HE IS not just in a different place to this time last year, Rangi Chase says he is a different person.
Chase is nearing the end of his first pre-season with Castleford Tigers since 2013 and, after his time away from the club went badly wrong, a smile is back on the face of one of Super League’s most prodigious talents.
Chase was Man of Steel in 2011 and, despite being born in New Zealand, earned a controversial England call-up at the end of that season.
Those heady days seemed far distant last winter when, Chase admits, he found himself in a battle with depression.
Pursued relentlessly by big-spending Salford Red Devils, he had crossed the Pennines three years earlier, but never fully found his feet at his new club.
Released at the end of 2015, he joined Leigh Centurions – then in the Kingstone Press Championship – for the 2016 season, but made only five appearances before dropping out of the game.
It seemed like a classic riches to rags story, but Chase was offered a lifeline by Castleford on a short-term deal last July and did enough in his seven games to earn a contract for the forthcoming campaign.
Now fit and full of newly-found enthusiasm, he admits his life has turned around in the space of 12 months. Speaking at Tigers’ 2017 media day yesterday, the 30-year-old said: “I am loving it at Castleford, really enjoying it.
“I can’t speak highly enough of the place. A lot of things can change in a year; my mental state is a lot different to what it was last year, now I am a different person.
“I was in a dark place last year, a lot of things were happening in my life that really shook me up, but when I look back on that person, it’s a different guy. I am in a good place; I have come back here and it’s the best thing I’ve done.”
Reflecting on what he was going through before his return, he added: “It is not good waking up not wanting to get out of bed and not enjoying what I have always dreamed of.
“I am in such a fortunate position; this time last year I just wasn’t enjoying it, but now it is completely different.
“At training I have enjoyed every single day, even the cold weather.”
The current set-up at Castleford, led by coach Daryl Powell and with a deep squad which looks capable of challenging for honours over the next few seasons, clearly suits Chase.
“The environment at Cas wasn’t the best when I was first here, but I was enjoying it because I was playing well,” he recalled.
“The environment today is unbelievable.
“It is run professionally and the culture of the boys and the standards we set for ourselves at training is just unbelievable.
“That is what were missing when I was first here, all the little things; the intensity in training, the skill levels and everything like that.
“It is all there now, plus to add to that, we’ve got a quality squad.”
Full-back Zak Hardaker, another former Man of Steel, has joined Castleford on a season-long loan from Leeds Rhinos, big things are expected of new front-row signing Jesse Sene-Lefao and key men Ben Roberts and Michael Shenton are both fit after injury-ravaged seasons in 2016.
Castleford also have an enviable crop of emerging youngsters and Chase believes it is a squad capable of, at the very least, a top-four finish in Super League.
He insisted: “I have been so impressed by what I’ve seen at training, the standards we set here are the best I’ve been part of.
“The quality we have in every position is awesome. It creates competition for spots.”
That applies to Chase as much as anyone in the playing group. Luke Gale has been the Dream Team scrum-half for the past two seasons and Roberts’ comeback from a foot injury gives Powell an extra option in the halves.
“I am in a place I’ve never been before, where I have to fight for my position,” Chase said.
“It is really good, it has been my goal just to stamp my authority on the team.
“Whether I am starting or not I just want to give it my best and I think I have.
“It is good for me, it is like when I was young, fighting for a position when I first came to Cas. I have stood up to the challenge and embraced it.”
Relegated twice in the summer era, Castleford have been transformed since Powell took charge mid-way through 2013.
Challenge Cup finalists the following year, they beat all their top-flight rivals last term, other than St Helens and relegated Hull KR.
Now regarded as one of the most attractive sides in the British game, they were the second-highest scores last season, behind league leaders Warrington Wolves.
The challenge now is to turn potential into trophies and Chase predicted: “I think we can win something this year.
“That’s what every team will be saying at this time of the season, but I don’t see why not if we play to our potential.
“We came fifth last year with a lot of injuries and they’ve been pretty consistent with where they’ve finished in the table over the last few seasons.
“I think if we keep working hard, it will take care of itself.”