AT the age of 16 talented rugby league player Oliver Gildart is following in the footsteps of his famous father.

Oliver, from Hindley, has just signed a three year deal with Super League table toppers Wigan Warriors, the club with which his father, Ian, enjoyed huge success during the 1980s and 90s when the then Central Park side was almost unbeatable.

The St John Rigby student's rise to the professional ranks almost mirrors the route Ian took to the top - once he'd got the taste of soccer out of his system!

At the age of five Oliver began playing football at Newton Storm and Ashton Athletic attracting the interest of Liverpool and Everton football clubs. But at age of nine he decided to have a go at rugby.

He began at Wigan St Patrick's ARLFC and then got into the Wigan and Leigh service area sides captaining the u'11 and also in the u'12 side. His leadership qualities were noticed and he has been on a scholarship with Wigan Warriors since the age of 12.

Born in August a lot of his age group were nearly a year older than him but as a 15 year-old he was selected for England u16s and was still eligible to play at that age group the following year when he captained them on a tour of France and was chosen by the French hosts as the best player on the tour.

He opted to sign for Warriors after attracting the attention of Warrington Wolves and Huddersfield Giants and rugby union side Sale Sharks.

Usually Oliver plays centre - where his father played before moving into the second row - but his handling abilities have also come in useful when he has turned out at loose-forward, stand-off or full-back.

Oliver admitted his dad's success as a Wigan player has inspired him.

"I'd like to do even better than he did - we're like best mates," said Oliver. "I had good offers from Warrington and Sale but signing for my home town team edged it. It's like realising a dream." 

He leads a busy life with college five days a week, where he is studying for a Btec level three rugby diploma with a future career in physiotherapy in mind. Then it's training on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and this week it meant a session on Christmas Eve.

"My best rugby moments to date were captaining England against France and captaining Wigan St Patrick's to two National Cup wins at u14s and u16s age groups. Now my aim is to get into Wigan's first team," said Oliver who admires the skills of Australian centres Greg Inglis and Jamie Lyon.

Dad Ian, a former Golborne Comprehensive School pupil, played with Culcheth and Leigh Rangers juniors, also captained England Schools at under 16s level. He too signed for Wigan as a 16 year-old and in a career with them spanning from 1986-95. He won GB u21's international honours and won every medal in the game included the coveted World Club Challenge awarded to him as a 17 year-old after Wigan's win over Manly.

"Oliver knows he's got a lot of work to do. Wigan see him as a centre and his aim now is to secure a first team contract," said Ian, who is still involved coaching Warriors' youngsters.

Ian and his wife, Claire, have a younger son Dominic, 13, who is a useful stand-off, and a sporty six year old daughter, Isabella, who loves running and gymnastics.