CRAIG Huby’s wife started crying when hearing he’d been picked for England. He was just shocked.
It is surprising in itself, though, that the Castleford Tigers prop was stunned by national coach Steve McNamara’s phone call earlier this week.
That is because the uncapped 28-year-old has been in possibly the form of his life helping power his side towards the Super League summit.
If he replicates that this afternoon, they could be well on the way to a Challenge Cup semi-final place, too.
Huby’s dominance in the middle, either through his shuddering defensive hits or brilliance at off-loading, will be key as they try to defeat holders Wigan Warriors in front of the BBC cameras at DW Stadium.
They say props do not mature until their late 20s and it is easy, then, to see why McNamara – who has picked him in a 34-man training squad for this autumn’s Four Nations – might feel he has a star in the making.
“I have gone pretty well this year but getting that call on Monday was the last thing I was expecting,” Huby insisted to The Yorkshire Post.
“I was very shocked but obviously really pleased as it’s an honour just to get selected for this squad. The missus started blubbing when I told her.”
She did so in part because there is a back story to it all.
The Pontefract-born player, who has featured 227 times for Castleford since debuting aged just 16, came close to international recognition given his stunning form in 2011 only to see a fractured kneecap ruin his chances, as well as threaten his career.
“I was just unlucky with the timing of that one and it’s part of the game,” Huby recalled.
“I wasn’t really thinking about England then, just more about playing again as it was a bad injury and there were times when I feared I might not get back.
“I was a full year out and at times it didn’t feel like it was getting any better. There were some dark times.
“But the medical team here were great, I did make it back and this now is probably the best football I’ve played.
“That’s because, no disrespect, but this Cas team now is better than the one before.
“Daryl Clark is just unbelievable at hooker and the likes of Andy Lynch, Grant Millington and Scott Wheeldon in the middle with me are making my job quite a lot easier.
“We’re all working hard together every day.”
Indeed Clark, the electric 21-year-old who unfortunately seems bound for Warrington Wolves in 2015, joins Huby and reinvigorated Castleford captain Michael Shenton in the England squad that meets up at Loughborough University a week tomorrow.
First, though, they have the small matter of tackling the most famous name in Challenge Cup history in potentially the tie of this year’s competition so far.
Wigan, reigning Super League champions too, have been defending their crowns with real vigour despite an injury list that has seen Shaun Wane forced to rely on a raft of youngsters.
McNamara made the same call he did to Huby to fully nine Wigan players this week, illustrating the talent – young and old – at their disposal, while their defeat at Huddersfield Giants last week was a rare blip from which they are expected to quickly respond.
Yet Castleford have recent experience of beating them, too, not only winning 36-31 at Wheldon Road in March, but tasting success at the DW last summer.
Considering the confidence currently in their ranks – the West Yorkshire club are sitting third and are seeking a fourth successive win – they go into every game believing they can win.
“It will be a great game and hopefully the weather won’t be too bad either,” added Huby, mindful that, whereas traditionally Castleford would prefer poor conditions to disrupt their opponents, it is they, with their swift and fluent football, who now prosper so much on a dry track.
“It will be a really tough match and very close, one which could go either way. It’s good for confidence beating teams like Wigan before, but it’s the cup and anything can happen.
“We’ve got to go over there this time and we’ll just be going to play our game. I think any Wigan side, whether young kids or experienced Super League campaigners, are going to make it tough.
“They are the cup holders and have had some fantastic results so we know it’s not going to be easy. But hopefully we’ll execute what we know we can do, work hard and get into that semi.
“We’ve only lost four games all year and the highest margin of defeat is just eight points.
“In previous years there’s been some blow-outs but now we’re consistent and if we get our attitude right we’ve a good chance of winning any game.”
Huby missed Castleford’s agonising Challenge Cup semi-final extra-time defeat to Leeds in 2011 due to that knee surgery.
“I was injured so it was tough to watch,” he recalled. “I was very happy for our guys playing that game and coming so close but it was hard nonetheless not being involved. Hopefully we can go one better this year but we are just taking each week as it comes.”
Prolific Castleford winger Justin Carney is still suspended and centre Michael Channing suffered a groin injury in Sunday’s win over Hull KR but Lee Jewitt, Ashley Gibson and vital playmaker Liam Finn are all included.
England duo Liam Farrell and Michael McIlorum plus Ben Flower and Dan Sarginson return for Wigan, Darrell Goulding, Sam Powell and Scott Taylor drop out.
Huby, meanwhile, has been linked with a move to Huddersfield Giants next season.
There has been no official comment yet but there would be no better way for him to bow out after such glorious service to the club than guiding them to their first Challenge Cup final since losing to Wigan in 1992.
And then, possibly, on to the Australians and Kiwis...