PLACES IN Castleford Tigers’ side for their Betfred Super League opener at St Helens next week are still up for grabs.
Tigers play their final warm-up game away to Betfred League One outfit Newcastle Thunder today, just six days before the league leaders begin their campaign at St Helens.
And coach Daryl Powell confirmed “a couple” of spots in next week’s team have yet to be decided, making today’s game an important one for everyone involved.
Castleford have had only two trial matches, losing to Featherstone Rovers on Boxing Day with a fringe squad before a full-strength team overcame Leeds Rhinos in appalling conditions last Sunday.
Powell has a good idea of who will be on the teamsheet next Friday, but is keen to see several of his big names get more field time under their belt and he insisted some of today’s side could yet force their way into contention to face Saints.
“Players need to play well, that’s what it’s all about,” Powell said. “The challenge is, if you don’t get in the team what are you going to do about it?
“That’s what we’ve been built on over the last few years.”
Fourteen of Powell’s 19-man squad for the trip to the north east are from the full-time group including five – Matt Cook, Alex Foster, Jy Hitchcox, Mike McMeeken and Greg Minikin – who played in last year’s Grand Final.
Minikin will be making his comeback from a shoulder operation, leaving only Gadwin Springer (groin) on Tigers’ casualty list.
“We are in a good spot,” Powell said.
“That’s why there’s so many good players playing [today].
“Everybody is pushing each other pretty hard in training, we had a pretty physical session on Tuesday and you can see the competitive elements in there.”
The academy players given a chance to show what they can do against semi-professional opposition are Lewis Peachey, Jack Ray, Robbie Storey, Jake Sweeting and Calum Turner.
Today’s squad is stronger than was expected when the fixture was announced and explaining his selection policy for this afternoon, Powell said: “We haven’t had an awful lot of pre-season games.
“We played on Boxing Day and we played Leeds last weekend, but there’s a few players who need more game time.
“We have got a big squad so it is sensible to give players an opportunity to grow and to be ready for the season.
“Not every member of our squad’s going to play against St Helens.
“There’s going to be some tough decisions to be made and I have been banging on all year about the depth of our squad, so that’s the reason why.”
Three-quarter Minikin had surgery following last October’s Grand Final and is itching to make his return to action. I can’t wait to get back in the team,” he said.
“It’s been a long off-season for me in rehab’ following my shoulder op and I am ready to get back out there.
“This is my chance to claim a spot in the squad who’ll take on St Helens next week and I’ll be doing my best to be in that opening round of Super League.”
Castleford Tigers (at Newcastle Thunder): from Aston, Clare, Clark, Cook, Douglas, Egodo, Ellis, Foster, Hitchcox, Lo, Maher, McMeeken, Minikin, O’Neill, Peachey, Ray, Storey, Sweeting, Turner.
Referee: Scott Mikalauskas (Warrington).
Kick-off: Today, 5pm.