Let’s perform well for Ian. That’s caretaker coach Stuart Donlan’s rallying cry to Castleford Tigers’ players ahead of their home clash with Wigan Warriors tomorrow.
Former Cas player Donlan, pictured right, will be in charge of the team with coach Ian Millward away on indefinite compassionate leave following the sudden death of his 19-year-old son Robbie last Sunday.
Robbie was taken ill at his home in Leigh, with a suspected heart attack, at the time Tigers’ squad were travelling back from the previous afternoon’s defeat by Catalan Dragons in Perpignan.
Donlan and the players were with Millward when he received the news and the assistant-coach admitted it was traumatic for everyone at the club.
Millward was told Robbie had been taken ill as the squad travelled to the airport and word of his death was broken when their flight touched down in England.
“It has been a tough, long week,” said Donlan, who sat next to Millward on the aircraft.
“It has been difficult to say the least, to get the news we did on Sunday was devastating.
“We’ve got to respect Ian’s wishes and let him grieve in his own way.
“His family is arriving from Australia daily to give him the support he needs and we’ve got to respect his wishes and let him come to terms with it in his own time. The club have been great with him and now we want to put a performance in on Sunday that Ian can be proud of.
“I’ve known Robbie since he came to this country in 1999 and I’ve watched him grow up. It is hard coming to terms with what’s happened, it will take a long time to sink in.”
Donlan – who said Sunday’s events will “live with me forever” – has not spoken to Millward since parting company at the airport following the team’s arrival in England.
He added: “He’s a strong bloke, there’s no pressure on him and when he is ready he will come back. Until then we’ll carry on, take each game as it comes and try and put in a performance that will make him proud.”
Tomorrow’s game will come as a relief, according to Donlan. He said: “That’s the good thing about sport, it gives us that are here something to focus on. Once the lads cross that line on to the field, they have got to focus. That’s what they are doing at the minute.
“They are pretty focused and determined to put in a good performance. That’s the best way we can show Ian we are there.
“It is going to be a tough day mentally as well as physically, but sport’s a good way of channelling your energy and getting your mind off bad thoughts and I can sense from being around the lads that come Sunday they will be ready and raring to go.”
Donlan’s initial 19-man squad is unchanged from last week. The team will be selected from the 17 beaten by Catalan, plus James Grehan and Jonathan Walker.
Wigan boss Shaun Wane will choose his team from the players on duty in last Sunday’s win over Bradford Bulls, plus Anthony Gelling and Joe Mellor.
Castleford Tigers: from Owen, Griffin, McGoldrick, Arundel, Dixon, Chase, Orr, Nash, Clark, Massey, O Holmes, Ferres, Jones, Emmitt, Snitch, Milner, Mitchell, Walker, Grehan.
Wigan Warriors: from S Tomkins, Charnley, Goulding, Hughes, Richards, Finch, Leuluai, Mossop, McIlorum, Flower, Hansen, Hock, O’Loughlin, Lima, Tuson, Lauaki, Farrell, Gelling, Mellor.
Referee: Thierry Alibert (Toulouse).
Kick-off: Tomorrow, 3.30pm.