Dane Chisholm and Jy Hitchcox are close friends, but will be on opposing teams in the battle for a Super League place on Sunday. Watch Toulouse Olympique and Featherstone Rovers face off in the Million Pound Game live on Sky Sports Arena from 5.30pm (kick-off 6pm)
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 07/10/21 1:05pm
When Dane Chisholm and Jy Hitchcox first met as 14-year-olds at Mullumbimby High School, it was probably not immediately obvious the two would go on to form the sort of friendship that would eventually lead to them being godparents to each other’s children.
Hitchcox had transferred from a private school and was put through an initiation ceremony before being allowed to sit with Chisholm and his friends, but the two became closer through intertwining rugby league careers.
From making the step up to open-age rugby together, to spells together with Melbourne Storm and Wests Tigers’ reserve-grade side and following each other to play in the UK, the pair will now be on opposing teams when Featherstone Rovers take on Toulouse Olympique in Sunday’s Million Pound Game.
Live Betfred Super League
October 10, 2021, 5:30pm
That friendship has already been put on hold in the build-up to the match which will decide the team promoted from the Championship to Super League for 2022 and Rovers half-back Chisholm cannot wait to go up against someone he has known since their days in small-town New South Wales.
“We had to put him through a few initiations to let him sit with us at our school,” Chisholm recalled. “We all lined up and made him run through the middle of us and hit him with sticks, so I think the first few days he was a little bit off us.
“But we ended up playing footy together and we were on 17 and 18 playing in the A-grade competition against men. Just me and him taking that step up together made us become pretty close friends.
“We’ve always had a bit of a running battle whenever we’ve played each other and everyone back home is going pretty crazy right now. On the day, we’re not going to be mates and I can’t wait to get out there and try to get into him a bit, as he’s going to be doing with me.”
Hitting the pause button on 20 years of friendship. Kids got no godfather for the weekend. 😂
— Jy Hitchcox (@Jybees) October 2, 2021
Hitchcox is not Chisholm’s only connection to France, with the 31-year-old having been capped four times by the French national team earlier in his career thanks to ancestral links on his mother’s side of his family.
Those included a 32-18 defeat to England in Avignon and a 46-10 victory over Scotland in Toulouse in which he scored a hat-trick and while Chisholm is hoping the home fans at Stade Ernest-Wallon are left disappointed this time around, he still has fond memories of those internationals.
“It was awesome,” Chisholm said. “I loved it and I love the south of France – it’s such a beautiful place in the world.
“I was only 19 years old when I went, and it was the first time I’d left Australia, so I absolutely loved it.
“It’s definitely a part of the world I love to go back and spend some time in, but for now we’re going to go over and try to stop them from making Super League.
“I’m not too good at French anyway, so I’m not going to know what they’re saying so it will be all right.”
Chisholm is one of the members of the Featherstone squad who was part of their run to the 2019 Million Pound Game – which included a memorable 36-12 win away to Toulouse – where they were ultimately beaten 24-6 by Toronto Wolfpack in Canada.
The club have already celebrated their 100th anniversary season by claiming the 1895 Cup with a thrilling 41-34 win over York City Knights at Wembley in July, but promotion back to the top-flight of rugby league in this country for the first time since being relegated in 1995 has always been the ultimate aim.
Indeed, Featherstone head coach James Webster believes this year’s promotion decider is even more important than the three previous trips to Wembley which saw Rovers lift the Challenge Cup in 1967, 1973 and 1983.
“I don’t want to downgrade the three Cup finals at Wembley, but Featherstone has been knocking on the door for so long that to get back into the top-flight would be a huge achievement,” Webster said.
“I’ve been in this country for 17-odd years and I’ve never seen a part-time team promoted. It would be an absolutely massive achievement for us to do that.
“Do I think the people in and around this town deserve it, have waited a long time and supported rugby league in general for a long time? Yeah, I do – so I’m hoping for them we’re able to win and then next year they get a chance to watch some of the big teams roll into town.”
Featherstone have already been given a huge financial boost by reaching the Million Pound Game in the form of £30,000 worth of merchandise sales over the past two weeks, while promotion – if achieved – is expected to be worth a total of £2M when projected increases in attendance and sales of food and drink at the Millennium Stadium are taken into account.
Victory over Toulouse, who are heavy odds-on favourites to join Grand Finalists Catalans Dragons as the second French team in Super League next year, would be life-changing for the players too and former Hull Kingston Rovers player Chisholm is eager for another crack at the highest level with his Rovers team-mates.
“It’s going to be massive,” Chisholm said. “Obviously we played in the Million Pound Game before in 2019 and I know how it feels to lose one.
“They say you’ve got to lose one to win one, so hopefully on the weekend if we do get the win it will eclipse it by being one of the proudest moments in my career.”