ONE thing stands out from Andy Lynch’s debut 15 years ago – a snarling, formidable Rhino.
Not one of the Leeds variety. No, this was the veteran Great Britain prop Karl Harrison so nicknamed for the obvious reason; his sheer bulk and frame.
As a rookie prop, it proved a real baptism of fire for the Castleford youngster.
“It was Hull, Challenge Cup, Wheldon Road,” recalled Lynch, who, more than 400 games on, has just been granted a testimonial. “We won but I remember Karl ran at me a couple of times. I’m sure he dropped the ball once, too, but he won’t tell you that.
“For a young lad, though, having Rhino driving it in and really growling at you, it was an experience. When I first started as a young kid of 19 there was the likes of Nathan Sykes, Dean Sampson, Ian Tonks and Jimmy Pickering knocking around – four front-rowers at Cas – and you think you’ll never get a chance.
“But you’ve got to be patient. I think I played about 10 games that year but some young kids nowadays expect just to make it straight away. You have to build up over the years and that’s how it was for me.”
Lynch, back this year for a second spell at Castleford after great stints at Bradford Bulls and Hull FC, remembers his early days after being given a chance by Stuart Raper.
“It was good, but difficult as well playing prop and being so young,” said the front-row, who is now renowned for having one of the best engines in Super League.
“I probably didn’t really start playing regularly until 2001.
“Bruce Craven, the conditioner at Cas, changed me around, changed my diet and got me able to play plenty of minutes.
“I do play a lot of minutes but I’ve done it for such a long time now I’m just used to it. I still enjoy playing plenty of minutes and I keep wanting to do that.”
As regards highlights for the 34-year-old, who many believe should have been rewarded with far more than his one solitary Great Britain cap, Bradford’s 2006 World Club Challenge win over Wests Tigers is up there.
“That was a great experience,” said Lynch, who played more than 200 games for the Bulls.
“But playing at Wembley with Hull last year and the build-up week was so special .
“Obviously, things didn’t go our way (Hull lost the Challenge Cup final 16-0 versus Wigan) but it’s a special place to play and everyone wants to do that.”
There is growing belief he could return there in Castleford colours this term.
They have been drawn at home to Championship side Sheffield Eagles in the fifth round and, by the last eight, only a maximum of six top-flight teams will remain.
“It gives us every chance,” he said. “If two more big teams get drawn together in the quarters, and we beat Sheffield, it could open up and it’d be great to get there again, especially with Cas.
“Some players play 15 years and never play in a single final but I’d love to go back and win it.”
An inevitable question as he officially starts his testimonial year – Hull play Cas’ in his benefit match next January – is who has been his toughest opponent?
“People ask me a lot but it’s probably not any of the big forwards; those guys running hard but straight at you aren’t bad,” explained Lynch.
“It’s more the little people like Rob Burrow and Danny McGuire, those with great footwork and pace that can hurt you.
“Dale Fritz could really put a shot on, too. He’s one of the nicest blokes around but could really bend people back and that was great to play alongside.”
Castleford could also go top of Super League if they beat leaders St Helens on Friday night.
“They’re the team to beat but the good thing about this Cas team is we’re competing in all games and for 80 minutes – going to the death, coming through and getting points,” he said.
Fellow prop Scott Wheeldon, however, may be banned after being charged with a headbutt.