Breaking News: Ballyclare’s & Antrim Ells Player JJ Baird Signs With Oxford Rugby League!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Joining Matty Hadden!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Congratulations to Ballyclare rugby star JJ Baird (pictured right) who will shortly be heading for England after signing semi-professional forms with Oxford Rugby League. SE0228
BALLYCLARE’S rising rugby star JJ Baird is preparing for pastures new, after taking up the offer of an exciting opportunity in English rugby league with Oxford Rugby League.
The 24 year old second row has played at various levels for club and country, having represented Ballyclare, Antrim Eels, Ulster and Ireland A, and the move to England represents a chance to pit himself against some of the best in rugby league across the water.
JJ explained that he was encouraged to put himself forward for trials by Rugby League Ireland representatives, and having impressed the Oxford coaches, is now looking forward to testing his abilities in a new environment.
“There was an online ad for trials with Oxford Rugby League and Tim Morton, who worked for Rugby League Ireland, said to me about it. I went over for the trial and ended up getting an offer to come over,” he said.
A former Ballyclare Secondary pupil and graduate of the University of Ulster Jordanstown in sport and exercise science, JJ has signed a semi-professional contract with Oxford, and will spend the initial months in pre-season training and searching for part-time work ahead of the side’s first game in March. The Oxford club also have links with Superleague side the Wakefield Wildcats, with the potential for opportunities at Wakefield for JJ if he impresses at Oxford.
“January and February will be spent training and settling in, and looking for part time work. There will be training with Wakefield and we will get the chance to see the standard that we are at. The standard of rugby league should be higher there and there will be a lot more opportunities,” added JJ.
With a Rugby League World Cup in the offing later this year, JJ is keen to make a good start in his new rugby home in order to put himself in contention for a call-up by Irish selectors.
“My main aim is just to play a lot and try and improve a lot. It is Rugby League World Cup year this year and I would hope to put myself in the frame for the Irish set-up,” he said.
Joined by fellow Ulster and Ireland A international, Carrickfergus man Matty Hadden, in addition to several other Irish internationals who are already on the books at Oxford, JJ will be settling in alongside a few familiar faces. Nonetheless, having lived away from Northern Ireland for a period before, he doesn’t feel homesickness will be a major obstacle.
“I lived in Canada for a few years and I don’t think homesickness will be an issue. I will be keeping in touch with family and friends and in any case you are just a flight away,” he said.
JJ has already played a role this season in helping Ballyclare RFC 1st XV in their push for promotion from Qualifying 2, where they currently enjoy a nine point advantage over Bangor, and in propelling Antrim Eels to victory in both the Ulster Bowl and the Cross Border Challenge Shield.
Speaking about the move of both JJ and Matty Hadden, Antrim Eels founder, Pascal Mulot, said, “We are all delighted what these boys have achieved in a short space of time. It’s testament to the hard work the pair have put in to make themselves successful at both club level and internationally.
“Matty has achieved his senior Ireland caps and JJ is an Ireland A international. With this being World Cup year I would expect them both to make the Ireland squad. They are going to learn a huge amount at Oxford, which will in no doubt make them better players for club and country. Everyone at the Eels wish them both every success at Oxford RL and will monitoring their progress and the season goes on,” he added.
Oxford Rugby League’s Head Coach is Tony Benson, and other coaches also include ex Bradford Bull, Saracen and Tongan International Tevita Vaikona. This is the first season of competitive rugby for the club, which was formed last year, as they enter a restructured Championship 1.
By Peter Kirk Ballyclare RFC

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