Rugby League: Sampson a natural to play starring role

Castleford's long-serving prop is eager to drive his team past the Broncos and back to the Wembley stage.
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The Independent Online
PICTURE THE scene. It is the night of the Oscar ceremony. Striding across the tables in floods of tears comes a familiar, thick-set figure. "Luvvies... darlings," he gushes over his statuette. "This is so unexpected." It is Dean Sampson.

This scenario is not - quite - impossible, because the long-serving Castleford prop is in the process of becoming an unlikely star of the silver screen. Sampson, who plays for his beloved Cas in the Challenge Cup semi-final against the London Broncos tomorrow, is the focus of an ambitious documentary film, Taming the Tiger, about the role of the club within its community.

His casting is no accident. "I came here from school in 1983 and I've been here ever since. I've had chances to go elsewhere, including Parramatta during the Super League war. That wouldn't have been a bad move. But my heart has always been at Castleford and I've got some unfinished business here."

That sense of something left incomplete dates back to 1992. Sampson is the only survivor of the Castleford side that lost 28-12 to Wigan at Wembley. "I came on as a substitute for Lee Crooks in the first half, but the game was already lost by then. Martin Offiah was on fire that day."

As the only man at the club to have experienced defeat on the big day, Sampson is doubly eager to return - not just for himself, but for the club and the town. "I think there's a lot of people who would like to see London there, but we need Wembley more than any of the other three clubs. This town has taken such a battering over the last ten years."

Lines like that make him a natural for a starring role in the documentary. "With Dean, the club runs in the family," says the film's director, Judi Alston, of One2One Productions. "His father played for Castleford and at a time when most players swap clubs regularly, Dean has always stuck by Castleford. He's very grounded and down to earth and the other thing I've noticed during the filming is the respect he gives to the club's supporters. When they applaud him, he's always there, giving them something back."

It makes for good footage, and Sampson has not found it too intrusive. "She's my lucky charm," he says of the woman behind the camera. "We've won every game she's been at. She didn't come to Warrington and we lost, so I've told her that she's got to be at every match from now on. I get a lot of stick from my team-mates, of course. I put that down to jealousy. It's not everyone who's got the good looks to be a film star."

The only slight plot twist threatening Sampson's starring role on Saturday is the ankle injury suffered at Warrington last Sunday. For a moment, he thought he had done something serious enough to keep him out of the semi-final. Bring on the stunt double and all that. "But it was just a trapped nerve. As soon as we manipulated it and got it free it wasn't too bad. I've just had to be wrapped in cotton wool a bit this week." It could have led to a re-make of that French art-house classic, Claire's Knee, tentatively entitled Dean's Ankle.

Taming the Tiger - the name comes from a Buddhist text preaching the subordination of the ego - will become part of an archive recording life in the area at the turn of the Millennium. The work has been compared with that done by Mass Observation in the 1930s and Alston was never in any doubt that the town's rugby club had to be an integral part of it. Apart from Sampson, the cameras have homed in on the club's secretary, photographer, DJ and car park attendant, all of whose roles are given equal weight with that of its senior player. The difference is that only he will be on the field at Headingley, making the runs and the tackles that could determine whether Cas go back to Wembley.

"As the only one left from last time, I have some great memories but also some very disappointing memories. I've told the lads to concentrate on getting there and then we can enjoy the occasion. We certainly won't be taking London lightly. Their front-rowers might be small, but they will probably have the edge on us for pace and agility. But we've got an advantage in size and it's my job as a front-rower to make sure that it's too much for them."

If he can do that, Sampson will not expect any Academy Awards for his efforts. That ankle, though, could earn some recognition for Best Supporting Role.

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