Last updated on .From the section Rugby League
Gavin Henson says rugby league is both better to watch and play than rugby union and regrets not taking up the 13-man game earlier in his career.
Henson, 39, will make his league debut in the Challenge Cup on Sunday for West Wales Raiders against Widnes Vikings.
The former Wales fly-half signed a 12-month contract with the part-timers and hopes to help league gain a foothold in south Wales’ union heartland.
“Union has lost its way a bit,” Henson told BBC 5 Live’s Rugby League podcast.
“If rugby league is clever now it could steal a march on rugby union because at the moment I think it’s the better game to watch and to play in.
“It’s a big time for rugby league and I think they could capitalise. I enjoy watching the internationals but apart from that it’s a tough game to watch whereas league is an exciting game.
“It’s so fast, it’s non-stop, there’s no stoppages and my favourite part is that there are no rucks.”
In union, during a near-20-year career, Henson starred at the highest level – winning 33 caps for Wales while also representing the British and Irish Lions.
He was one of the most naturally gifted players of his generation but did not achieve everything he could have in the game, notably never playing at a World Cup.
Worn down by a succession of injuries and wanting to spend more time with his children, at 27-years-of-age he took an almost two-year sabbatical from the sport.
Reflecting on that time, Henson wishes he had switched codes, and given himself a new challenge in another sport.
“I wish I’d have given it a go earlier in my career,” Henson said.
“There was a time I took away from rugby union when I was about 27 – I took nearly two years out – and that would have been the time to maybe switch and do something different and new which I think would have given me a new lease of life.
“But now, I’m just so grateful to the Raiders that they’ve given me this chance to experience the game and hopefully I’m still thinking that way after Sunday,” he said.
The Llanelli-based side will be big underdogs when they face seven-time Challenge Cup winners Widnes at Stebonheath Park.
In April 2018, they made headlines after suffering a world-record 144-0 defeat at the hands of York City Knights, but the club have big ambitions and hope now to find themselves back in the spotlight for the right reasons.
“I hope that the Raiders can be a massive team in Wales and be a proper franchise and maybe get into the Super League one day,” added Henson.
“That would be huge for Wales.
“It’s tough in union because with four regions in Wales a lot of players miss out every year so league could be something else for them if the Raiders can go up the leagues.
“This cup game is a bit of fun and we’ll do our best to get through and cause a shock but the league is the important one and hopefully we can get promotion.”
Henson is not the only high-profile signing for the ambitious Llanelli-based Raiders with former Super League Man of Steel Rangi Chase also joining this season to lead the side.
Chase, 34, who counts Widnes as one of his former clubs, is determined to make an impact and help the Raiders make strides after finishing bottom of the League One table in their last full season in 2019.
“It means a lot to me to be able to captain this side and hopefully give this club, the local town and the country what it deserves and put Wales on the Rugby league map,” said Chase, who will be Henson’s half-back partner.
“It’s an absolute honour and something I take very seriously. I’m living in Llanelli and there’s a buzz about rugby league in the town. Even union fans are talking about league and that’s a great start for us.
“One of the reasons I’ve come here is to help grow the game and there’s so much potential.
“Hopefully young kids will want to play league instead of union.”