LOCAL hero James Clare admits he was “upset and disappointed” to miss Castleford Tigers’ Tetley’s Challenge Cup final appearance – but only with himself.
A lifelong Tigers fan, Clare was a try-scorer in the quarter-final and semi-final victories, but lost his place when Justin Carney returned from suspension for the Wembley showdown with Leeds Rhinos.
Rather than going into his shell, Clare said the setback has only made him more determined to be in the team next time Cas feature in a big game.
“I definitely benefited from the whole experience, going down there and everything like that,” said Clare. “But to be genuinely honest, I was incredibly upset and disappointed in my own self.
“I feel like I did as much as I possibly could, but obviously it wasn’t enough to force Powelly’s (coach Daryl Powell) hand. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and I will definitely come back as a better player from it.”
Clare insisted he had no argument with his coach’s decision to select Carney and Kirk Dixon as Tigers’ Wembley wingers.
“We all have 100 per cent trust and faith in Powelly and his squad rotation,” he stressed.
“It is just one of those things. Justin Carney is probably the best winger in the competition at the moment and he is a player you can’t leave out.”
Clare was recalled to the side for the 32-18 win over Bradford Bulls two days ago, after Carney was ruled out due to an ankle problem suffered in training.
Powell has described that as a four-week injury, which would mean Clare keeping a place for the final two games of the regular First Utility Super League campaign and Tigers’ opening tie in the play-offs.
But the 23-year-old, who was among the try-scorers against Bradford, said he is not taking anything for granted.
“I could have until the end of the season,” he said. “But Justin is a freak of a man. A four-week injury to a normal person could be a two-week injury to him.
“I am just happy for the game time and the experience whenever it comes. Daryl has got a squad rotation policy anyway, so chances will come.
“It’s just about taking them with two hands whenever they are there.
“Obviously, you want to play every single minute of every single game, but it is still a learning curve for me. I am happy to pick up experience whenever I can get it.”
Clare took his tally of tries to nine in just 13 appearances with his one-handed touchdown against Bradford.
It was a classic winger’s finish, but Clare claimed: “I think I could probably have just fallen over the line.
“That’s credit to what Luke Dorn and Michael Shenton did before, making my job miles easier.”
Clare admitted the try and Tigers’ win were a boost to morale after the emotion of Wembley week. “To be honest, it felt like I hadn’t played at home in a very, very long time,” he reflected. “I didn’t play against London in the game the week before the semi-final, so it felt like an age since we were at The Jungle. But it was great to be back down there and it’s always great to score a try.
“Bradford have been doing great, they had won three in a row and they were on a massive high. We gave them a chance to come back, but it was great determination from our boys in the middle.
“They really fronted up against their big men and they laid the platform for us to eventually win the game.”
The crucial moment was a long-range try by Daryl Clark, who spotted a gap in Bulls’ defence from a tap penalty deep in Tigers’ territory.
“It’s just normal for him,” Clare observed. “He does something special every single week. It is absolutely amazing, but it’s Daz Clark, so that’s the way it is.”
Most importantly, the victory lifted Tigers from sixth to second place in the table and they are the only team who could catch leaders St Helens.
Tigers are four points adrift, but with a better for and against and they would finish top if they won their final two games and Saints lost both.
With a one-point advantage over Wigan, Warrington and Huddersfield and two on Leeds, second spot is firmly in Tigers’ own hands.
“If anybody had said at the start of the year you’d go into second place with two games left, we’d have taken it,” said Clare.
“But we have got two massive games. Wakefield are doing very well and they are always great games, so that’s going to be a very tough one.
“Then we’ve got the Catalan trip and they have got tremendous form at home. It’s two very big games, but, hopefully, we can hold that second place – and mathematically we can catch Saints.
“They would have to lose both their games, but they showed great mental toughness to get a win at Leeds last week.
“It is one of those things, if it happens, it happens. We will do everything we can and it is a good position to be in.
“If we can get two great performances and two great wins it will stand us in good stead going into the play-offs.
“They will be two very tough games and the play-offs will be even tougher, so we have just got to keep rising from now.”
Cas’ lack of big-game experience showed in their Cup final defeat to Leeds, but Clare reckons they are well equipped to do well in the play-offs.