We caught up with former Super League star Keith Mason on his playing days and a surprising acting career.
The 36-year-old was born and raised in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. He came through the ranks at Wakefield Trinity, before enjoying a spell in Australia with Melbourne Storm.
Mason won the Challenge Cup final with St Helens in 2004 and spent seven seasons at Huddersfield Giants, playing over 150 games.
He also earned two caps with Wales and enjoyed two stints with Castleford Tigers, before hanging up his boots in 2013.
In the first chat of our two-part feature, we talked about his playing days and his ever-growing acting career…
What was the best moment of your career?
“The best moment of my career was winning the Challenge Cup final in 2004 with St Helens. It is a memory that will last forever, it was a fantastic week playing with such a good group of players.
“The team we had back in 2004 was incredible and it was fantastic to play in front of a full crowd at the Millennium Stadium against an exceptional Wigan team. That was a highlight of my career, definitely.”
You moved over to the NRL with Melbourne Storm when you were only 20. Why did you decide to go over so early?
“I had a standout year at Wakefield and I was only 19 at the time but I played a full season at prop for Wakefield and did well.
“I then got a call by Wales to see if I wanted to play against England in Wrexham, and I got a letter to say that if I played for Wales that it could jeopardise my England future, but I went down there anyway and we gave a good account of ourselves. Melbourne spotted me in that game and it was crazy how it all happened.
“I watched players in that Melbourne team play in the State of Origin and at the time, I was the youngest player from Super League to sign for an NRL team. I made my NRL debut when I was 20 and it was a great memory. I’m still in contact with a lot of the Melbourne guys, I went over there as a boy and came back as a man.”
What was the most challenging moment of your career?
“The most difficult time was probably in 2005. I just had my little boy and I was playing for St Helens at the time and I had a good season, but Daniel Anderson came in as coach and I wasn’t in his future plans so I got loaned out to Castleford.
“I didn’t want to go to Castleford because I was happy where I was at St Helens. I was still pretty young and it was a long journey for me to go to Castleford every day. My heart wasn’t in at Castleford, I loved my time at St Helens and it was a difficult time for me.
“Wigan actually came in for me and tried signing me but St Helens put a stop to it because they are huge rivals. It wasn’t very nice of St Helens to do that but Huddersfield offered me a deal, gave me a lifeline and I went on to play seven years there.”
You retired at 31, why did you retire early?
“I was sacked from Huddersfield for what they said was gross misconduct but it was ultimately unfair dismissal. I still had four years left on my contract and I would have finished with a testimonial there, so it was a huge blow for me because Huddersfield was the place where I thought I would finish my career.
“To be treated like that it was hard for me and I fell out of love with the game. I then went to Castleford and I went from being on over £100,000 per-year to £40,000 per-year. I lost my license and there was a lot of stuff going in my life, so it was very difficult for me.
“I showed my true character and learned how to deal with a lot of things at the same time. I had a court case which I won and two weeks later, Mickey Rourke called me two weeks later to see if I wanted to do some screen testing and be in a film called Skin Traffik and it was a speaking role which was a different direction for me but it was fantastic to star in a film after what was a tough year for me.
“Castleford were great with me and offered me a two-year deal when I left Huddersfield but I had already decided to retire. Hull FC also came in for me but the stress going through what happened was just another fight that I had to battle.
“Rugby league left a bitter taste in my mouth and I did the film and it just gave me a different focus. I retired and my good friend Joe Calzaghe told me that retiring would be tough after playing sport since 17 at a high level and he was right. It was really tough because I lost the highs, comradery and bond with my team-mates.
“I got involved with the wrong crowd and it probably took me about 18 months to get through that tough period and I struggled to develop strength and wanted to get stronger. For me, I’ve always been a fighter, I come from a tough Dewsbury Moor council estate where I had to fight and I was in a lot of trouble in my younger years. The odds of me making it or having a good career were very slim, but my desire always pushed me through. I’ve gone into films and screen writing and bringing out the first rugby league comic, Rugby Blood, which I am really excited about.”
Keep your eyes peeled next week for part two of the feature, where we speak to Keith about his brand new project, Rugby Blood, which is the first ever rugby league comic book.