Stalwart winger Kirk Dixon has been hailed as one of First Utility Super League’s unsung heroes, by his new Castleford Tigers centre partner Michael Channing.
STALWART WINGER Kirk Dixon has been hailed as one of First Utility Super League’s unsung heroes, by his new Castleford Tigers centre partner Michael Channing.
Dixon passed 1,000 points for Tigers in the round-one win over Bradford Bulls and added a try to his tally against Catalan Dragons two days ago – though he handed kicking duties to Marc Sneyd after missing with three successive shots at goal.
Most of the headlines are being grabbed by the left-side combination of hat-trick hero Justin Carney and Tigers skipper Michael Shenton, but Dixon and Channing – who joined Tigers from London Broncos last season – have been quietly impressive in the opening two fixtures.
Channing admitted he is delighted to have started both games so far and paid tribute to Dixon for making his life as a centre easier than it might have been.
He said: “I say it every week to my friends and people who ask about Justin – it is Dicko, I think he is the most under-rated player in the league, let alone the squad.
“His ability to get above people, his work-rate and his defensive decisions are always top-notch. He does not make mistakes.
“He really encourages me. I am a bit erratic at training at times – and a bit stupid! He kind of draws me back and looks after me.
“I have learned lots off him. He was once a centre and he teaches me a lot. We are starting to get a good partnership on and off the field, which is good.”
Tigers now have competition for most places in the team and for Channing, being selected at the start of the year has been a massive boost and a reward for effort put in during the pre-season.
“I am really chuffed to have played in the first two,” he said. “That was my first aim all through pre-season.
“I worked as hard as I could and I did what I could to get in the squad and now I am in the team it is just good to be part of it.
“I am learning week-in and week-out and I think I am getting better as a player. I haven’t even been here a year yet and I have learned so much, defensively especially.
“My defence was definitely one of my weaker points, but I think [coach] Daryl Powell and [assistant] Danny Orr have definitely brought the best out of me.
“I have learned a lot and I am still learning now. There’s still a lot to learn.”
The 32-6 drubbing of Catalan lifted Tigers top of the early-season Super League table and Channing said he “could not be more chuffed for the boys”.
He added: “In our pre-season and what we’ve been doing for the last couple of weeks everyone has been working so hard.
“It is good to see us getting results from all the hard work being put in.
“It is good to have won two games and to have scored some points and we are defending well.
“Against Bradford we let in a few soft tries, but at the weekend we were really tight. All the pre-season work and what we’ve been working on, it is good to see it actually coming off and us showing it on the field.”
There are still 25 rounds to go and Channing admitted it is too early for anybody in the Cas camp to get carried away.
“That’s one thing Daryl said at the end of Sunday’s game,” Channing revealed. “He congratulated us, but he said let’s not start loving ourselves – let’s just stick to the task at hand and work hard this week.
“That is important. We finished quite low last year and with a few wins you could easily say we are all right here, we’re sweet – and that’s when your weaknesses start coming out.
“It is good that Daryl has pointed that out and told us let’s keep our heads on for this week.”
Tigers are back in action on Friday night when they visit Hull KR, who came from 24-6 down at half-time away to Huddersfield last weekend to snatch a last-gasp 24-24 draw.
“Week-in, week-out, it doesn’t matter who we are playing, it is always going to be a tough game,” Channing predicted. “If we do what we want to do hopefully we will come out on top.”
Tigers featured among many pundits’ tips as a team likely to struggle this term. Channing said he was surprised by that – given the quality and depth of their squad – but insisted what the critics say or write isn’t a concern.
“We don’t care, people can think what they think,” he said. “When we are winning, that speaks for itself.
“We take it week by week, take the game on and it doesn’t matter what people are saying about us – we will worry about us.”
Meanwhile, Powell confirmed it was Dixon’s call to hand over goal kicking duties following his three first-half misses in Sunday’s game. The first two were from wide out, in difficult, blustery conditions, but he hit a post with his third kick from almost in front.
“It was Kirk’s decision,” Powell said.
“He felt he was low on confidence at the time – and Marc Sneyd, fortuntely for him, got the ones under the posts.
“That’s the way it goes at times.
“Kirk handed the kicking over at half-time and we have a lot of kicking options – Jordan Tansey and Liam Finn are also good kickers and Jamie Ellis as well.”