A FAMOUS name is back on the books at Castleford Tigers after the club confirmed the signing of Parramatta Eels centre Ben Crooks on a three-year deal beginning next season.
The 22-year-old is the son of Castleford legend Lee Crooks, who scored 1,265 points in 222 appearances for Tigers from 1990-1997 and is following in his father’s footsteps by moving to Wheldon Road after making his name as a player at Hull.
Ben Crooks scored 30 tries in 45 Super League games for Hull from 2012-2014, before joining Parramatta at the end of last season.
The Black and Whites retained his Super League registration, but he paid a “nominal fee”, to secure a release, allowing him to return to the competition next year with a rival club.
Crooks has yet to feature in Parramatta’s senior team, though he has been playing on the wing for their Under-20s in the Holden Cup, but believes the experience of playing and living Down Under will benefit him when he joins up with Castleford to begin pre-season training in November.
“Joining Parramatta Eels was designed to improve my skills and mature me both as a player and a person in the highest-quality environment in world rugby league, while experiencing a new independent and memorable lifestyle,” said Crooks after signing for Castleford.
“Even though I have not yet managed to break through and play in the NRL, I believe I have achieved my goals in my career development and will return to Super League a better player for the experience.
“I have loved my time at Parramatta and thank everyone for their guidance and support.”
Crooks was Super League’s young player of the year and a member of the competition’s Dream Team in 2013, though he failed to build on that the following season and spent time playing in the Championship with Hull’s partner club Doncaster.
Returning to KC Stadium was an option, but Crooks insisted Castleford is the right club at this stage of his career.
“We have had talks with a handful of Super League clubs, including a return to Hull FC,” he confirmed.
“Castleford Tigers are my home-town club, who made a determined effort to sign me both now and when I first turned professional and I am anticipating an exciting new chapter in my career.
“The Tigers have made massive strides on and off the field in the past two years and I am looking forward to working with (coach) Daryl Powell, who has a proven track record of bringing out the best in players and thus fulfilling their potential.”
French forward Gadwin Springer, who has already joined Castleford from Catalans, was the first piece in Powell’s jigsaw for next year and he is confident Crooks will bring ability – as well as competition for places – to the back division.
Powell, who played alongside Lee Crooks for Great Britain, said: “Ben has shown huge potential as a player and we are confident our environment will bring the best out of him in every facet of the game.
“He is quick and athletic with a great try-scoring ability and we feel he will fit neatly into the way we like to play the game.”
Powell added: “I think he will be perfect for us. Everybody talks about his dad; that has no bearing on how Ben is going to go, but Lee found his best form at Castleford and I think we are going to get the best out of Ben in our environment.
“I am looking forward to having him on board.”
Tigers chief executive Steve Gill also reckons the deal is a coup for the club. “I am really happy we have secured Ben’s signature for the next three years,” he said.
“He fits into our plans and where we want to be as a club moving forward.
“We understand there were other Super League clubs interested in Ben’s signature.
“Ben showed a desire to come to the club and to link up with Daryl and we look forward to welcoming him to the Castleford.”
Castleford are also understood to have signed 20-year-old centre Greg Minikin from their Kingstone Press National One partner club York City Knights.
He is set to complete the season with York before joining Tigers in the autumn.