Hong Kong Rugby League (HKRL)

Emerging Nations World Championship in Australia braces itself for the tough tackling of Hong Kong Thunder’s Jason Yip

‘The Axe’ grinds out a daily four-hour commute from his family’s village to work at Universal Music Group and back

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 October, 2018, 8:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 October, 2018, 9:09pm

Jason Yip has all his playlists backwards. The rugby league star, who plays for the Wan Chai Warriors in the Hong Kong Rugby League, has no issue getting up for games, he is usually trying to calm himself down.

When he puts on his Bose headphones in the dressing room before a match, he is listening to classical or maybe Alison Lau, a Hong Kong soprano singer known for her soft, soothing voice.

“I’m a very nervous guy, as soon as I’m on the pitch, I’m fired up, as soon as I see the opposition’s eyes,” he said. “But in the time before I’m trying to calm myself down.”

After games, Yip, who is currently in Australia with the Hong Kong Thunder in the Emerging Nations World Championships, which runs until October 13, turns the volume up, way up.

“I’m actually a big metal fan,” he said. “Metallica, AC/DC, Guns ‘N Roses, so straight after the game I put that on. That is when I really enjoy music.”

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To say Yip, who also works at Universal Music Group’s Hong Kong office as a regional business analyst, is a rabid music fan, would be a gross understatement. He lives and breaths it almost as much as he does rugby league.

“I remember growing up listening to music in the car with my dad,” said the 32-year-old. “Jackie Cheung and singing out loud in the car. So music has always been a huge part of my life.”

He is no genre snob though, you can catch him back home listening to his 200-plus vinyl record collection or Canadian pop star Avril Lavigne. He also loves The Shires, a British country duo, and his guilty pleasure is English pop-rock band Busted, who burst onto the scene back in 2002 with their song Year 3000.

All the Brit bands come with an explainer. While Yip was born in Hong Kong, his family moved him to Liverpool when he was one, hoping to give him a better education and upbringing with a bit more space. Yip’s family eventually settled in Northampton and after high school he went to Nottingham Trent University, starting in 2000 and finishing with a degree focusing on business information systems.

It wasn’t until around this time that Yip discovered rugby league.

Up until that point he had been playing football, but found his aggressive defending was wearing thin with his opponents.

“I was one of the guys going around just kicking people’s feet,” he said. “And someone turned around to me once and said, ‘Mate, you should go play rugby.’”

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Luckily one of his friends at the time was already playing rugby league and invited Yip out to a game. He did not take to the sport during that first match, given he was slotted on the wing. But he went back, and his buddy, who was also coaching, moved Yip inside to a forward position and a fire was lit. Yip’s job was simple: tackle, and tackle hard.

“I guess that is why I love being in the middle, it does not require skill, it just requires balls, it requires steel.” He also started packing weight onto his frame to better compete, going from about 70 kilos up to close to 100 at one point.

Yip also landed a job at Universal Music Group in 2011, first in Milton Keynes and then he spent some time in London.

But his family was back in the New Territories, and Yip felt a world away in London. He hails from a village called Lin Ma Hang by the Shenzhen River that is closed to non-permit holders. When a job opened up at the Hong Kong office, Yip jumped at the opening.

“As soon as I got back I had just got off the plane and I rang my dad and I said, ‘Dad, I’m home’ and I could just feel it through the phone how happy he was.

“Hong Kong had been calling for me for a very long time, and with my parents getting old it was where I wanted to be.”

It’s not without its sacrifices. Yip has to commute two hours each way to get to and from work in Kwun Tong. This requires multiple buses, and when he gets home at night the village he lives in is so remote there is no Wi-fi or cable. But he does not mind as it gives him a chance to decompress from work, listen to records or play his guitar.

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“It’s kind of like going from one world to another, it’s really isolated but that is where my family is. And being with my family is a really big thing for me.”

Hong Kong Rugby League chairman Neville Metcalfe said Yip’s story is incredibly inspiring given the amount of time he commutes on a daily basis, which goes up when he has training in Happy Valley.

“He is a player’s player and does all the non flashy stuff,” said Neville. “And so he is highly respected with the guys because of his amazing work rate, and of course, his ability to tackle people.”

Yip’s prowess on taking down opponents even earned him a nickname, “The Axe”, which he takes great pride in as well.

“I remember one of our players turned around to me one game after I’d made a bunch of tackles and he said, ‘I’ll call you ‘The Axe’, because all you do is chop people down.’”