Rugby league players are usually grounded individuals and cas tigers prop craig huby is more so than most. Peter Smith reports.
DESPITE MORE than a decade in rugby league, there is no danger of Castleford Tigers prop Craig Huby taking his profession for granted.
At 27 Huby is firmly established as Tigers’ longest-serving player and his loyalty to the club will be rewarded when Cas face visitors Halifax in his testimonial game on Boxing Day (noon).
The front-rower has endured more ups and downs than most and one of the low points has made him realise every moment on the field is precious. On Easter Monday, 2011, Huby suffered an horrific injury – a fractured kneecap – in a defeat at St Helens, which kept him out of action for a full 12 months.
It took determination and resilience to battle back from what could have been a career-ending layoff and Huby admitted that the experience has made him realise how lucky he is to still be earning a living from the sport.
“Having a whole season out was tough,” he said. “Until you’ve experienced a big injury you don’t realise what you go through. At the time I probably didn’t realise how bad it was, but going from training every day and playing every week to being stuck in hospital or at home was not nice.
“It makes you appreciate it when you come training every day and the banter you have with the lads and when you are out on the field and you hear people shouting your name.”
Huby made his debut just a month after his 17th birthday, in a televised derby against Leeds Rhinos at Headingley back in 2003.
“I can remember quite a lot about it,” Huby recalled. “I was at Danny Orr’s house the other day with a few of the other old boys – Nathan Sykes was there and Waine Pryce. Sykesy dropped out for me to play. His missus went into labour, so I ended up playing. We were talking about it and his wife said that baby is 10 years old now! It is crazy to think it’s that long ago, I remember it like yesterday.”
Another early memory is kicking a touchline conversion after the hooter to secure a home draw against Bradford Bulls, then one of the game’s powerhouses.
“Brad Davis was assistant-coach or water carrier that day,” Huby said. “He told me to aim for a certain post and I said ‘I know – I can do this’. Anyway, it went over and that was a lovely feeling.”
As for career high-points so far, Huby admitted: “It has not all been pretty. Probably the highlight – or one of them – was 2005, winning the first division to come back up into Super League.That was pretty big for the club. Beating Leeds is always nice and stuff like that sticks in the mind.
“Of the low points, obviously getting relegated a couple of times is never good. And missing the Challenge Cup semi-final against Leeds was quite hard for me. I was injured and losing didn’t make it any easier.”
Such contrasting experiences would be enough for most players, but Huby is hoping for plenty more memorable moments before he eventually hangs up his boots.
“I am 28 in May so there’s a lot of life left in the old dog yet,” he said. “As a front-rower hopefully I am still reaching my peak. Jamie Peacock is 36 and looking at him, he is getting better and better with age.
“If I can do that I’ll be happy. You have got to find the right time, but if I ever need any inspiration to keep going he is someone to look up to.”
Huby’s testimonial officially ended last May, so Thursday’s game will be the closing event.
“At times it was mentioned as a bit of a joke and at others I thought it probably wouldn’t happen,” he said of his benefit year. “But not many people brought up around here get the opportunities I have, so I am pretty grateful.”
Tigers’ side for Boxing Day will include a mixture of youth and experience, plus – according to Huby – “one very old guy coming back”.
Former Tigers skipper Danny Orr – now an assistant to coach Daryl Powell -– will dust off his boots for Thursday’s game and Huby said: “When I mentioned it to him there was no hesitation whatsoever.
“We’ve cleared it with Daryl and the club and the RFL and he has asked for his age on his shirt – so he will be wearing No 35. He has done bits and pieces with us in pre-season and he looks in good shape. It looks like he has still got it.”
Despite Orr’s inclusion – more than a year after he officially retired– Huby is adamant Tigers are taking the game seriously: “We’ve been training for seven or eight weeks and for everything we’ve been doing and all the hard work, this is the reward.
“You train hard to play in games – the game at the end of the week is the pay-off.We will be trying to build some partnerships and personally I am looking forward to playing with [new signing] Andy Lynch again and people like Scott Wheeldon, so it should be interesting.
“Halifax have been one of the best sides in the Championship for the last few years and they have strengthened so it should be a good game to watch.
“It is a chance for me to say thanks to the fans.
“They have been good to me, they’ve got behind me and it will be nice to give something back.”
Tickets for the Boxing Day game cost £10 for adults and £5 concessions if bought in advance and £12 and £6 on the day.