A RUGBY player from Chingford took the biggest step of his fledgling career at the weekend when he stepped out to make his debut for Super League side Harlequins.

Ben Bolger, 20, made a 20-minute cameo appearance in the season’s curtain-raiser at their Stoop ground on Saturday, a game which ended in an 18-10 defeat to Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.

His selection for the league side – Harlequins are arguably more famous for their union team – came after an exceptional campaign in the reserves, when he was named Player of the Year.

Bolger, who plays at loose forward, ensured he made the most of his opportunity to impress coach Brian McDermott, with an extended run in the first team now firmly on his mind.

“I was really excited and quite nervous but I made sure I kept my mind on the task,” he said. “I felt good and I made sure I got involved early on and put in a big tackle. That got the adrenalin going and all the anxiety went after that.

“Once you get the nod and walk across that white line the nerves go.

“I hope I can establish myself in the team. It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I first picked up a rugby ball when I was six-years-old and I am grateful for the opportunity.”

Back then, Bolger was a pupil at St Mary’s Catholic Primary School in Station Road, Chingford. He began his love affair with rugby at Chingford Rugby Club, where he moved through the age groups, before being noticed by leading rugby union side Saracens.

However, after getting a taste of rugby league action in the London South leagues at the age of 15, he made the switch permanently, and it was not long before Harlequins came calling. The rest, as they say, is history.

“I enjoy the pace and the physicality of rugby league,” he said of the sport, which has developed a cult following in the north of the country. “It’s strange, I wasn’t quick enough to play at the back and not big enough in the forwards in union, but I naturally took to the league format. I love the hard graft and the feeling you get when you win.”

Rugby league is a fast-paced version of union, and is widely considered to be one of the most physically demanding team sports in the world. The differences to union include 13 players on each side, rather than 15, while it also has a ‘six tackle rule’, whereby each team effectively has six chances to score. Play is restarted after each tackle with the player rolling the ball back with his foot, as opposed to a ruck in union.

Bolger made the transition seamlessly, and is highly rated by the club. His coach McDermott was full of praise ahead of his debut. “Ben Bolger is another of our young Londoners who has worked very hard throughout our youth development system to earn a shot at Super League,” he said.“He had a great season in the reserves last year.”

Bolger’s work ethic has clearly shone through during his development. And he has had to draw upon that dedication to the cause now more than ever, as he attempts to juggle a university course in Business Management Administration at Reading with his rugby commitments.

He described his typical day: “I’m up at 5am to travel over to west London to train then back for lectures and in bed by 10pm. I was able to enjoy myself for the first few weeks but now I’m teetotal. University is like a hotel for me.”

Bolger harbours dreams of one day representing his country, but for now his sole focus is to improve all aspects of his game and force his way into the reckoning for Harlequins.

“I don’t want to think too far ahead, just want to get myself in the first team and get on the bench. Every chance I get I need to take so I can keep hammering on that door.

“There are a lot of players I admire. But I don’t look at one player, I want to get better and better and get the best assets from a range of players and bring them into my own game.”