Written by Callum Walker
Whether part-time or full-time, in League 1, the Championship or Super League, Salford Red Devils’ Chris Atkin has done it all. But, Rugby League was not always at the forefront of his career.
Indeed, the 27-year-old combined playing with teaching when he was breaking through; as a Physical Education mentor at the Wade Deacon High School in his hometown of Widnes, it ended up being a choice between the two occupations.
“It was a really difficult decision to move into Rugby League full-time,” Atkin revealed to Everything Rugby League.
“I was playing at Swinton whilst finishing University and then my teaching qualification.
“I was really enjoying teaching and was offered an opportunity to take a full-time teaching role, or go full-time with my rugby.
“I had worked hard to make sure I could do both, but to be given an opportunity to go full-time, was something I dreamt about.
“I didn’t know if I would ever get another opportunity to compete at the highest level, so it was something I couldn’t turn down.”
It’s been a long journey from Swinton Lions in League 1 to the Championship and Super League with Hull KR and now Salford for Atkin, but it’s something which the utility man looks back on with fondness.
“I am really grateful for the path that I have come on, I got to learn the game as I developed, moving up through the leagues.
“There is a lot more talent in those leagues with players like me that may have fell away because they weren’t seen as ‘good enough’ at the time, or trying to juggle other commitments.
For Atkin though, the gulf in class between the top two tiers hit him hard.
“The step up from Championship to Super League has definitely been the biggest one.
“The league is really competitive and you can’t make mistakes that you might have got away with in the Championship – the quality of teams and players in Super League will take those opportunities.”
Atkin’s success in stepping up to the big time was epitomised with his inclusion in the England Knights squad back in 2018, something which he prides himself greatly on, particularly the tour of Papua New Guinea that year.
“The England Knights experience was unbelievable and if you had told me about it a few years earlier, I might not have believed you.
“To represent your country at any level is something I am very proud and honoured to have done on a couple of occasions.
“But to go away on tour, and have that experience in PNG was a special moment and one I will remember for the rest of my life.”
After 68 appearances on East Yorkshire for the Robins, Atkin moved to Lancashire ahead of the 2020 season. That saw him reunited with former boss Ian Watson who has been enjoying a brilliant spell as Salford head coach.
“I’m really enjoying being at Salford and working with Watto (Ian Watson) again; he was the one who brought me in to Swinton six years ago, and he has always had belief in me.
“It took a while to settle in, but after lockdown I feel that my performances have started to get to a level that Watto expects, and that I know I am capable of.
“He has really high standards and definitely knows how to get the best out of his players.”
Whilst on the field the goal-kicking halfback is determined to nail down a consistent spot, off the field, coaching and teaching is the future.
“I have always wanted to do that as a job, and hopefully I will be fortunate enough to play a few more years before I have to go back in to teaching.
“I am really passionate about passing on my experiences to younger generations, whether that be teaching or coaching.
“Hopefully once things get back to normal I will be able to get back in to schools and community clubs, working with the community department at Salford.”