FOR a while it looked like Nathan Massey would be one of Castleford Tigers’ nearly-men.
The front-rower made his debut for Tigers as a substitute in the National League in 2007, his only appearance of the campaign. Loan spells at various clubs followed and it is only in the last few years that he has established himself as one of Cas’s first-choice players.
Now 25, a key member of an impressive pack – and looking forward to a Tetley’s Challenge Cup final appearance against Leeds Rhinos in two days’ time –Massey admitted there was a spell when he feared he was not going to make it at Castleford.
“Early on in my career I spent a bit of time away from the club,” he reflected. “I had a pretty tough time when I was coming through.
“I injured my shoulder pretty badly so there were times when I thought that I probably wouldn’t have a rugby career.
“But fair play to the club, they stuck by me and hopefully I have started to repay them now. It is like a dream come true for me.”
Recalling his loan spells, Massey said: “Firstly I went to Featherstone, then followed that by going to York in the same year (2008).
“After that I spent a bit of time at Gateshead and Keighley and I have been back to York.
“I have spent a bit of time away from the club, but it has done me justice and done me well.
“I probably came into the team and made my Super League debut when I was a bit too young and not physically ready, I would be the first to admit that.
“It took me a while to get up to speed with the game, but it has been good for me and now I feel like I am establishing myself as a Super League player.”
Massey added: “Sometimes, when you are younger and you are getting sent out to places on loan and younger lads are coming through and playing first team, it is a bit hard to take.
“But the club stuck by me. I was getting contract offers from them, so they always showed a bit of faith in me and luckily it has come to fruition now and I am playing Super League.”
Massey has spent his entire professional career at Tigers and said reaching the Challenge Cup final – particularly after a dismal past few seasons – is a fairytale story.
He said: “I am a Wakey lad originally, but I live over here now and it is absolutely fantastic, coming from where we were last year to now, competing in a major final and looking at the league as well, competing in that and looking to the play-offs.
“It is absolutely unbelievable. We have been concentrating on the league, because we have a massive opportunity in that, but it’s good to be thinking about Wembley now.
“It is going to be fantastic for a lot of the lads in the squad. There’s quite a few who have come through the youth system here, so it will be great to be going out and playing with them.
“Coming through and playing academy with them and then going on and playing first-team rugby in a major final, it is fantastic”
Tigers have only three players with Wembley experience, but Massey does not see that as an issue.
He said: “The lads who have played there before will keep us calm, like they did in the semi-final.”
Massey also feels a team who have defied all the odds this year will be able to handle one of the biggest occasions in the sport.
There were no signs of nerves in the 28-6 last-four demolition of Widnes Vikings and Massey is confident it will be similar on Saturday.
“Daryl (Powell, Tigers’ coach) was saying it is just another game, on another piece of grass,” he said. “There is more to it than that, but the older heads in the club kept our feet on the ground and I think it was fantastic what we did that day.
“I think we played some really smart rugby. Widnes are a really top side this year, but we kept them quiet in every department.
“The weather conditions weren’t too cracking, but our completion rate was right up there and I thought our defence was absolutely outstanding.
“We want to do that again. Daryl rotated a few players last week (in the Super League defeat at Warrington Wolves), but he has done that all year and it has not really affected us.
“We have been that good that whoever comes in can do a fantastic job for us.”
Tigers will head to London today and are staying in a hotel close to the ground. They will train at the stadium tomorrow afternoon and Massey revealed: “I have never been to Wembley.
“It is going to be a first for me and it’s an experience I can’t wait for.
“I know tickets have been flying off the shelves and I think it will be a packed house.
“I think it will be a first for a few boys in the team and it’s an occasion I can’t wait for. It will be fantastic.”
Wembley is about more than just the final. The week leading up to the game is different to any other and Massey has enjoyed being in the spotlight.
“It is different for us,” he said. “You could probably say we are one of the smaller clubs in the comp’, compared to the likes of Warrington, Wigan and Leeds.
“They probably do get a bit more media attention than we do, but we’ve shown this year on the field that we can compete with anyone.
“With that comes the media attention and I think it’s great, not just for the players, but also for the club.”
Rhinos will be appearing in their fourth Challenge Cup final in five seasons. Wembley and everything that goes with it has become routine for them, but Massey is aware that they are desperate to get their hands on the trophy this time.
Leeds last won it 15 years ago and have lost six finals since then. Cas drew with them at Headingley Carnegie last month and lost by eight points at the MAH Jungle early in the league campaign. “Every game between us and Leeds Rhinos is a pretty fierce encounter,” Massey said.
“We had the upper hand at home and let it slip. In the away game, we played fantastic and felt like we had dropped a point.
“Maybe it will be third time lucky, I don’t know – but it is definitely going to be a fantastic game.”