KEIGHLEY Cougars had a fantastic season in 1994/95, winning the Second Division Championship and Second Division Premiership double.

But one player fans might not recognise from that season was a teenager who had come over from Australia and featured in the reserve side.

Despite his lack of star status, in an era which saw the likes of Daryl Powell and Nick Pinkney play down at Cougar Park, Gareth Williams has quite the story to tell, ranging from rugby league to mentoring schoolchildren as part of his booming business, via a boxing career and some tough times.

Discussing how he came to be at Keighley in the first place, Williams said: “I was only young, I’d just turned 19 when I arrived at Keighley.

“I was born in Halifax and my dad played rugby league for them, but we moved to Australia when I was 12.

“I was a gymnast when I was younger but I had a few little injuries and then started doing rugby league. I was always going to end up there, given what my dad did.

“I started playing rugby league in Perth but moved to Queensland and played for Brisbane Souths at U19s level there.

“But I wasn’t on the overseas list as I had a British passport, so it was a bit easier for me to test the water in England.

“I wrote to clubs in England when I was 18 and Keighley and Phil Larder were the first ones that got back, saying they were looking to strengthen their squad for their First Division promotion push.

“It was a cracking squad, full of internationals, and I was playing with quality players like Brendan Hill and Joe Grima in the reserves team when I joined, on my first professional contract at 19.

“We had Grant Doorey over there too, he lives in Brisbane now and has gone on to great things in rugby union, coaching at the World Cup and Mark Brooke-Cowden, who won the World Cup with New Zealand in 1987, then switched codes and played rugby league for Keighley.

“We had a great squad with a lot of youngsters coming through, like Andy Senior and Jason Pounder, but we were looked after by older players like Ian Gately and Joe Grima.

“They were hard men but great with us younger guys, just giving us advice on the game and life itself.

“Ian had been playing in the top flight in Australia for Manly and was one of the best front rows around.

“Yet he joined Keighley when they were in the Third Division, which shows how strong the squad was.

“We had Nick Pinkney, who went on to play for England, and Daryl Powell, who became the England captain.

“I was a bit starstruck when I first got there. I was a massive fan of the English game, even when out in Australia, and I idolised some of these players.”

Sadly, Williams didn’t make too much of an impact on English rugby league, which he feels is down to a combination of bad luck and bad timing.

He said: “I was still only a kid when I came over and I do think I might have been a regular in the first team at other clubs, but we were First Division material, up there with the likes of Sheffield and Warrington.

“We only just got beat by Warrington (in the John Player Trophy) back in 1995 for example.

“I played that 1994/95 season at Keighley but then I spoke to Bradford Bulls about going to get a trial there.

“I wasn’t in the first team squad and Keighley didn’t make Super League, as you know. In hindsight, I chased it a bit, and I should have stayed put at Keighley.

“I had those trials at Bradford, but then I broke my ankle in training.

“I couldn’t play and came back to Australia, and ended up settled here.”

Williams has crammed plenty into his life since going back Down Under a quarter of a century ago, starting with the rest of his rugby league career.

He said: “I played for some strong clubs in the Queensland Cup out there. I spent three years at Logan Scorpions and then went to the Ipswich Jets, who had internationals like Allan Langer and Kevin Walters that used to play there.

“I had five great seasons playing there and have made friends for life, both in Australia and in England.

“We still send messages to each other, the Keighley boys, and that’s what rugby league does, it brings people together.”

Talking about his sudden switch to boxing, Williams said: “I was playing first grade in the Queensland Cup but kept picking up little training injuries just after a game against Canberra Raiders.

“First I did my ribs, then it was something else, then I damaged my eye at work.

“I said to the coach I was going to give that season a miss, and that I was going to stay fit down at the local boxing club.

“That was the last time I ever put my boots on, as boxing just took over after that.

“I didn’t do too bad. I represented Queensland and had about 30 fights, including two professional ones.

“I was getting ready for my second pro fight against a guy I’d already beaten as an amateur in a tough fight.

“I was in sparring when a guy threw a left hook. I went to get out of the way of it, but twisted my knee and snapped it. I basically had to have it reconstructed.

“I did come back and have that second fight, against a different guy, and got a draw, but it wasn’t the same.

“I’d made my mind up that would be my last fight, as I’d already started helping out and training kids at the gym.”

Talking about how he went from nothing to the booming Boxing Shop business that he runs today, Williams said: “I began to help out at my mate’s gym, which was just a backyard shed basically.

“I started training two people, who were paying me $10 per session and having two each a week.

“This was about 15 years ago and back then that’s all I was earning, $40 a week. I’d left my job in construction, as I wasn’t enjoying it and I was having some personal struggles.

“But with word of mouth, what I was doing got around, and we would have 30 people coming to my mate’s backyard shed.

“We were outgrowing it, and people on the street were complaining it was too loud and they couldn’t get a park.

“I was taking calls from all sorts of people and I was teaching a lot of them boxing purely for self defence.

“I was then in touch with the local university (Griffith University) about offering classes for students.

“They called me in for a meeting, and said I could use the gym at the uni for the next couple of years, for $25,000 a year.

“My heart sank because I didn’t have much money at the time, but I said to them, with 10,000 students and 2,000 staff, they could sell the classes and promote them.

“I walked out of that meeting and they let me take the first two years rent free.”

That savvy business decision proved vital, and nowadays The Boxing Shop is thriving, having moved from Griffith University two years ago to a bigger facility in Salisbury.

But Williams seems proudest when talking about what the Boxing Shop does out in the Queensland community.

He said: “We’ve moved forward. Now we have 200 members and work with 22 schools. We go to schools and work with the kids, mentoring them and teaching them boxing.

“The boxing draws them in, as a lot of them are so-called “tough kids”, but you get past that image pretty quickly.

“I am strict with the kids, trying to get them to pull their heads in and do the right thing.

“But after a few weeks, their grades go up and they start looking at the world differently. People often put kids in a box at school and dismiss them if they’re no good at maths, English or science for example.

“We want to give them a help out. If they try it (the subjects) and they’re not good at it, it doesn’t matter.

“We just try and tell the kids that there’s consequences to everything. If you drop your hands in boxing, it’s like not handing your maths homework in. You always lose if you make errors.

“We have a good strike rate with the kids, and there’s some whose lives we’ve changed around. There were some who were feeling suicidal or looking like going into juvenile homes before we worked with them.

“We have one kid who's now on an apprenticeship at our gym, studying boxing and business.

“In the long run, we want this programme running throughout Queensland.”

Williams helps out with the elite too, saying: “I’ve still got a good relationship with rugby league and I work with the Brisbane Broncos.

“I train the boys in the off season and help them with their fitness, including doing some boxing. I even worked with Justin Hodges, who went on to do boxing after he left Broncos five years ago, for two fights. He won both.

“I’ve also trained Ben Te’o, who has gone on to play rugby union for England.”

It has been quite the journey for Williams, from awe-struck teenager in Keighley to successful businessman in Queensland, via more than a few bumps in the road.

But you get the impression he still has plenty more that he wants to achieve.