Ben Crooks has an early chance to show Castleford fans what they are missing when he faces them in Leigh’s first game back in the Betfred Super League.
The 23-year-old former Hull centre played in all but four of the Tigers’ 32 matches in his first season at the Mend-a-Hose Jungle in 2016 before finding himself surplus to requirements, and he has now moved on loan to the promoted Centurions.
By a curious twist of fate, Crooks’ first competitive game for the Super League new boys is against his old team-mates on Friday and he cannot wait.
“I’m allowed to play, I made sure of that before I came,” said Crooks, who is under contract with the Tigers to the end of next year but free to play out the whole of 2017 with Leigh.
“It should be good going back. There were no hard feelings when I left.
“People can sulk and moan about it and throw the teddy out of the pram but I’m looking forward to playing my best rugby here at Leigh and there’s no better way than starting it off at Cas.
“It was disappointing to find out I wasn’t part of their plans because I didn’t think I did too badly last year – I played 28 games and missed a few through injury – but as one door closes, another one opens and Leigh tried really hard to get me here in the first place.
“That was a little bit of a morale booster for me, that someone wanted me so much.”
Crooks is one of 11 new faces brought in by the Centurions, including his former Castleford team-mate Ryan Hampshire, for their first season in the top flight since 2005, when they failed to survive after winning just two matches.
Leigh look better equipped to last the pace this time around and Crooks says that is the minimum requirement.
“It’s something I haven’t been involved in before,” he said. “It’s a new challenge and one that I’m really looking forward to. Success this year would be to remain in Super League, no matter how we do it.
“As a group we’ve spoken about our targets and our goals, we just want to go out and do the best we can. But staying in Super League is the main goal.”
In tonight’s other game last year’s wooden spoonists Huddersfield Giants will be aiming to avoid a repeat of the disastrous start they made to their 2016 campaign when they go to Widnes Vikings.
The Giants never recovered from the shock of losing nine of their first 10 matches last season but their visit to the Select Security Stadium is followed by three consecutive home matches.
Huddersfield coach Rick Stone said: “The first six games for us are going to be really important for us to get a bit of continuity and confidence so we’re going to put a bit of emphasis on them.”
Widnes are still reeling from the shock close-season departure of skipper Kevin Brown and the loss of his old half-back partner Joe Mellor with a knee injury but Stone says he will not be taking Denis Betts’ men lightly.
“It’s hard to get a gauge on them,” Stone said. “They’ve had a few different shake-ups recently with their half-back going to Warrington and a couple of injuries.
“But experience tells me every first game of the competition is hard-fought and we’re expecting the same.”