"I was 16, I had to look after her, and knew rugby could give me that chance" - John Bateman
"It's all about winning. There's no better feeling. I've been there a few times, and I want to do it again."
The Rugby League World Cup kicks off at St James' Park, this Saturday, and John Bateman will have plenty of support in the house, including his daughter, Millie.
The Wigan and England star went close at the 2017 World Cup but fell one step short against hosts Australia in a gripping, tense final. The 29-year-old is determined to take that extra step, this time around, and feels England have all the tools capable to get the job done.
For a lad that, for longer than he would have liked, seemed to be veering down the wrong road, helping his country to a first ever standalone World Cup win would be the pinnacle.
"I grew up in quite a rough area," the Bradford native tells us. "I saw sport as that outlet for me.
"My older brother played a lot of sport and I wasn't really interested but, one day, my mother... she didn't say anything to me. She more or less pulled me along to a training session and said, 'Right!'. I looked to take out some of my anger there.
"It took me off the street a bit - training Tuesday, Thursday and matches on weekends. It gave me something to focus on. I probably wasn't one of the best, academically, at school. I've got dyslexia, as well. I was doing stuff to get out of classes as I didn't want to be there. That is where I struggled the most. I was embarrassed at not being able to do all the things other kids could do."
"I got into a little bit of trouble, growing up," he adds, "and went off the beaten track a bit. Some of it was just being a teenager, but I was getting into fights, trouble and getting locked up. But, once I had rugby there, it was always in the background and helping to pull me back on track."
'Rugby would give me that backing to help her'
Once Bateman had that sporting outlet, and a way to channel all those pent-up emotions and frustrations, he set his sights on making it as pro with his local club, Bradford Bulls.
"My family were mad for Bradford Bulls," he says. "When I was younger, I went from not really being arsed to just loving rugby. Ask any sports star and they'll probably tell you the same - that buzz of the game and the adrenaline from going up against the best."
Rugby League and his goal of being a Bradford Bull were two strings that pulled Bateman along, but the biggest, and best, jolt came when his daughter Millie was born.
"She was born nine days after my 16th birthday," he says. "She came into my life and that was that. If there had been two tracks facing me, I veered off one way. I knew I had to look after her, and that rugby could give me that chance - that was my sole focus. Rugby would give me that backing to help her."
In April 2011, when he was 17 and daughter Millie was about 18 months old, Bateman made his senior debut for Bradford Bulls. He would play four times that season and score his first ever try against Wigan, a side he would go on to join, in November 2013.
Bateman won two Super League titles during his time at Wigan Warriors and earn his first England caps while at the club. After five years there, he made the jump to NRL, in Australia, and signed with Canberra Raiders.
"I just wanted to go over there and prove myself," says Bateman. "When I got the opportunity, I said I'd give it a go... At the end of the day, you are going over there and taking someone else's spot. No matter what, everyone is there to play rugby at the top. Everyone wants their spot and everyone is fighting for their shirt. You get the odd person calling you 'Pommie this' and 'Pommie that', but it's probably more the fans when you're playing against them.
"No-one could really understand me over there, anyway, so they couldn't give me too much shit!"
'We're going out there to win it' - Bateman
John Bateman and the Raiders reached the 2019 NRL Grand Final but they were beaten 14-8 by the Sydney Roosters. He recovered from a shoulder injury, the following season, to play 11 times but a decision was made, that summer of 2020, to rejoin Wigan. Missing his family at home, including Millie, and that sense of detachment heightened by the Covid-19 pandemic only hastened his decision.
"It killed me, being away from family for so long, that year," he admits. "I was in bits. So many people, around the world, were losing loved ones at that time. For me, I just wanted to be back home... to see all my family in the airport, when I got home, was one of the best feelings in the world."
That feeling of looking up into the stands and knowing where his family and friends are has always been one of the highlights of Bateman's career. Over the coming weeks, as England line out at St James' Park, Bramall Lane and more, he knows they will be there again, cheering him on.
"A World Cup is always special but to have one on home soil just lifts it so much. We're starting at St James' Park against a Samoan side that are looking to bring over their strongest team they've ever had. This is what it's all about, isn't it?"
As for the end goal of Bateman and his England teammates, there is no point looking at it any other way.
"We're going out there to win it," he declares.
"We've spoken about what's coming up and we're looking to win it. No qualms about it - that is the end goal. Everyone is in here working as hard as we can to go do it."
John Bateman is a Reign Total Body Fuel athlete and you can learn more about his life, and rugby, journey in this 'Ready to Reign' mini-documentary.