IT COULD not be set up better for Andrew Henderson.
The likeable Australian hooker, who has served the British game so well over the last decade and more, will play at Castleford Tigers tomorrow for one final time.
The hooker, 34, arrives at his former club with Sheffield Eagles as the South Yorkshire outfit seek to cause an upset in the Tetley’s Challenge Cup fifth round.
But Henderson, who captained Castleford and played more than 100 games for them between 2005 and 2008, retires at the end of this campaign so the occasion is going to be particularly special regardless of its outcome.
“I was real excited when I first heard the draw,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“I had some great times at Cas and was there for four seasons.
“I loved the place and never wanted to leave. Circumstances meant I had to but now, in my final year before retiring, it’s brilliant that I can go back one more time and play on that hallowed turf.
“I don’t know if it’s fate or what but I’m just real pleased to get this chance at a place I have so much admiration for.”
The influential Henderson led Castleford to Super League promotion in his first season in 2005 – and again two years later – which earned hero status.
That will be recognised again tomorrow by the home fans, even if he was to inspire a shock result for the Championship Grand Final winners – just as he did on his last return there with part-timers Barrow Raiders four years ago.
“We turned Castleford over in 2010 but I think we face a different animal now,” he explained.
“Credit to (coach) Daryl Powell for transforming the culture and ethos there.
“They’ve got a strong squad, a lot more depth than in recent years and all the players have bought into what he wants.
“They’re the form team in Super League and I hope that success continues – just not in the Cup on Sunday.”
The Scotland international is relishing the chance to savour Wheldon Road’s unique atmosphere again.
“It’s definitely up there as one of the best venues I’ve ever played at,” added Henderson, whose experience will be crucial as an injury-hit Sheffield side strive to compete against their confident hosts.
“The fans are so close to the pitch, right on top of the action, and, as a player, you can feel the energy coming from them.
“The atmosphere they create there is unreal and the good thing about Cas fans that I discovered is that they always support the team no matter what.
“We had some great success in the Championship when I was there – not so much in Super League – and they were always so loud and proud.
“They turned up every week and weren’t glory supporters who only arrived when we were winning.
“It’s great to see the club doing well now and I know that the very same fans who cheered me on back then will still be there now and enjoying some winning rugby.”
Henderson, who is also Sheffield’s Player Performance Manager as he prepares for life after playing, will have his hands full up against Daryl Clark, the elusive young Castleford hooker who has been in scintillating form.
“He’s a great little player,” said Henderson.
“I played against him with Scotland against England Knights and he is quality but so is Adam Milner who’s one tough cookie.
“I’m looking forward to taking on these fitter, faster, stronger and younger guys. It’s always good to challenge yourself – even at my age!”
Although Sheffield reached the quarter-finals last season where they were disappointing in defeat to London Broncos, their task is far greater this time around given Castleford’s current potency. They sit second in Super League and Henderson admitted: “It will be tough for us, especially as we’ve got some injuries and are coming in on the back of a shock loss at home to Doncaster on Sunday.
“We certainly won’t have our strongest side out but the guys who step in have a chance to impress and we’ll use this as an opportunity to act as a catalyst for the rest of our season.”