England prop almost walked away

It was never supposed to come to this but in 2011, 23-year-old Chris Hill weighed up his future playing professional rugby league, his immediate thoughts with his partner Kathryn and their young son, Connor.

A father at the age of 20, Hill was juggling a part-time job as a fitness instructor with a part-time career playing with Leigh in the English second division and it was clear that something would soon have to give.

He and Kathryn discussed pursuing a full-time job and playing footy simply for fun but his coach of the time, Australian Ian Millward, knew there was a talent waiting to be fostered.

With Leigh struggling for finances and Millward soon to join Castleford, he tipped his good mate Tony Smith about this former Great Britain under-18s representative and the Warrington Wolves threw him a lifeline at precisely the right time.

"I really enjoyed it at Leigh and Leigh did a lot for me but it got to the point where I was playing part-time and working part-time as a fitness instructor. It was getting to the point, just before I signed, where I was going to put rugby on the back-burner," said Hill, who spent seven years toiling away in the lower leagues before finally getting his chance to play Super League.

"I'd spoke to me missus and we'd had discussions about moving on and still playing rugby but it not being the focal point. It has always been the focal point in our house; rugby was the first thing and then it was me job and we have kids so I was concentrating on obviously putting a roof over their heads and putting food on the table for them."

Having rocketed into international rugby league's consciousness with some stand-out displays in last year's World Cup and scooped all the major club awards in his first season at Warrington in 2012, Hill has a unique perspective on what it means to play for England and the hard road many take to get there.

It's a far cry from the likes of George and Thomas Burgess, Daryl Clark, Kallum Watkins and Josh Charnley, all of whom are 23 years of age or younger and will line up alongside Hill against New Zealand in Dunedin on Saturday night.

"In this day and age, I find anyway, a lot of people take it just for granted, especially some of the young kids," said Hill, now a father of three and having turned 27 on Monday.

"They tend to take it like it's just the norm but it doesn't last forever and you've got to cherish everything you get from the game and the moments and the lads you're with and the matches you're in as well. It's not going to last forever.

"Just going back into full-time training – I did that one year at Leigh – and full-time training is just what you want as an athlete. You want to be in there all the time and improving so it went from getting up and doing a shift at the gym – I know it weren't hard work, not like labouring like some of the lads were doing – going to training and then going back to the gym at 6 o'clock. It was just a different way of life but the one I wanted.

"Connor, me eldest, I had him when I was really young, I had him when I was 20, so he's been a big part and I miss them mad but with FaceTime and Skype now you can see them. See them walking to school every day so I just get on with it because these moments you're never going to get again, you never know when you're going to tour again."

The Four Nations tour to Australia and New Zealand also represents another opportunity to soak in the experience and professionalism of one of the players Hill most admires, James Graham.

Sharing the same ball-playing ability in big blokes' bodies, Hill had not yet played for Warrington when Graham moved to the NRL to join the Bulldogs but the tough English enforcer liked what he saw at last year's World Cup.

"He brings a hell of a lot. He is probably the top prop over there and been that in Super League for a number of years now," Graham said.

"He came from the lower leagues into the Warrington side and he has shown he is more than capable of handling this level. At last year's world cup he really upped his game when he pulled on the England shirt and he has continued that form at Warrington."

Which begs the question; as he struggled for recognition in the English lower leagues was he ever tempted to try his luck in Australia, the country in which he toured with the Great Britain under-18s almost a decade ago?

"Not when I was in the lower league, no, I was always wanting to play Super League," said Hill, who in July extended his stay at Warrington by a further five years until at least the end of the 2019 season.

"Before I signed again at Warrington I had little bits and bats from various NRL clubs, a bit of interest from here and there, but I've got a very young family, my parents are still over there, her parents are still over there so for the time being it is Warrington and we'll see what happens in the future."