Lee makes up for those wasted years.
"I behaved like a spoilt kid and made a lot of mistakes. It was the worst time of my career," said the 33-year-old Castleford skipper and prop as he faces what could be his last season in the top flight.
"There I was at one of the biggest clubs in the game and a chance to make a big impact.
"I was being tipped as a future captain of Great Britain. Leeds had paid what was then a world record pounds 150,000 for me from Hull in 1987 and I had everything to play for.
"But I had problems on and off the field and things didn't work out. My attitude wasn't right and they were certainly wasted years at Headingley."
Ellery Hanley went on to claim the Lions tour captaincy in 1988 and Crooks' career nose-dived before Castleford coach Darryl Van de Veld signed him before the 1990 Challenge Cup deadline.
It proved to be a crucial turning point for Crooks as his brilliant ball skills became the cutting edge for the Tigers. Castleford reached Wembley in 1992 only to be blitzed by a Martin Offiah-inspired Wigan side.
But Crooks and company had revenge with a record Regal Trophy final victory over Wigan in 1994 reaching the semi-final of the Challenge Cup that season and finishing third in the Championship.
"I will always be grateful to Darryl for giving me a second chance. My six years at Castleford have been the happiest of my career," he added.
But Crooks feared the Tigers wanted to get rid of him when they allowed his first club Hull to talk to him at the end of the first Super League season.
"It was all a misunderstanding. Castleford only wanted to give me the option of going back to my home town club and I did agree a contract with them.
"But the Castleford chairman and coach never wanted me to leave and I have agreed a new 12-month contract.
"The new World Club Championship and the chance to play against top Aussie club sides both home and away was the clincher.
"I have never been fitter and I still think I am as good as anyone around in my position. I really want to go for it this year.
"There's a buzz at the club that hasn't been around for a couple of years and I think we will compete with the best this season.
"Castleford have brought in six new players including three good Australians. It all adds up to keen competition for places which is something our coach John Joyner has never had before.
"And we have to fancy our chances of a good Challenge Cup run. I've been to Wembley four times but it would be nice to make it five before I retire.
"But the games against the Aussie club sides, especially over there, will be a big shock to the system for a lot of our players, especially the younger ones, in terms of fitness and intensity.
"It will be a great learning experience for a lot of them but I think we have a good chance of beating our pool opponents the Hunter Mariners and the Perth Reds both home and away."
With Frano Botica back in Rugby Union with Llanelli, the goal-kicking role looks certain to revert to Crooks whose magnificent short passes can still cut open the best of defences.
The old war-horse certainly isn't finished yet.
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Jan 27, 1997|
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