“I was playing football and I got injured. Karl (Haigh) put some sessions on at our school for teachers, I came to play and here I am in my sixth year of playing. I’ve given up in football and every other sport to focus on Aussie Rules.” He explained.
As captain of the team, Whiteley has done a remarkable job in turning the side in to one of the best in the country. A vocal player who is both a leader on and off the pitch and a role model to young upcoming players,“To manage a bunch of lads in a sport that very few people play is a real privilege,” he said.
“Last year we got through to the final, having to lead the team out was a great experience. I try to direct the team in the right way and just making sure everyone is okay to play and encourage them.”
Matt is also one of the coaches, a role that he excels in.“I very much enjoy helping to develop the youth,” he added. “I’m reaching towards the end of my career, so now I want to focus on bringing up young players, for some, there time has just started.”
Whitely has a remarkable playing career, most notably featuring for the England Dragonslayers for five consecutive years since 2010, record which no other Rams player has achieved.
“A lot of my game is based on my consistency, and for the past five years I would say I have been preforming pretty much at the same level not forgetting that I am quite vocal when I play,” he described.
He also played for the Great Britain Bulldogs in 2011 and 2012.“In 2011 I went to the IC CUP, to represent the Bulldogs, it was a proud achievement, I even passed up the opportunity to see my daughter being born! That's how much it meant to me. To be picked in a squad out of 28 player’s in the whole country is a massive achievement.” Whiteley said.
Since then Matt has also gone on to become the England vice captain ahead of this years event in Croatia.
As a teacher, Matt has also played a significant role in increasing the profile of Aussie Rules football to others, especially within the schools.
The Rams success is largely down to the connection they have with Whitcliffe Mount and Rastrick High School who have both included AFL as a curriculum sports.
“So you have Football, Rugby and now we’ve included AFL. We’ve done it in a way where the Huddersfield Rams are the pinnacle and schools are just developing players. Currently we have 10-12 lads that have come through the schooling system.” Whiteley explained.
After winning the Brit Cup, being the only full British side with no Australian players, Matt is hoping the local talent will continue to grow along with the sport.
After a few years out of the GB squad due to family commitments, Matt is also confident he can mark his return on the international stage.
By Shummell Uddin
By Shummell Uddin