HE once earned his pocket money by delivering the Citizen to houses in Two Mile Ash – but now Ed Slater is making a living playing professional rugby for the country’s biggest club.
The 22-year-old is in training for what could prove the biggest season in his career as he aims to hold down a regular starting place for Leicester Tigers after bursting onto the scene last year.
Ed, or Edward if you’re talking to his mum, cut his teeth at Milton Keynes Rugby Club where he spent a couple of years playing in the junior ranks before being given his chance to play in the first team – and he never looked back.
After a season and a half playing for his local side, Ed – then 19 – went on a working holiday to Australia, and soon made the move permanent by taking up the opportunity to play for Sydney side Eastern Suburbs.
After success there he was invited for a trial at Leicester and soon found himself in the thick of the action as Tigers went in search of Aviva Premiership glory.
His work-rate and physical presence helped him earn rave reviews at second row following an injury crisis at Welford Road. It was his big break.
Providing cover for England international locks Louis Deacon and Geoff Parling, Ed’s consistent performances earned him Tigers’ Player of the Month award in October last year as he helped the club top the league standings and make it to the Premiership final.
His side may have lost to Saracens in front of more than 80,000 fans at Twickenham – a year after Leicester beat the same team to maintain their stranglehold on English rugby – but for Ed the experience was life-changing.
Now, as Leicester prepare to take on Exeter Chiefs in their opening game of the new season, Ed is hoping his performances of last term will see him keep his place in the side. But his feet remain firmly on the ground.
“Only the top internationals at the club can say with any certainty that they will be regulars in the side, so all I can do is my best and hope Richard Cockerill (Tigers’ first team coach) is impressed.
“With the benefit of hindsight it’s probably my biggest season coming up, but I suppose you say that about every year because it’s only the here and now you worry about. But my aim is to make sure I’m in contention to play as much as I can in the next couple of years and hopefully improve.”
Like Milton Keynes RUFC, Ed has come a long way since his days of playing U15 and U16 rugby at the club’s then home at Greenleys – and even further since the days of delivering a couple of hundred Citizen papers around the city estate where his family still lives.
“I found it too hard and packed it in after a few weeks,” joked Ed, who now has a Leicester shirt framed and hanging in the clubhouse of Milton Keynes’ new Emerson Valley home.
“I go back quite often and remember my days playing for MK like they were yesterday. Now the club have such great facilities I’m hoping they’ll be able to push on and maybe even one day play National League rugby – I certainly think there’s room in this area for another team at that level, and there are a lot of good people there.”
Milton Keynes RUFC chairman John Silk says he remembers Ed well and is delighted that he remains so closely attached to the club, making him the perfect role model for the city’s current crop of talented youngsters. But sometimes he’d be a little too competitive, as John explains.
“I remember when he was playing for the U15s and saw a decision go against him – he threw the ball down on the ground in a huff, so we gave him a £2 fine and told him to buy the referee a pint. A little while later he came over to me and asked to borrow some money...
“But all joking aside, he was a great player and a really lovely guy. We always knew he was going to go on to better things. His attitude as a second row was fantastic and he took all our conversions, hardly ever missing. Now we’re pleased he’s still so closely linked with the club and visits often.
“In fact Ed’s old coach in Australia has a bet with his mum that he’ll one day play for England.”