This season is all about pushing new boundaries for Sale Sharks full back Mike Haley.
Since making his senior league debut in an Anglo-Welsh semi-final win over Saracens four years ago, the former Preston Grasshopper and Sale academy graduate has established himself as a household name with the AJ Bell faithful.
Having operated in every position in the backline while coming through the ranks, the Sale man quickly began cementing his position at full back within Steve Diamond’s team.
And following the 23-year-old’s stint with Eddie Jones’ squad in May, where he came off the bench against the Barbarians, the Lancashire play-maker wants this season to be the one where he comes of age – both off the pitch and on it.
Describing his debut at England HQ as the pinnacle of his career to date, the level-headed Haley has his sights firmly set on donning the Red Rose in the near future.
But for now, the Sale academy graduate, it appears, is keeping busy pursuing a string of other activities off the pitch.
Haley has already broken new ground this year – after taking up his maiden ambassadorial role with local Mancunian rugby blog, Loose Headz.
“I actually got introduced to it by Sam James. I watched this interview he did with them – he ended up bagging me in this interview a few times – so I was determined to get my own back,” said Haley.
“But when I started chatting to them, I thought what they were doing was absolutely brilliant.
“Loose Headz is a great organisation which is trying to end the stigma of not talking about mental health.
“They’re doing a great job and hopefully Sam and I can have a few more things coming up with them. It’s my first ambassadorial role as a professional athlete outside rugby and it’s one that is helping me learn every day.
“I think the blog is trying to get a few more Sale boys involved to do a few interviews.”
You’d be spot on if you’ve noticed a growing similarity in the hair department among several of Steve Diamond’s men – and the culprit is none other than Haley himself.
Since taking up the scissors a couple of seasons ago to give teammate Sam James a trim, Haley has since become the team’s hairdresser over the past few months – and it’s truly taken off. "I've trimmed a couple of beards in my time..."
“I’m still to come up with a proper name – but Haley’s Haircuts is a thing,” he said.
“There are seven boys in the team who have ‘Haley haircuts’ and – I’ve been cutting their hair. AJ McGinty wasn’t my best one – but that’s because he’s the worst person to cut hair. He demands certain things which I can’t do.”
While he’s not planning on opening a barber shop any time soon, what about the next step – beards?
“I’ve trimmed a couple of beards in my time, but Bryn Evans won’t let me touch his,” conceded Haley.
“He doesn’t look like a man who’d let me to be fair.”
King of chess
Since the role of sole team hairdresser doesn’t provide Haley with much competition – he often reverts to online chess as a means of satisfying his competitive flair.
And while it might have been a thing of last season, the Preston-born player is more than happy to bear all the bragging rights – even with new signings Faf de Klerk and James O’Connor now on the block.
“It wasn’t a chess competition, it was more like a demolition. No one came close to beating me,” he said.
“I’m quite the chess player, they all ended up losing to me. It was a thing of last season really. “They’ve all lost their heads and don’t want to play anymore.
“I’ve not had any new challenges yet – but I’m open to them”
Clearing his mind
Haley has been in fine form this season, a stand-out moment was scoring a wonderful try when he twinkle-toed his way through Harlequins’ defence in October.
And while he might have strayed from the limelight in feeding the try-prolific Denny Solomona last season, Haley admits he is more mentally focused than ever when running at opponents’ defences.
“In previous years, I’ve been having a hundred thoughts in my head and I’ve been trying to pick the right one,” he added.
“The backline that we have now is interchangeable – everyone can kind of play everywhere. We’ve been playing some great rugby and scoring some great tries.
“I’m just concentrating on my stuff at Sale, because I can control that. I can’t control what’s happening on the international scene.
“I’m just doing the best that I can do, and whatever happens, happens.”