The future is looking bright for Castleford Tigers, 22-year-old winger James Clare believes.
The last-gasp loss at Wakefield Trinity Wildcats six days ago ended a run of three straight wins and saw Tigers slip to 12th in the final Super League table, an improvement of one place on 2012.
But Clare reckons Tigers are in good shape as the players begin their off-season break – and he is confident that this time next year they will be in play-offs action.
“Daryl [Powell] has been here for 13 games and since he has come on board there has been a massive difference,” Clare said of the club’s third head coach this year, following Ian Millward and caretaker Danny Orr.
“I think we’ve set a massive platform for next year and it’s all about continuing to build. We don’t want to level out, we want to keep climbing higher and higher.”
Clare was one of the success stories of Tigers’ season.
His four tries in the defeat at Wakefield took him to eight for the campaign from nine appearances and he signed a new two-year contract back in June.
“Personally I am happy with it,” he said of the 2013 season. “But we still need to work as a team and we are still gelling as a team.
“I think we’ve showed every week we can score points, it is just about defending our line with a bit more pride.
“But we’ve made some good signings and I think we’ll have a very strong side next year.
“We talk about top-eight, but I think we can be competing for sixth spot.”
Clare’s aim now is to be a key part of that push for the play-offs.
“That’s my goal, to be a regular first teamer at Castleford,” he said. “It is all about taking those chances when they are given to you.
“Obviously Justin Carney has just picked up an injury, but I think he will be back for the start of next season.
“But whenever Daryl decides to go with me I have just got to get my head down and put in the best possible performance that I can.”
For Clare, this year has been a case of living a dream.
“It is a dream come true, completely,” he said. “I think I am learning all the time.
“It doesn’t matter whether you play nine games or 900 there’s still always something to learn.
“I am learning every week and playing with different players has really helped. I have learned a lot from the players who are leaving and I can learn from the players who are coming in.
“Daryl’s teaching me a lot every week as well.”
Meanwhile, departed stand-off Rangi Chase – who has now joined Super League rivals Salford City Reds – has been named Tigers’ player of the year and players’ player.
The full list of end-of-season winners is: Player of the year Rangi Chase, second Justin Carney, third Nathan Massey; Players’ player Rangi Chase; Directors’ player Weller Hauraki; Young player Oliver Holmes; Fans’ player Justin Carney; 10 years’ service Craig Huby; Special award (25 years’ service) Matthew Merrick; Special award (24 years’ service) Brian Ashworth.
Under-19s awards: Player of the year Ben Reynolds; Coaches’ player Lewis Farr; Most improved Ben Passmore; Shooting Star Brad Foster.