Keith Mason

‘My Life in Rugby League’ for League Express with Huddersfield’s Keith Mason in 2008. Mason still plays for the Giants.

How big an influence did your dad have on your career?
To be honest it was my mum who got me into Rugby League. She brought me up and took me to my first club when I was six or seven. When I was older I played for Yorkshire then England schoolboys before signing with Wakefield when I was 17.

Do you remember your Super League debut?
Yes, it was towards the end of the 2000 season. I came off the bench against Huddersfield at the McAlpine as it was called then and we lost 16-14.

Would you agree that 2001 was your big breakthrough?
I played 20 Super League games in 2001 so I’d agree it was a big year for me and I also got selected to play for Wales against Wales. I had a Welsh connection somewhere and thought it would be a good chance for me. I went down the night before and had a decent game against an England team that was basically the Great Britain side. Playing alongside Keiron Cunningham was a great opportunity because he was such a good player and someone I looked up to. In fact, he’s probably the best player I’ve played alongside. We pushed England close that night. I played for Wales again but changed my allegiances when I was called into an England side. Playing for Wales did me a favour but I am English.

You moved to Melbourne in 2002. Do you think their interest in you stemmed from that international?
I think so. They’d obviously followed the English game a bit and had decided to do something a bit different instead of just signing a couple of players from the bush. That worked out well for me and it really opened my eyes. It was a fantastic experience and I wasn’t going to turn down the chance to play in the NRL. I got to play alongside players like Cameron Smith and Billy Slater so I don’t regret it a bit.

You played four NRL games in your spell there. What do you remember of them?
Firstly, I played in trial games for the first team in 2002. The first one was against Wests Tigers in Queensland and I scored a try and had a pretty big game which made it a great debut. But in the second trial, I did my knee ligaments and was out for ten weeks but when I came back I got a chance in the NRL against New Zealand Warriors at home and they had a great pack, full of internationals. In 2003, I played three games in the NRL against Canberra, Cronulla and Newcastle which was the highlight, coming up against Andrew Johns.

It must have been tough to make the first-grade side!
Melbourne had won the NRL a couple of years before I signed so they had some great players but they also had some incredible young players coming through who are still there now. I mainly played for the feeder team, Norths Devils in the Queensland Cup and we had a great side of up and coming stars of the game. We had Billy Slater at fullback, Jake Webster and Paul Whatuira in the centres, Cooper Cronk at scrum-half, myself, Cameron Smith and Mitchell Sargent in the front row with Dallas Johnson and Ryan Hoffman in the back row, so we had a great team. Ian Sibbit was also at the club in 2002 but went back home in my second year.

Why did you come home?
St Helens rang me up and I thought that after 18 months out there it was time to come home and Saints was a great opportunity for me. It was a good move for me because I played some good rugby there.

Was Cardiff in 2004 the highlight of your time there?
Absolutely! I played a big part in that game and it was great for the club to beat Wigan in a major final. It was a fantastic day that I’ll never forget. We had a very tough run to the final, beating Bradford at Odsal, Leeds, Hull and Huddersfield along the way so nobody could say we didn’t earn it.

Were you nervous?
No I wouldn’t say I was nervous. I was more excited than nervous. I was confident in my ability and knew how hard I’d worked to get there. Some people don’t get a chance to play in finals so I was determined to do my best and to enjoy every single moment.

In 2005 Saints sacked Ian Millward who had brought you to the club.
That was a huge surprise at the time. We came into training and found out that he’d been asked to leave. He said his goodbyes to us all but I didn’t know the ins and outs of what happened.

Did Daniel Anderson coming in spell the end for you at Saints?
Yes probably. I obviously didn’t figure in his plans for 2006 and moved on to Castleford. Unfortunately things didn’t work out there either for me.

Why was that?
The coach wasn’t playing me in the first team or the reserve team so it was never going to work out. Luckily Huddersfield came in for me which has turned out to be a great move especially as I started a lot of games and we had such a good Cup run although, unfortunately, I missed the final with injury which was a huge downer.

Last season you made the play-offs.
We had the nightmare start that everyone refers to but the seven games we lost were all pretty close and we knew that we were a good team who was just being unlucky. We knew we could turn it around and a good win over York in the Challenge Cup set us off on that unbeaten run which set up our season. Getting into the play-offs was a big aim of the club in pre-season because they’d just missed out for a few years in a row.

Can you do put together a similar run this year?
Yes, I think so. We haven’t had the best of starts but we’ve got some fantastic players and we know that we just need to be a bit more consistent. Even if we don’t win we need to perform well and that hasn’t always been the case this season, which is something we’ve been disappointed about.

The club has signed Brett Hodgson for next season to add to the four players you already have from Wests Tigers.
Maybe we have some sort of link up with Wests that no-one knows about! But it helps the players who come over settle in when they already know people here.

What are your future ambitions?
There are a lot of things I still want to achieve i the game, especially on the international front but I just want to concentrate on playing well for Huddersfield. If I can do that consistently, I’ll be happy.

Is Rugby League just a job to you or do you take a big interest in the game outside working hours?
To be honest, I tend to switch off after training and games and concentrate on my life outside the game. For instance, I don’t watch Boots ‘N’ All but I do read ‘League Express’. I’ve got a son who I spend a lot of time with and he’s my priority. He’s growing up now and I’m learning all sorts by being a dad to him. I try and get my head out of Rugby League when I can because it can just take over your life.

Who is the best player you’ve ever played with?
I’m spoiled for choice having played for Melbourne and Saints. I’d probably say Keiron Cunningham. He was a superb player and a real competitor who performed week-in, week-out at the highest level. I played with Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Stephen Kearney in Australia but I’d still go for Keiron.

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