Buoyant boss Ian Millward sees the 2013 season as a fresh start for Castleford Tigers.
Millward’s first season in charge was a major disappointment as Tigers crashed out of the Carnegie Challenge Cup away to Co-op Championship neighbours Featherstone Rovers and finished second from bottom in Super League.
A host of key players left the club during the 2012 campaign and others have departed since the final match, but Millward is happy with the recruits he has brought in and the way his troops have knuckled down to pre-season training.
The coach admits his squad is still not big enough, but he is confident they can put the frustrations of this year behind them when they resume competitive action in February.
“We’re into our third week of training and I’ve been really encouraged by the way we’ve started,” Millward said.
“We don’t quite have everyone on board, but we’ve a new strength coach in Ben Cooper and we’ve probably started from scratch.
“We are changing all our defence structure and our attacking structure. We’ve had a real good review and I’ve been really pleased with the first two weeks.
“We are starting stuff new, but it seems a very fresh group and very positive. We’ve started two weeks earlier than last year and we’ve got more people training at the moment than this stage last year – we’ve fewer people who’ve had operations.
“I didn’t think we trained hard enough last year. It’s very evident early on that it has been a lot harder, driven by the new strength coach.
“There’s people running now that this stage last year were sitting in a physio room. We are a lot more advanced.”
Millward said he has drawn a line under 2012.
He added: “Thirteen or 14 players have left. Six is not enough to bring in, but it is a new squad, a fresh squad with new ideas and new thoughts.
“A lot of stuff we’ve done we’ve been through with all the players prior to doing it, the idea being we all buy into it and take ownership of it.
“That has been really important for us. It’s no good me coming up with a new defence structure and a new attacking structure if we’re not all going to buy into it.
“It has been my job to come up with a thought process, then we’ve tried to define it as a group.”
But Millward admitted there are issues still to overcome.
He said: “The problem is we’ve still only got about 23 players in our squad.
“We need a couple more and I have been told that this is dependent on ticket sales and membership sales.
“It would be very hard to go around with 23 players, but if we can grab a couple more I will be really positive.”
Signings Justin Carney, Jordan Tansey, Michael Shenton, Jake Webster and Lee Gilmour are all in training – along with Jamie Ellis who joined the club late last term – and Millward is happy with what they have done so far.
“Jordan had a knee operation and he’s way in front of where he might have been,” said the Tigers coach. “He has been very good.
“Jamie Ellis is going to have a pre-season with us, he is a new player really, he’s only played a few games for the club.
“Lee Gilmour has been exactly what I wanted. He is a good talker, he likes talking to other players about defence and he brings experience and knowledge.
“Michael Shenton has been very good in our first few sessions and brings an aura of having been at a good club.
“With Jake Webster, everyone says ‘watch him, he comes back overweight’, but he has come back exactly how we wanted him to. We are really positive about him.
“And Justin Carney has raised a lot of eyebrows with the power and strength he has as an outside-back.”
Tigers’ other recruit, Weller Hauraki, will report in this week and Rangi Chase – who was strongly linked with a move before pledging his immediate future to Cas – has been given a week and a half off after his involvement with England.
“I’ve had a couple of meetings with Rangi about how we want to go about our attack,” Millward revealed.
“We want to play a style that suits him and gives him an opportunity to enjoy his rugby league.
“That was really important because we didn’t want to start practising things while he’s away, we want him to be a bit of a leader in that.
“We had a very productive meeting. I never wanted Rangi to leave, he is a very talented player.
“I think this year has been a great learning experience for him, a lot of things have happened in his life on and off the field which I think are going to make him a better player and a better person.”