Ex-NRL player Whitbread has a Hull new lease on life

Mark Staniforth |

Former Gold Coast NRL player Jai Whitbread is now playing for Hull KR in the English Super League.
Former Gold Coast NRL player Jai Whitbread is now playing for Hull KR in the English Super League.

Hull KR prop Jai Whitbread is determined to shrug off losing habits and play a central role in the Robins’ quest for silverware in England’s Super League this season.

The 26-year-old Australian admits he is relishing his belated opportunity to aim high, having previously been embroiled in strength-sapping struggles at the wrong end of the table with his previous clubs, Gold Coast and Wakefield. 

Amid a number of high-profile off-season arrivals, not least former Catalans Dragons halfback Tyrone May, Whitbread’s late entry to bolster the 2024 front row at Craven Park merited relatively little attention. 

But his displays in Rovers’ strong start to the Super League campaign – in particular a rugged win over Leeds in tough conditions last week – suggest he will play a serious role in his side’s bid to improve on last season’s play-off slot and Challenge Cup final defeat. 

“It was definitely tough (at Wakefield),” said Whitbread, who was left considering a number of options after Trinity’s relegation, before Rovers stepped in with an offer he could scarcely refuse. 

“It’s not enjoyable losing, no one plays to lose. 

“It’s a lot nicer when you come off the pitch and you’ve put in the hard work and come away with a win. 

“I’m enjoying it, but I’m not taking it for granted, that’s for sure.” 

Whitbread spent three seasons in the NRL with Gold Coast, a hapless period that included finishing rock bottom and a humiliating 58-6 loss to the Sydney Roosters. It was the club’s second heaviest defeat and drew an open letter of apology from club officials. 

Whitbread quit his NRL hell to join Leigh in 2021, but switched to Wakefield after just four appearances for the Lancashire club.

He was soon to find himself embroiled in another gruelling campaign, which culminated in Trinity’s 24-year top-flight stay coming to an end. 

However, Whitbread’s consistent performances in the over-worked front row were one of few highlights at Belle Vue, and Rovers head coach Willie Peters jumped at the chance to reward his commitment in a more competitive side. 

“I definitely think it shaped me as a player,” Whitbread said of his previous struggles. 

“I could have said ‘Stuff this, I’m sick of losing’, and sort of turned it negatively, but I kept persisting and not trying to change my game, and trying to be the best I could. 

“I feel like taking positives out of a negative situation is the reason I’m here now. 

“It’s just a lot more rewarding, your hard work feels more satisfying. It is a bit of a different dynamic, but I think I can get used to it.”

Hull have won both of their games this season, sitting third on points difference behind the Saints and the Dragons.