RODEO, champion swimmer, pig farmer or sprinter – Justin Carney’s life had so many possible outcomes.
In the end, the countrified Australian from Trangie, the tiny town populated by around 900 people in New South Wales, opted for professional rugby league player in the comparative metropolis of Castleford, an erstwhile mining town in the heart of West Yorkshire.
It has been an unlikely marriage but one which has proved happy on both sides.
Therefore today, in front of a crowd of more than 80,000 at Wembley, it means the combustible winger everyone has, for more than one reason, labelled “The Beast”, will try and bring back to his adopted home the sport’s most famous trophy – the prestigious Challenge Cup.
Carney admits he could never have envisaged facing Leeds Rhinos this afternoon when he first moved to Wheldon Road at the start of last season, a double leg break having wrecked his progress with Canberra Raiders.
“To tell you the truth, there was nothing expected of Cas,” said the prolific 26-year-old, who had played just 17 games in two seasons for Sydney Roosters.
“I was down and out. If I hadn’t come to Cas I’d have retired. So to come to a place where nothing was expected and just go out and play my own game was good.
“Then over the weeks I actually found myself again. I have never been happier and now, like us all, I want to do Cas proud.
“My wife stuck with me through all that garbage I went through after I broke my leg; moving to a big smoke like Canberra.
“It was a big change and she still came over to Cas when all the odds were against me. I had nothing to lose but kind of did.
“I put all my eggs in one basket. I owe it to Cas as they put faith in me and it’s great to feel that.”
Castleford’s knowledgeable supporters know a “good ‘un” when they see one, though, so it is no surprise they have taken the hard-running wideman to their hearts. The feeling is mutual.
“In the last week it has gone absolutely crazy,” explained Carney, who has blossomed, like so many, since Daryl Powell took over from Ian Millward as coach last May.
“Flags, people yelling out of cars and it is all positive. It is just good to see where we have come from when I first arrived when it was dismal. We were just going through the motions.
“Now people are really backing the club and it is great for the town. When I first arrived I didn’t know what had hit me. It was an eye-opener. The facilities are not the most technology advanced place in England – or the world!
“But it had character and it reminded me of the place I come from. I am a country boy and it reminds me a lot of Dubbo which is my nearest city; the people are diehard rugby league people.”
Which brings us to that “country” lifestyle and rodeo…
“I mucked around a bit with that,” admitted Carney. “It was a harder career and it was more unpredictable. I’ve not been on a horse for about six years and I don’t think one would carry me at the moment.
“Once the little fella grows up – Alfie’s 11 months old and born in Wakefield so he’s an English baby – I will get him straight into it, though.
“That was one part of my childhood that was just amazing. It taught me a lot about discipline.“
Swimmimg and athletics were high on his agenda, too, but, after those initial concerns, rugby league is, undoubtedly, his forte.
In April, Carney signed a new five-year deal at Castleford; their fans are certain to see his blockbusting, all-action style for a while yet.
Remarkably, he is the Challenge Cup’s leading try-scorer this season with seven.
It is remarkable because he was banned – in separate suspensions (note the earlier ‘combustible’ reference) – for both the epic quarter-final win at holders Wigan Warriors and then the victory over Widnes Vikings that confirmed Castleford’s first Wembley appearance in 22 years.
Carney scored a hat-trick in their fourth round win at Batley Bulldogs and four more against fellow Championship side Sheffield Eagles but he is certainly no flat-track bully; the 16 stone winger has amassed 17 tries in Super League, too, busting 81 tackles with his formidable bulk.
He admits, though, being fortunate to be selected today; James Clare, the 22-year-old Castlefordian who deputised so effectively during his bans, is omitted.
“It’s good to be in but James has been playing out of his skin; I really want to thank him for the chance to play Wembley,” he said.
“It is a big relief to be in the team, but I’m humble about it too. I have been in that position before and it’s not a great position, but that’s why we are a squad.
“I think James deserves that spot but Daryl is coach and picks the team he thinks will perform.”
Carney was more nerve-wracked than in his NRL debut when, due to a ban for punching, Castleford faced Wigan without him. But they prospered there and, unsurprisingly with a strike weapon as potent as him, they feel they can now bring illustrious big city boys Leeds to their knees, too.