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Crowther working hard to get Tigers fit for Cup

Matt Crowther celebrates scoring for Sheffield Eagles during the shock win over Wigan in 1998.
Matt Crowther celebrates scoring for Sheffield Eagles during the shock win over Wigan in 1998.

HE WILL spend most of this week in Castleford Tigers’ treatment room desperately trying to get as many players as possible fit for Saturday’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup tie against leaders St Helens.

However, 20 years ago, Matt Crowther was actually on the field himself, scoring at Wembley for Sheffield Eagles in the competition’s biggest-ever shock.

Castleford coaches Ben Cooper, Matt Crowther, centre, and Danny Orr.

Castleford coaches Ben Cooper, Matt Crowther, centre, and Danny Orr.

It is often the case that players head into coaching once retired but certainly not as common to see them become physios.

Crowther, who also proudly holds that position for England, is then a rarity but, given the severity of some of the injuries he had to deal with as player – a shocking leg break when in Hull colours saw him retire at the age of just 28 – maybe he was always destined to help put players back together.

It would be remiss, though, not to start with those events of May 2 1998 when John Kear’s Sheffield – massive underdogs – stunned a star-studded Wigan side 17-8.

“We met up in Headingley last week on the actual anniversary and there was a few sore heads the morning after,” Crowther told The Yorkshire Post.

“We’d had a couple of big ones in Australia last year, too, during the World Cup.

“Brad Doyle, Jacko (Michael Jackson), Martyn Wood and Paul Carr were all there while John Kear met up as he was there with Ireland and Johnny Lawless and ‘Rocky’ Turner came for a week in Perth as well.

“This latest one was mostly the English lads but it was brilliant to catch up again.

“I remember most of the game really well, to be honest. We were just very confident; there was a feeling all that season that it’d be our year in the Challenge Cup.

“We had a really strong group of players that seemed to peak around that time. We had a call of ‘98!’ and we were saying that all morning, then at the ground and down the tunnel.

“We knew Wigan were a great side but didn’t see any reason why we couldn’t beat them with the plan we had.

“I remember my try. I was playing on the left wing and I think the pass was meant for Keith Senior but it bobbled along the floor and sat up perfectly for me. I then just had to make sure I got in at the corner before the cover.

“I still don’t think it was a massive shock, though; although Wigan were full of internationals it wasn’t like we were a lower division side. We were in Super League with them and mid-table.”

Crowther, who hails from Allerton Bywater just outside Castleford, played for Scotland in the World Cup two years later.

After representing the merged Huddersfield-Sheffield club, he joined Hull for 2001, following in the footsteps of his uncles Sammy Lloyd, Ian Crowther and Bob Gaitley who all also played for the Black and Whites.

But he had been plagued by knee injuries, undergoing three major operations in the space of just four years, starting with a full reconstruction only four games after those Wembley heroics.

Then came the worst of the lot, breaking his leg in four places and suffering a dislocated ankle.

Crowther, 44, said: “There was no getting back from that. The wife reminded me last week that I did it playing for Hull against Cas the day before my 29th birthday. And then on Saturday, 15 years to the day, ironically, I was back at Hull this time with Cas.

“It was probably those injuries that did get me thinking about becoming a physio but I always had a plan to get into it. Knowing what players go through and what the game entails is obviously good experience to help understand the job.

“But I did a three year degree at Leeds Met Uni, worked for eight years in the NHS in Doncaster before helping out with the Cas academy team. I went to Featherstone Rovers for a couple of years under Daryl (Powell) and when he came here I followed in 2014.

“I was a Cas fan – still am – and though I never got chance to play for them coming back and doing this has been great. It’d be brilliant to now go on and win the Challenge Cup with them.”

Head coach Powell, who helped Castleford to a maiden League Leaders’ Shield and Grand Final last term, certainly isn’t short of football advice at Wheldon Road.

Along with assistants Danny Orr and Ryan Sheridan – both ex-Great Britain players – even his physio is a former international.

Crowther added: “And then there’s Ben Cooper, our head of strength and conditioning, who played for Sheffield and Huddersfield, too. He was actually water boy at Wembley in 98.

“We’re all involved in meetings and Daryl does like to ask us our opinions. We have a great relationship – me, Shez and Daryl all played together at Sheffield – but he doesn’t like me pulling players out of training to see me!”

Which is where he will be busy these next few days with so many players’ ‘busted’ ahead of that enticing televised sixth round game.