Anthony Gelling has come a long way since arriving in Wigan as a relatively unknown 21-year-old.
One of coach Shaun Wane’s ‘project’ signings in December 2011, Gelling was the sort of player the cliche ‘diamonds in the rough’ was made for, with his early juddery performances being punctuated by moments of brilliance - and madness.
But few would argue that Gelling, who has since claimed a starting spot, and his first winner’s medal, does not deserve his ‘Man of the People’ tag.
“It was a thankless job last year,” Gelling laughed when reflecting on his role for ‘the people’, which ended in him celebrating Wigan’s Grand Final win over Warrington in an inflatable crown.
“I think I left (the crown) in the drug tester’s room after the game.
“Everyone was on the bus waiting for me and I was so dehydrated after the game. Everyone’s up in the bar with their families after the game having a good time and I was sat in the drug tester’s room for an hour and a bit keeping everyone waiting.”
There’s a few – heroes in coatsAnthony Gelling
It’s a safe bet to presume being pulled to one side and asked to pee on a drug tester’s demand was not how Gelling, a Kiwi-born Cook Islands international, wanted to celebrate his first trophy success in a Wigan shirt.
After being described by Wane as ‘unknown to the rugby league public in the UK’ on his arrival, Gelling was at the club for the 2013 double-winning season but didn’t play in either final, with his only appearance at Old Trafford before last season being the 2014 loss to St Helens.
But with a philosophical viewpoint, Gelling did find a positive in that time spent alone in the immediate aftermath of the greatest moment of his career – even if he did lose his crown.
“I was alright. It gave me time to call my family and stuff back home,” he explained.
“I had a good chat with them and there were a few tears so it was better that no one could see it.
“But I definitely made up for missing the celebrations afterwards.”
Despite the significance of Gelling’s Grand Final win, his family are yet to see his winner’s ring though. That got left behind during a five-week off season visit to New Zealand, along with other essentials for travel.
“I was a bit boozed when I left so I missed the packing,” he laughed.
“I can’t remember where we went but I packed after a night out.
“I got out New Zealand, opened my bag and I think I had two pairs of shoes and a t shirt.”
As short a time ago as it feels though, celebrations have long since given way to preparing for the new season, which kicks-off for Wigan at Salford this coming Saturday.
Many have already pegged the champions as favourites to retain their Super League crown, but before then there are two other trophies to aim for – and having missed the 2013 final, and not playing in the competition at all last year thanks to injury, the Challenge Cup is firmly on his radar.
“I was gutted to miss out. I didn’t get to play any Challenge Cup games last year, they were the two times I was injured so at Wembley I want the same feeling we had at Old Trafford,” he said.
“I’m excited to do that.”
The World Club Challenge clash against Cronulla on February 19 is also a game which will carry extra significance for the Wigan players.
Gelling has faced Brisbane twice in a World Club Series, famously charging down Corey Parker’s penalty attempt in extra time in 2015, but having silverware on the line this time changes the complexion of this season’s tussle with an NRL side.
“Not this time. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that (a charge down),” he laughed.
“It’s been along time since Wigan won one. I don’t know when the last one was.
“We owe them one and to do it at home would be good too. Hopefully it will be packed out.
“The Brisbane games were really good and I really enjoyed the atmosphere but to have a trophy at the end of this one, even more reason to rip in.”
But as far as winning silverware goes, what about the new haircut the centre is sporting?
Last season Gelling vowed to not cut his hair, and as Wigan’s campaign progressed, his need for a headband increased – and he insists those flowing locks played a key role in the title success.
“I’m streamlined now,” he explained, running a hand over his head. “It got a bit hard work last year, keeping it out of my eyes, I got a bit too superstitious to cut it in the end. Me not cutting it was one of the factors in us winning the final,” he smiled.
“But I’ll find something else. I’ve not found it yet. I might grow my pubic hair or something!”
But Gelling insists it shouldn’t all be down to him to carry the mantle as ‘Man of the People,’ a title which seems to fit a player who has the old hot tub from Warriors’ training base in his Springfield back garden, and who rode a BMX to a match the other season and then crashed a fan’s house party – not to mention his entertaining social media videos.
“There’s a few – heroes in coats,” he said of the Warriors squad.
“Someone should step out of the shadows and carry us forward but we need someone to put their hand up, no one has yet.”