Growing up in Basingstoke, Mike McMeeken would probably have been surprised to be told that he would spend a significant amount of time as a young man in what would have seemed a faraway Yorkshire town of Castleford.
McMeeken’s Rugby League career looked unlikely after he was exposed to the 15-a-side code from a very early age.
“I played union from the age of four until the age of 15,” said McMeeken.
“But my family are originally from the north west, so Rugby League wasn’t alien to us.
“I was about ten when I first played league and my brother was in the London Broncos reserve team. At the time they were training down at Brunel University and he saw there was an amateur team training there as well on a Wednesday evening.
“So I went along the following week to find West London Sharks under-13s training there.
“I joined in, loved it and it worked out well, as I could play union in the winter and league in the summer.
“Since then, it’s great to see how far Rugby League in the south has come on since then. Back then I believe there were only about six teams in the whole of London.”
Moving to the north at just 20 years of age in 2015 would be daunting for any person, but a transfer to the Tigers put the powerful second-rower on the road to success.
“The decision put me out of my comfort zone, but three other players from London were moving to Castleford that season too (Matt Cook, Denny Solomona and Scott Moore), so that made the move a bit easier.
“I was excited for the move; Castleford had just got to the Challenge Cup final in 2014 and had finished in the top four.
“So, I knew I was joining a class team, coached by a great coach.
“Denny, Scott and I rented a place together for the first year so that was pretty good.”
McMeeken played almost 150 games for the Tigers over a period of six seasons and he says he will always have fond memories of the Jungle.
“I loved every moment of my time at Castleford; I loved the team, the people and the town.
“Obviously, 2017 was a great year for the team and me personally, but all the other years were great too.
“Yes, we didn’t get the results we wanted, but it helped me learn and develop as a player.”
At the end of 2020, McMeeken decided to head to the south of France to join the Catalans. With a young family, some would say it was a difficult decision, but for the Londoner, it didn’t take long to reach a conclusion.
“When I spoke with Steve (McNamara), he wanted to speak with my partner too.
“He was telling us about the club’s ambition to win more silverware and about the lifestyle and culture in France, which were both exciting.
“We are obviously missing friends and family back in England, but my family and I are loving life now.
“When COVID restrictions allow, they’ll be able to come and visit, which will be superb.”
McMeeken’s focus for 2021 involves hunting for trophies, but to also nailing down a starting spot in the first team.
“ I want to continue to improve and help the team to win games,” he says.
“That means getting a starting position and being consistent, week in and week out, to try and get us to the point of winning silverware.”
The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.