton and Kyle Amor just two of the others, both of whom played in the RLWC last winter, showing the quality of talent in the area. He further outlined his belief that the Cumbrian people would get behind a man like Koukash, explaining that, like the former Salford Red Devils owner, Cumbrians are very outspoken and is confident they would warm to him.
Spending time with Lunt, it is obvious that he enjoys his rugby and he spoke about the sport, his career and his views with a clear passion. He quoted Jamie Peacock as saying to him, when the former Leeds forward joined KR in 2016, that “you’re only ever three months from bankruptcy.” While, initially, that seemed dramatic because he was one year into a four year deal, Lunt explained that it helped him realise how fragile the career of a rugby league player is – an injury could see a career end or, as was the case with a handful of his Hull KR team mates in 2016, relegation could see your contract torn up. As a result, he now has his off field business and has redone qualifications to ensure he has a life after rugby league – but not just yet.
When he recovers from injury, Lunt is clearly confident that he will be able to help Hull KR up the table.