Having joined Ulster from Harlequins in the summer of 2016, the athletic second-row has been a key figure in Ulster’s engine room.
Treadwell is an energetic and abrasive ball-carrier with a natural athletic ability and explosive turn of pace for a man of his size. Indeed, his surging runs and ability to make searing line-breaks fit perfectly with McFarland’s preference for a fast and loose style of rugby.
These extra dimensions to his game have caught the attention of Ireland’s selectors, earning Treadwell 3 Irish international caps at the age of 24 (and surely many more to come).
Here, Treadwell discusses the hunger and determination which have seen him make rapid progress and nail down a regular starting berth for Ulster in the face of stiff competition.
This interview was conducted last summer.
Who or what made you passionate about rugby?
To be fair, it was my family I suppose really. That was probably what inspired me to play and to get me where I’ve gone. Support from my dad and my mum was massive. The guy who probably got me into it was my uncle. My uncle used to play for London Irish and Harlequins back in the day, so I was always interested in him playing. And obviously the school I went to as well back in Croydon which was a rugby-based school, so a lot of my friends were playing. At first, I was into football, so I had to make a decision between rugby or football, and I think my body settled on which way I swayed.
When was is that you thought you had a chance of making it as a professional?
Probably for me, it was probably when I was 15 or 16, I thought ‘I want to test myself against the best here’. From an early age, it was never pushed upon me, it was always self-led. Obviously, the support system as I said before was massive, my dad, my mum used to take me everywhere which was good. I always had that sort of backing anyway. I definitely thought early doors that I have to test myself here.
You made the transition from Harlequins to Ulster – how did that come about?
It was actually, they got in touch – I had played for under 18’s Ireland clubs so Ulster got in touch as soon I was looking to leave school really. What worked out best for me was to stay at Quins, I was with them since I was 15 or 16 so I thought I’d stick there. It was Allen Clarke who got me in touch over here. Obviously, a couple of years went passed and Ulster rang me up and said, ‘we’re interested in getting you over here and to have a look at the system and the way we work’. It appealed to me and I made the jump. I’ve never looked back.
What was it like when you joined the squad? Did you learn from anyone in particular?
I suppose the likes of Hendy and that, they were massive. Obviously, Rory when he was there and all those senior players. Everyone was quite welcoming. After a couple of weeks, I was straight in the mix, it was like a brotherhood rather than a team. Now obviously the boys I’ve worked with, back in the day there was Franco round the place, he was always someone I would go to, to swot up on all the different moves and stuff like that. Everyone was really welcoming.
There are so many young guys coming into the team, particularly in the last season or so, and they’ve talked about the atmosphere in Ulster as being really positive?
Even the support staff and stuff like that was massive. It was also an open-door policy if you had a problem on or off the pitch. You have that support system around you to tap into which is great.
Have you thought about what you would be doing if you didn’t play rugby?
Do you know what? I was set up to play and I didn’t want anything else, that’s what I wanted. That’s just being honest. Now I’m just concentrating on where I want to get to and until I get that, I’m not going to steer away from that. So not really no.
So, you were always incredibly determined about where you wanted to get to, what you wanted to achieve?
Yeah, until I reach where I want to get to, I don’t think I’ll deviate from that path. My parents, my dad has a business so I could have gone into that if I wanted to, but my mind wasn’t in it. If my mind’s not in it, I wouldn’t give it 110%.
Are you competitive? What sort of player are you?
It depends really. I’m competitive when I get onto the pitch and even in training, I can be quite hard on myself. As I’ve grown and had more caps and become more experienced, you’ve got to, especially in a game you can’t just dwell on one mistake and I can be quite hard on myself with it but now I’m like ‘right, next job’ sort of mentality which obviously is through the years, from other people telling me that you can’t just sit and dwell on mistakes – it’s your next action that you have to think of – how am I going to make a positive contribution with the next thing I do.
Have you had any failures or set-backs in your career that has set you up for greater success?
There was one when I was younger actually. I didn’t get picked for under 16’s and I was devasted and then my mum and my dad were like it’s not the end, you’re going to get the point where you have to keep going. I’ve always thought back to that and I live by that now so it’s quite a big one. But then obviously in a game and stuff – that’s the glory of rugby, you’ve always got the next week, you’ve got the next action to redeem it so it’s a fantastic sport like that.
Were there a lot of rugby players who went professional from your school? What’s the difference between someone who is talented but doesn’t make it and someone who does?
To answer your first question, we had a few, we had the likes of Paul Sackey and George Skivington, so we had quite a few, the odd one coming through.
In terms of what sets apart those who make it as a professional and those who don’t, I definitely think it’s that mindset that I alluded to – that it was all I wanted so it’s that mindset and that determination that if you’re working that extra bit harder than someone else that’s got the talent. Talent can only carry you so far but it’s how much you want to exert yourself and make yourself better that makes the difference between someone who makes it to the top level and someone who is talented but doesn’t want tot put in the graft.
What are your expectations for Ulster?
I think a lot of people last year didn’t write us off, but that year (2018/19) was like a building block for the next couple of years coming up. I think we set our own challenges and we always want to be the best and compete against the best. The expectation for each year is to move forward and everyone in the circle believes that. So, we know what we’ve got to do to better where we were from last year. We know exactly what we have to do so that’s the plan. Everyone believes it and everyone’s in the same boat.
What impact has Dan McFarland had? He has introduced a new mantra of fighting for every inch – is that something everyone in the squad has bought into?
Definitely. He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever played under. He’s very specific in what he wants players to work on and get better at. That fight for every inch mentality is massive with him. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. You’ve got to go out and get what you deserve and what you work for. He massively heads that up from the front so he’s a great coach for Ulster and for the team.
What are your ambitions in terms of international rugby with Ireland?
Well, I definitely want to put myself in the position to be putting me hand up for selection and want to earn more caps. As I’ve said, I have that mantra where I want to be playing against the best and testing myself against the best. I feel like I haven’t reached that goal all the time yet so I’m keen, I’m eager to get back in that green jersey as soon as possible again really. I know what I have to do, I know I have to do a lot of work on it. You can’t just sit-back and wait for opportunities to come to you – you have to keep working and striving for it.
What makes you stand out as a player?
I don’t know. I’d probably say my ball carrying is definitely one of my strengths. I like to get my hands on the ball. I’d say I’m quite athletic compared to some second rows. But then everyone’s different. A massive thing for me to work on is that nitty gritty stuff, getting dirty, get those clear outs in the ruck, all that unseen work that’s not that pretty but every little battle to win that.
Making as many hits and carries as possible – Dan McFarland seems to put an emphasis on every forward contributing around the pitch on top of their key roles in the scrum and lineouts?
Exactly. As many involvements as I can, getting myself involved in the game in any little part. There’s no better feeling than that. If I can do that then things look after themselves.
Do you have any pre-match routines?
My pre match routine would be, it’s quite long-winded, but mostly I’d grab a coffee before I go, listen to similar sort of music, I write down my goals and aims for the game and then I try to get in to the changing rooms as early as possible and just get around the boys and that buzz with each other. I try to do the same pre warm up every game. I try to control what I can control, and the rest looks after itself.
Do you have hobbies or interests outside rugby?
I like playing golf, most of my free time is probably taken up with that. I’m really into my cars as well so I try and get out in the cars as much as I can. That’s about it really, a lot of my free time is sat on the sofa trying to recover for the next game!
Do you have any favourite movies or documentaries?
I’d say probably Shutter Island is my favourite movie, or Silence of the Lambs. Documentaries – there was one called Ali – it’s Mohammed Ali’s documentary. It’s great.
You mentioned being into football growing up in London, was there a team that you supported?
Crystal Palace was my local team, well local-ish team.
Did you play football at a good level?
Yeah, I played at a higher level I suppose. I was always good in goal. It got to that stage where I was having to play football on Saturday or play rugby on Saturday, but my body determined I was playing rugby. I still love football when I get the chance to get out and kick a ball around.
What advice would you give to your 17-year-old self?
I’d say not to… it’s tough. You know what, I’d probably say to enjoy myself, enjoy the times that I probably found were tough, going to those early morning gyms, getting myself up just never complain and always try and better yourself. As a 17-year-old, as I said before, the support system around me and stuff I wouldn’t really change a lot to be fair. That’s probably a boring answer!
There are so many young players coming through, is there anyone in particular that you’ve been impressed by?
There are so many guys in the current Ulster squad, including myself. I’m only 23 (at the time of interview), the way we’re talking it’s like I’m 28 or something! Eric O’Sullivan has been going fantastically well. The likes of Rob Baloucoune as well, Rob Lyttle on the wing. You’ve got Tom O’Toole at tight head as well, he’s coming through, he’s coming on leaps and bounds in his set piece as well as his open field stuff. We’ve got Mike Lowry as well, there’s so many names. James Hume in training he’s really coming on leaps and bounds. There’s so many guys coming through which will put Ulster in a really good position going forward!