STEVE CROSSLEY’S career revival is now complete and his last task is to drive Featherstone Rovers to a shock Championship Grand Final success.
The hulking prop will join Castleford Tigers for 2015, returning to Super League for the first time since leaving hometown Bradford Bulls three years ago when, it has to be said, he was pretty disenchanted with the sport.
Aged 20, and having managed just 10 top-flight games after progressing through the Odsal academy ranks, Crossley could so easily have been one of those promising youngsters who just did not quite cut it.
Indeed, he admits he did not know if he would ever make it back to the elite level.
However, matured, revitalised and now a fine exponent of front-row play, he will be a key figure in the Headingley showpiece against huge favourites Leigh Centurions tomorrow.
“When I was at Bradford I was getting a bit disillusioned with the full-time part of it,” Crossley told The Yorkshire Post.
“I was never really getting in the side and it was putting me off the sport a little bit, in truth.
“I needed to step back from that full-time environment and get the love and hunger back for rugby league.
“I always had the intention to come back to Super League as I didn’t want the way it ended at Bradford as my last experience of it.
“I wanted a second crack and I’ll get that next season.
“I went part-time when I left Bulls and dropped into the Championship.
“I started picking up more game-time at Dewsbury and then, after a year there, moved on to Fev to start getting a bit more winning experience and a winning culture.
“It’s all been really good for me. We won the League Leaders’ Shield last year and now we’re in the Grand Final.
“It’s all great for my career ahead of my next step up, but first comes Sunday.
“I’m looking forward to it. It’s my last game with Fev and a big one to go out on.
“There’d be no better way to do so than winning a Grand Final and end my time in the Championship and with Fev in style.”
Crossley earned international honours with England Academy in 2008, touring Australia with Bradford colleagues Elliott Whitehead – set to be named in the full squad tomorrow after his fine season with Catalan Dragons – Kieran Hyde (Dewsbury), Keal Carlile (Hull KR), Tom Olbison (Bradford) and Jason Crookes, the Hull FC winger currently on loan at Featherstone.
His pedigree has resurfaced during the last two years with Rovers and his power and strength up front will be vital tomorrow in attempting to tire out Leigh’s formidable pack.
Their opponents lost just one match all season on the way to lifting the League Leaders’ Shield and were so superior to all their rivals that they secured top spot in only the second week of August.
With robust forwards like Sam Barlow and recently sacked Hull KR juggernaut Jonathan Walker, plus the ex-Wakefield prop Oliver Wilkes and former Castleford front-row Jake Emmett, they are a handful, especially with the scheming talent of the superb Martin Ridyard, Ryan Brierley and Gregg McNally behind them.
There is pressure on Leigh, however, to complete their season with victory when it matters most.
“We’ve had that pressure for the last four years where we’ve won the League Leaders’ Shield each time,” said Crossley, Featherstone’s only Grand Final win from that run coming in 2011.
“Leigh have invested big this year and really run away with the league, but league form means nothing when it comes to the actual Grand Final.
“It’s a knockout game, all or nothing, and anything could happen on Sunday night.
“Everything they have done in the league means nothing now; this is for anyone to win and I definitely wouldn’t write Fev off at all.
“When you go through Leigh’s squad, it’s not just talent in the 17 but all the way through with so much back-up as well. They have plenty of quality to bring in if someone is dropped or injured, and they deserve all their success.
“But there is one more game to go. It’s going to come down to mental toughness in my opinion; both sides are really strong with great players, but it’ll come down to who really wants it more.
“We’ve trained well and have plenty of confidence going in.”
Castleford coach Daryl Powell, meanwhile, knows Crossley from his own time at Post Office Road.
“It was Daryl who brought me in to Fev and we know each other well,” he said.
“I’m thankful for the trust he has shown in me and I’m looking forward to working with him again.
“He’s already shown what impact he can have by what Cas have done this season and they’ll only get better with him in charge.
“But, before that, there’s a huge 80 minutes ahead for me and Fev.”
Featherstone, who finished second under Andy Hay’s command, could keep the side that defeated champions Sheffield Eagles in Sunday’s play-off although centre Greg Worthington is pushing for a recall.