So far in 2012/13, the big prizes have gone the way of Mark Davis, Ricky Walden and Barry Hawkins, but the man who has both played and won more matches and frames than any other is Liverpool’s Rod Lawler. It could have been so different for him however, after he came through the final round of this year’s Q School to regain a place on the main tour at the first attempt.
I recently caught up with Rod and in the first part of a two-part interview, he talks about his start to the season, his successful Q School run and his thoughts on the current tour set-up…
PSB: So Rod, 17 matches for you, 13 wins and we are still in July! It has been a crazy start to the season for you, but a good one…
Rod Lawler: Yeah I’m delighted with the start I have had. It has justified going back to the Q School for me because I had a decision to make whether to enter that or not at my age.
I still really enjoy the competition side and at Q School I got through in the last chance, played very well in the last event, only lost two frames and since then I have just continued that same form really. It is not as if I have suddenly started playing better since Q School, it’s the same standard of form as I showed in that. I’ve won a couple of close matches which obviously give you confidence and from there I have kicked on. It had been a nice, pleasant surprise and change really.
PSB: How much of a decision was it to go back to Q School for you? Did you seriously think about not entering?
RL: With three events to go last season, the Welsh Open, China Open and the World Championship, I said to myself that if I played well in those, I would give Q School a try, because I knew I was going to fall off at that stage unless I really did well in those three events.
I basically played well in those three events, I lost to Ken Doherty in the last 64 in one of them, I lost to Steve Davis in the last 64 of one of them in a cracking match and I lost to Liu Chuang in a good match, from where he then kicked on and reached the Crucible.
Where I finished off playing in the season, I thought that I had beaten three main tour players in the last three tournaments who were staying on the tour, so there was no reason why I shouldn’t give Q School a go.
I was only just leaving the tour and I would have had to have joined the real world and got a real job! It was faced with that really and once I’d got through and now I have had a good start to the season, it has taken a bit of pressure off me in terms of points which has justified doing it, so I’m delighted.
PSB: Looking back at the Q School, you came close to qualifying in the first event. I remember going onto the livescores and I think you were on a break of around 43 in the deciding frame of your final round match…
RL: You are totally right, I was on 43 against Ian Burns and I like Ian a lot, I’ve got to know him recently with practising with him, he’s not a million miles away from me in Preston. I was on the verge of beating him, but every credit to him, he had a one visit to win from 43-0 down, so I was driving away from that event thinking that’s probably my chance now.
Ian Burns – Edged Rod at QS1
PSB: You lost in the first round of the second event too, you must have been drained there?
RL: My head was in a jam jar and I lost to another close friend Mike Wild. It’s never nice when you are playing someone that you have a practice with occasionally, Mike is a really nice fella and I was just in no fit state to play, I really wasn’t.
I think that it was a day or two after I’d lost to Ian Burns so it’s tough, mentally it’s very tough is snooker and your head had to be in the right place. Normally my head is in the right place but at that particular time it wasn’t.
But since then I have had my mind on the right things and it has gone well, very well. I was really glad though with how I conducted myself in the last event to only lose two frames, it was a mega effort and I really played well to get back on.
It’s not a thing that a lot of players would enjoy going through, with just one event to go and I tried to get the enjoyment in it and to try my best. I’m just delighted that I showed my true form in the last event. Coming back from the defeat against Ian was a big character showing for me this season.
PSB: Finally on the Q School, what do you think of that as a system generally?
RL: I’m supportive of it, I’m not critical, but the one thing I would say is that it is just the pressure that builds, from the first event to the second and then to the last event. Come the last event it really is last chance saloon and it is a pressure then and maybe I handled it better than some of the younger players in the event.
I played some smashing players in it, good players for the future who I really rate. As an example I beat Scott Donaldson in the first one, he has obviously made the tour this season now and he is a smashing player. It just shows how strong the Q School is.
But on a whole, it’s a very fair system to give people a chance to get on tour in one hit and then if they are on tour they know where they stand for two years.
PSB: As mentioned at the start of our chat, you have had a great start to the new season and you have been on the livestreams quite a lot as well, have you enjoyed that?
RL: Obviously with coming in at round one, I have played some cracking first rounds. I think I played Luca Brecel in one and that was a smashing match where we both played well.
Lawler on the livestream
I played on the livestream against Gareth Allen in Shanghai as well and with playing well in those matches, I think maybe sometimes they think if you have got a good second round, they will give you a go.
I seem to have played a couple of second rounds as well and played well in those as well so I’m delighted really. Since I last saw you (at UKPTC1), I’ve played in the Shanghai Masters qualifiers and I played really well again, just ran out of ideas in my last match, but no complaints, three wins which is a big effort.
PSB: I was looking earlier, last season you actually won ten matches in all competitions and this year you have won twelve already and we are still in July! What do you put that down to?
RL: I am using a new shaft on my cue this season and I was using it for the last three events last season. Maybe that gave me a little bit of confidence and maybe starting the season with so many matches under my belt, run into a few players who are a little bit short of match practice and that has worked in my favour.
But the matches I have won against Liang Wenbo, Jamie Jones and against Stephen Maguire, I have played well, Against Peter Ebdon I played well in UKPTC1, so I am really happy with my current form, it has been really good.
PSB: What do you think to being back on tour this season but starting on zero points, rather than starter points?
RL: I would have preferred to have started with the starter points because the way I have started, I wouldn’t have thought that I would have been too far away from the top 64 because I think I am on about 5,000 points already.
I am happy with the two years which is good, but I have sort of resigned myself to this season, no matter how well I play, the best I can do is 65. But if some players pull out or cannot play such as Joe Jogia or Stephen Hendry, it can come down to 65, 66. But there are some smashing players outside of the 64 fighting over one or two places.
Rod at the qualifiers
PSB: Obviously you have got the first cut-off coming after the next PTC, so at least for the International Championship you should be top 64 in terms of seeding…
RL: Yeah at that time I will be, so in that sense I suppose I’m going to benefit right away, but on the other side if we did have a full field of 64 players I wouldn’t be. And it would be a little bit cruel because to be fair I don’t think that anybody can deny I have been playing better than a 64 player so far, the way it has gone for me…
PSB: Definitely, I can’t think of anyone else who has won 13 matches so far this season…
RL: Yeah it’s crazy, I didn’t know how many matches I had won last year when I did have a few…not cue troubles, but I did use a different cue at times…
PSB: I remember you telling me, was it at the UK Championship qualifiers that you had changed your cue?
RL: My first change was the Ireland PTC, then I went to the UK quallies and after that I used it for about eight tournaments. With about three tournaments to go though I gave up on it. I had just rolled the dice and it wasn’t working. Sometimes when you feel it is not working, you have got to go back to what you had and I went back to my old cue, but put a new shaft on and I am happy with it really.
PSB: You have just spoken about the Q School and the system for players coming on the tour now, what was it like when you first came through back in 1990?
RL: That long ago? (laughs). Yeah obviously there are not too many players my age who go back that far, there are only a group of us on the tour now. I remember back in those days I won a final match with Joe Swail to qualify for the main tour when we were both kids.
Back then you had to beat the professional who was on the tour, if you lost to the professional, you didn’t get on, but if you beat the professional, you did get on, but he stayed on either way, no matter what the result was. The way that World Snooker organised it, he couldn’t lose no matter what, so he was almost playing you for practice really.
But luckily enough I won 10-1, I can’t remember who I played against, it was a poor standard of play and once I got on the tour, from then it was very much a case of just trying to climb the rankings as quickly as possible. It was a very different game then, you still had your star players like Stephen Hendry, John Parrot, Jimmy White and Steve Davis, but the standard was just nowhere near as deep.
The standard as it is now, of the 96 players on tour I would argue that virtually all of the 96 would have been in the top 32 no problem back then, that’s how high the standard is. I think that is borne out by the scoring that we see nowadays.
PSB: What was the calendar like back then, I remember that you had blocks of qualifiers at that point?
RL: Yeah we had blocks of qualifiers at places like the Norbreck Castle. You had literally between 8-10 ranking tournaments a season and you went to Blackpool and played in groups of five qualifiers twice a year.
When you went there, if you qualified then you would play the events after that group of qualifying, but if you lost in all five qualifying tournaments, you basically drove away from Blackpool without any tournaments for six months.
It was certainly different then. Snooker has come on a long way since. Our calendar now is brilliant because we have all got so much snooker to play in and I don’t think that anyone in their right mind can complain about the calendar now.
PSB: Yeah, I have been doing my website for four years and I remember initially we could go a couple of months without a tournament and it was sometimes difficult to find something to write about. It was hard to talk about players being in form because they hadn’t played for two months!
RL: Exactly, back in the Prestatyn days I guess. Every time a tournament started, everyone was starting cold and it is much different now. You have got to give World Snooker and Barry Hearn a lot of credit for making the calendar as it is now and giving everyone a fair chance of playing in PTC tournaments in Great Britain and Europe, as well as ranking events.
Barry Hearn – Taking snooker global
There are loads of opportunities now and it is really good, for everybody. Even though I fell off last year, I was still delighted to have had a lot of events last year because it gives you a good chance.
PSB: If you had fallen off you could have done the PTCs as an amateur and tried to get back on that way too…
RL: Yeah that’s an option, even as an amateur now you can play as many tournaments as we used to play ranking events because you have got the 10 PTCs, the Q School which is three events and also all your national tournaments, so I suppose for the amateurs now it is still a busy calendar if they choose to play in all of the PTC events.
PSB: Obviously there is the counter-argument about the expenses involved and so on, what is your view on that?
RL: I’m a believer that when you win your opening match in a ranking event, you should be on a prize and that prize should cover your expenses for that event, ie your entry fee and your expenses for that event.
I can understand that at the moment there isn’t enough money to pay too much in that round, but I think that there is enough money in the total prize fund now to filter some of it down to second round losers, because they have won 50% of their matches.
The World and UK Championships when you are coming in at round one, you have got to win two matches to win any prize money and that’s tough. It’s a lot of pressure on the lads and I was there last season in that first round in both of those events and it is a lot of pressure to get some prize money out of them.
PSB: Yeah, there are rumours of players such as Sam Craigie who have allegedly had to give the game up which is a shame, he is a cracking player from what I have seen…
RL: Yeah it’s a terrible shame when you hear stories of people like Bjorn Haneveer who can’t carry on because of the expenses side of it. I think that Robin Hull was another and I have known him for a long time.
But you know what we have got to try and do as a sport is to get the prize money filtering through to the early rounds as well because at the end of the day we are all professionals on the main tour trying to make a living and I think that World Snooker are trying to do that as we speak.
When you win a match, the prize has got to be significant, not something nominal because at the end of the day, we are all there to try and earn a wage.
Check back tomorrow for part two during which Rod talks about his early snooker career, the possibility of ‘burn out’ and also his thoughts on those who criticise his style of play…