Keith Mason: Prop cuts a path from scrap heap to Wembley
Three years ago his career had stalled, but this weekend the prop forward can fulfil his potential by driving the Giants into the Challenge Cup final
Wednesday 05 August 2009
As recently as 2006, Keith Mason was on the prop forwards' scrap heap, unwanted at two clubs and his career going nowhere. On Sunday, however, he will be a key man as Huddersfield strive to reach Wembley by beating St Helens, one of the clubs that rejected him, in their Challenge Cup semi-final.
The front-rower's career has been chequered, to say the least. A first-teamer with his local club, Wakefield, in his teens, he was talent-scouted by the mighty Melbourne Storm, who gave him the chance to be one of the very few British players to make it in Australia's NRL. "I scored a try on my debut, but then I damaged my medial ligament and found it very hard to get back in," he recalls. "Mind you, they did have a full team of internationals."
Mason was taken under the wing of one of those internationals, the redoubtable prop Robbie Kearns, played in reserve grade with the likes of Billy Slater and shared a house at one stage with the future Australian captain Cameron Smith.
When he came back to Britain, he signed for Saints and played for them in the 2004 Cup final against Wigan in Cardiff.
The arrival of Daniel Anderson as successor to Ian Millward as coach, however, saw his face no longer fit. He went out on loan to Castleford, who didn't fancy him either, when Saints refused to lend him to Wigan.
Mason blames off-field and family problems for him losing his way in mid-career. The then Huddersfield coaching team of Jon Sharp and Kieron Purtill, both of whom had been at St Helens when he was in favour, effectively rescued him from the back roads of the game.
With the Giants, he has been a regular starting prop, putting in the hard work and building the platform for what might be termed the more eye-catching players, like Eorl Crabtree, to shine. "Eorl comes on when people are getting a bit tired and they just can't hold him," Mason says. "It's a combination that has been working well."
Crabtree, whose own form has been recognised by a Test jersey and cult status in Huddersfield, gives Mason a lot of the credit. "Without his contribution, there is no way I'd be playing to the level I have been," he says. "He's an absolute machine – so fit and so strong. As a team, we take a lot of pride in our defence and Keith is a big part of that. He's not the biggest of props, but he's probably the most aggressive in the league."
That aggression will be needed when he comes face to face with Saints' James Graham, renowned for the intensity with which he begins games, in the early stages on Sunday.
"They rely a lot on Jammer and that passing play that he puts on before the defensive line. You have to get up there and spot him, or whoever else lines up in front of you. That's the challenge for me, but there's no better feeling than playing against good players."
Saints, of course, have no shortage of them, but one will be lining up in Huddersfield colours. Scott Moore is on a season-long loan to the Giants, where his form has been so good that he played alongside Crabtree for England in France in June.
For Mason, that has meant a reunion with a player whose potential he spotted at Knowsley Road. "I always knew Scotty Moore was going to be a good player," he says. "He's a bit like Keiron Cunningham in the way he plays, but I think he'd rather be known as his own man."
The same applies to Keith Mason, the son of a prop forward of the same name, but now very much part of the thriving family at the Galpharm.
Keith Mason: Life and times
Born: 20 January 1982 in Dewsbury, Yorkshire
Height: 6ft 1in; Weight: 16st 5lb
Squad number: 16
Previous clubs: Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, Melbourne Storm, St Helens and Castleford Tigers
Huddersfield Giants: 2006 to present (58 games, 2 tries)
Wales caps: One (2001)
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