Written by Callum Walker
He’s a household name in rugby league, but Harrison Hansen’s Super League and Championship career could have been a lot different had he not emigrated from Auckland, New Zealand thirty years ago. In fact, it was his father Shane that set the ball rolling for Lancastrian rugby to infiltrate the Hansen genes.
“We moved to Salford in 1990 when I was five. My parents decided they wanted to move to the UK,” Hansen revealed to Everything Rugby League.
“So, my dad sent a highlights video of himself playing to Salford and from that they signed my dad. He also went on to play for Swinton.”
Harrison’s own path was much less complicated having been scouted by Wigan whilst playing for local amateur side Folly Lane as a 15-year-old. From there, the back-rower progressed through the academy, impressing enough to make his debut at 18 in 2004.
“It was an unreal experience, being in the changing rooms amongst star players like Adrian Lam, Andy Farrell, Terry Newton, Brett Dallas, Craig Smith etc.
“Then, coming off the bench against Wakefield and my opposing player was David Solomona!
“It was a huge step up in class, weight etc, but I enjoyed it massively.
“I never really gave any thought about whether or not my career was going to be a success, I just took each game and each year as they came.
“Obviously, playing for Wigan, the expectations to be successful were there, but I just kept my head down and worked hard for the team.”
The Kiwi won two Challenge Cups and two Grand Finals whilst at Wigan, accumulating almost 250 appearances in the process. But, with contract negotiations breaking down, Hansen left to join Salford ahead of the 2013 season having won the double with the Warriors that year. The influence of new Salford owner, Marwan Koukash, did the trick.
“I loved it at Wigan and I didn’t want to leave, but during contractual talks, we weren’t seeing eye-to-eye which was frustrating, so I turned the offers down.
“As I still had a year left, I was going to decide what my options were at the end of the year.
“Then Marwan came into the picture and showed me his plan to rebuild Salford which looked exciting. It was a new challenge.
“He also offered me a contract I just couldn’t turn down. So, after a fee was paid, I joined Salford.”
Things didn’t go as planned for Koukash though as the newly-rebranded Red Devils finished tenth in 2014. Hansen moved to Leigh in 2016 and Widnes in 2018 before becoming one of Toulouse’s eye-catching recruits for 2020. Despite being the wrong side of 30, the forward is still keen to stress he has a lot to give in the game.
“I’ve just turned 35, but I feel great and I’m still in great shape.
“This lockdown has given the body a good rest too which will add a few more years.
“I know I still have a lot to offer Toulouse with my experience and the way I play.
“We have huge potential as a club to reach Super League, especially with the team we are building for next year. It would be a disaster if we didn’t.”
He’s eligible to play for England, New Zealand and Samoa, so there has never been a shortage of international sides for Hansen to play for. But, it was always a choice between the Kiwis and Samoa as he matured.
“Coming through the academy at Wigan, I played for the England academy under-18s and I loved it. We beat the junior Kiwis in New Zealand and the Aussie schoolboys in Australia.
“When I became professional, I was able to choose. Steve McNamara (the England coach at the time) asked if I wanted to choose England, but New Zealand and eventually Samoa were always in my thoughts due to my family ties and background which I was proud of.”
A heartbreaking moment occurred just before the 2013 World Cup, however, as the Samoan captain suffered an injury which kept him out of the competition. That, for Hansen, signalled the end of his international career.
“I’d been playing internationally since 2007 so after my regular season finished, I would then fly out to New Zealand and Australia or go into a hotel in the UK.
“After the World Cup, I decided I needed a rest and I wanted to spend the rest of my off-seasons with my family.”