This interview with Keith Senior was part of League Express’s ‘My Life in Rugby League’ series in 2007.
How did you first get into Rugby League?
My brother John played as a kid and ended up playing for Huddersfield Schools at Wembley before a Challenge Cup final in the mid ’80s. I was nine then and that got me playing. I played a lot of union but I always seemed to miss out on big games. I didn’t seem to fit in. I worked as a HGV mechanic when I left school and someone there played Rugby League for Milnsbridge in division four of the Pennine League so I went to play for them just to keep myself fit and to enjoy the social side of things. One of the coaches knew Glenn Knight and he asked me to go down training with Sheffield. That was 1993 and that’s how it started for me.
Three years later you were on a Great Britain Lions Tour so things must have gone well for you very quickly at the Eagles?
I played in the Academy and the Alliance in my first year and then in the 1994-95 season I got into the first team, playing 23 times. I got more games in the Centenary Season and then was on the bench for the first ever Super League game against Paris. That was a superb occasion with just under 18,000 people there although it wasn’t meant to be for us that night and we lost, although Paris winning did a lot for Super League. As for Great Britain, Gary Hetherington was the coach at Sheffield and he was involved in the GB set-up. He put a word in for me and it was between myself and Jon Roper but they opted for me. Jon got in anyway because someone else pulled out but it was fantastic to be able to tour Fiji, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand. It was very nerve-wracking because I only knew Paul Broadbent and Daryl Powell and I didn’t really know anyone else. I knew who they were of course, but didn’t know them so it was a daunting experience. As a learning curve, the tour was second to none for the younger kids like myself and while we lost the series to New Zealand, it was a great experience for me and I was able to draw a lot from it.
1997 at Sheffield is best known for the World Club Challenge win over Perth Western Reds. Do you remember much about that?
I remember being on the bench! Willie Morganson was an Aussie and he was desperate to play so John Kear let him and I was a sub. I came on and I think it was Willie who forced the late mistake from their fullback which led to our winning try.
What about Wembley 1998? When did you start to believe you could get there and even win the Cup?
We knew we were never going to push for the top of the league so our main focus was the Challenge Cup. We beat Leigh 66-11 and then Egremont 84-6. It was the quarter-final at Castleford that made us believe that we could go all the way because Cas had beaten Leeds and Bradford along the way so some good teams were already out. It was also the game when I got my fifteen minutes of fame for the wrong reasons. Paul Carr had a pass intercepted by Barrie-Jon Mather near our line and he went in to score. Darren Turner went in late with his knees and Dean Sampson went in to Darren. I got involved and I could see BJ Mather come in and it was a case of me getting one in first before I got hit. He went down like a sack of spuds and I thought I was going to get sent off. Luckily I didn’t and I ended up scoring two tries and we won. No wonder the Cas fans felt a bit aggrieved! We knew we were a chance of getting to Wembley if we could avoid Wigan in the semis and we were paired with Salford. I missed that game because I’d picked up a four-game ban after the Cas game. That made it so nerve-wracking and it was touch-and-go all the way. Dale Laughton got the winning try and it was great when we finally did it. I remember the Salford fans on the pitch crying and being really abusive. Paul Broadbent was in tears too, but for different reasons!
What do you remember about the final itself?
We could feel the tension in our meeting the night before and John just told us to enjoy the occasion. He told us that when we walked out there we’d just want to smile and that we should relax and wave to our family and friends if we saw them on the walk out there. On the other hand, the Wigan players were very tense. As for the game, it flew by but I remember Wigan spending so much time in our half that a load of pigeons had settled in their half of the pitch! Andy Farrell thought he’d scored but he was held up over the line. He spat his dummy out over that and we got a penalty instead of them having a scrum ten metres out. That was a big turning point. The celebrations afterwards were fantastic. It was the year that ‘The Full Monty’ came out so we were on the tables stripping and we even stripped our Chairman Tim Adams down to his undies!
Was it hard to come back down from what you’d achieved?
We’d achieved what we’d set out to do and they still had a Super League to win so I don’t think we were too bothered about the game the week after when Wigan came up to Sheffield and beat us.
How did your move to Leeds come about?
After the Cup win at Sheffield, things didn’t kick on how we thought they would and the crowds didn’t increase. There were rumours of me moving on at the start of 1999 but it wasn’t until near the end of the season that I moved. I asked for a transfer because I felt that if I wanted to experience more finals I had to move on. Wigan were interested but pulled out when Maurice Lindsay went back there but, looking back, I’ve always been pleased that it was Leeds I went to. I signed for them on the last day of the regular season on the day they played London and I went straight into the team. I think the fans thought that because I’d cost a lot of money, I’d come in and do good things straightaway but I didn’t know what was happening. Everything was different to what I was used to and obviously all the calls were different. We won that game but then we were touched up away at Saints and against Castleford in the play-offs.
Did Dean Lance intend to use you as a winger in 2000 because Leeds signed Paul Bell and he got the left centre position ahead of you in the first Challenge Cup game?
I think so because Lance had coached Bell before and he told me that he was going to use me on the wing for a while. But, of course, Bell got injured in his first game and never played again so I moved to the centres. It wasn’t until a game against Halifax when I scored four tries that the fans really took to me. Before that, there were plenty of groans when my name was read out at the start of the game.
You went through some disappointing years at Leeds with a couple of Challenge Cup final defeats. Did that make what you achieved in 2004 even more satisfying?
Yes because the pressure was beginning to tell and we were being tagged as underachievers. Tony Smith came in and changed a lot and as well as that, a lot of the younger blokes had become pretty experienced in the game by then. Some of those players were massive for us that year and things went very well.
Should you have played in the 2005 Challenge Cup final against Hull?
It was such a massive game and I really wanted to play. I felt OK the day before when I trained with a painkilling injection but, looking back, I should have put my hand up and, for the good of the team, stepped back. But I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t man enough to do it because I was so desperate to play. It was a massive game that we were odds-on favourites to win and I couldn’t turn it down.
What do you make of your international career past and present?
It’s been so enjoyable over the last ten years and I’ve got 30 caps to show for it which is something I’m really proud of. There have been series when we’ve been so close to the Australians and then slipped up in the last ten minutes. In 2003, we lost all three games by a combined total of 13 points which was so frustrating. I’m not getting any younger now and the series against the Kiwis this year could well be my last if I’m selected. I really want to play in that and I think we’ve got a great chance of winning it. As for the World Cup next year, I’ll see how my body’s doing nearer the time.