James Haythornthwaite has revealed he quit Cougars for a career in racehorse training because he fell out of love with rugby league.
The talented utility player, 21, was tipped for Super League stardom by former Keighley player-coach Jason Demetriou earlier this year.
Yet shortly after scoring a hat-trick in the home demolition of Swinton on May 17, Haythorn-thwaite told Demetriou he was ready to leave the club.
The youngster has since hung up his boots and now works full-time at his parents’ stables in his home town of Barnoldswick, where he trains standard-bred harness-racing horses.
Explaining his dramatic career change, Haythornthwaite said: “Two days after the Swinton game I walked into JD’s office and told him I wanted to pack it in.
“I was actually going to quit there and then but JD convinced me to play until the end of the season.
“It had been on my mind for a while, maybe a month or more, and scoring that hat-trick made me realise that rugby league wasn’t as good as I thought.
“It was always a dream of mine to play in Super League since I was nine or ten.
“JD had said I could get there and my agent told me that Huddersfield Giants were coming very close to making me an offer.
“Bradford Bulls had previously offered me the chance to play in their reserve side.
“But my ambitions have changed over the last 12 to 18 months and I gradually fell out of love with the game.
“I was over-dedicated when I was 15 or 16 and was always the one who stayed in the gym longer than anyone else.
“But I gradually lost my enthusiasm and love for the game – and I certainly hadn’t been playing for the money.”
His new full-time role at his father Alan and mum Theresa’s stables has afforded Haythorn-thwaite the chance to work closely with his immediate family members.
“I love working in the stables and my brother Richard is involved too,” he explained.
“He races the horses and won young driver of the year. But training race horses is my passion and my girlfriend Shannon also trains horses out in Ireland.
“In the middle of the season, from April to the end of October, we train 20 horses and the hours are very long.
“That made rugby hard and, as things became more serious, I struggled to juggle the two.”
Haythornthwaite, who joined Cougars on a scholarship aged 12 and turned professional aged 16, ended his long association with the club before the end of the campaign.
He explained: “My heart wasn’t really in it and JD said ‘you look like you don’t want to be here’.
“I ended up leaving just before the end of the season but I still went to the presentation evening and have a lot of friends at the club.
“A lot of the squad from last year are still there and I think they will do well under Paul March.”
Demetriou has returned home to Australia and is preparing to take up a two-year contract as head coach at Northern Pride – a feeder side for the North Queensland Cowboys – in the Queensland Cup.
He rated Haythornthwaite so highly he invited him to join him Down Under.
“JD offered me the chance to go with him to Northern Pride,” said Haythornthwaite.
“There was also the opportunity to go to North Queensland Cowboys on trial and play in a few games during pre-season training.
“I came very close to taking it but it just didn’t seem right to go to the other side of the world when I wasn’t really enjoying my rugby.
“It was too much of a risk and I didn’t want to get there and find it wasn’t for me, especially after they had paid for me to get there.”
Stand-off Jordan Aitch-ison has signed a one-year contract at Cougar Park after returning to the club following his departure from Bradford Bulls.