Whitehead adapts to French living
With a soft spot for his old club, Elliott Whitehead had more than a passing interest in the unveiling of Bradford Bulls’ new head coach on Tuesday morning but he maintains his departure for Catalan Dragons was the best move he could have made.
The Bradford-born second rower left the Bulls exactly 12 months ago after falling out with then boss Francis Cummins and submitting a transfer request.
He was snapped up by the Dragons and, after taking some time to settle into a new lifestyle in the south of France, he is now producing the best form of his career.
Whitehead, who came through the ranks at Odsal and burst into the senior side in 2009 at just 19, was only the second Englishman to sign for the Catalan club since they entered Super League in 2006.
Leon Pryce was the trailblazer and Whitehead is grateful to his old Bradford team-mate for helping him make the adjustment.
"At first it was hard," said the 24-year-old bachelor.
"I'd never been to a different club, never mind a French club where no one really speaks English. I lived with Leon for two months and he made it a lot easier for me.
"A lot of the boys when they come, especially if they haven't got families with them, get put in a place called Malibu which isn't really the nicest place.
"Leon told me I wasn't going there - he said we Bradford lads have to stick together - so he threw me in his mansion.
"I was grateful for that. Him and his missus looked after me.
"I've got my own apartment now and I'm learning how to cook and clean. I had my mum to do all that. I haven't killed anyone yet when I've cooked tea so I'm doing all right.
"I speak a little bit of French. It's not the best to be honest but I get by and the lifestyle is a lot better than Bradford. I live right on the beach and every morning I'll have breakfast outside. I can't complain about that."
Whitehead played in the Dragons' last seven matches of the 2013 season and really found his feet this year.
Along with Wigan Warriors second rower Liam Farrell, he is the most prolific forward in First Utility Super League with 12 tries so far and his form earned him selection in England coach Steve McNamara's 34-strong training squad.
Whitehead flew over for a three-day camp at Loughborough University and, although there was no mid-season match this time, he is hoping to put himself in contention for the end-of-season Four Nations Series in Australia and New Zealand.
"It was good to get called up," he said.
"I know it was just training but I'll keep on doing what I've been doing at Catalan and hopefully I'll get the call at the end of the year.
"Last year I was with the Knights and I felt I had to move from Bradford to progress my career. I feel I'm playing better now and I'm more confident in myself. I feel I've achieved one of my goals by breaking through into the England squad.
"There's a lot of good back rowers but I'll keep on performing and trying to improve parts of my game. I think I'm playing well but I feel always there is a bit more I can do."
Whitehead is contracted with the Dragons to the end of 2015 but is already thinking about extending his stay in Perpignan.
"I've got the rest of this year and then another year," he said.
"Maybe I'll start speaking to them this year to sign again. Everything is good and hopefully they'll want to keep me."
Meanwhile, Whitehead is hoping the unveiling of James Lowes as Bradford's new head coach can help spark a revival at his old club.
"I've got a lot of mates at Bradford and it's not nice seeing them struggle," he said. "It's my home-town club and I still want them to do well."