RETURNING TO Castleford Tigers hasn’t met local lad James Clare’s expectations – it has exceeded them.
Clare, a lifelong Tigers fan, scored 21 tries in 33 Super League appearances for the club from 2012 to 2015 before moving to Bradford Bulls and then Leigh Centurions.
After Leigh were relegated last season he rejoined Cas on a one-year deal and said it is “unbelievable” to be back.
“I knew it would be good going back,” said the 26-year-old winger.
“Me and [fiance] Kimberley have still got good friends there and I’ve always said it is the best club in the world.
“As a fan I enjoyed it growing up and to be a player there was special.
“I was a bit scared to go back, because it was like a dream that had been created, but it is even better than ever.
“It is nice to see how big the club has club has become and the ideas everybody has got.”
Clare admitted he did not want to leave Tigers three years ago, but feels the move has paid off.
He added: “At that time in my career it was probably the best thing. I went to Bradford and started every game for an entire season which was what I needed for my development.
“It was the right thing to do at the time, but going from relegation [with Leigh] to the league leaders is not a bad turnaround.”
Returning to Castleford will put him back on the big stage after some bad luck at his past two clubs.
Bulls were liquidated a year ago, prompting his move across the Pennines on a two-season deal. But Clare suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury in Leigh’s final pre-season game, against Dewsbury Rams and was restricted to only five appearances, all in the Qualifiers, scoring six tries.
“It’s the most dreaded injury for any sports player,” he reflected of last January’s setback.
“It is not necessarily the most painful, but it takes around nine months to fully heal and get back from.
“That’s why everybody hates it and fears it the most.
“I managed to get back and play the last few games with Leigh and everything was perfect, I’ve not had any problems since.”
Clare became available when Leigh lost the million pound game to Catalans Dragons and was at full-back for Tigers in their Boxing Day defeat by Featherstone Rovers.
He knows he faces strong competition for a place in their Betfred Super League lineup. Ben Roberts is expected to be first-choice full-back this year, with Greg Eden, Greg Minikin and new signing Garry Lo all in contention for wing spots.
“I’ve had a sit down with [coach] Daryl Powell,” Clare said.
“He’s a coach who likes his players to set their own individual goals, because it keeps you focused on what you want to achieve.
“He has said if I want to start every game there’s steps I am going to have to take to do that, but for me it is just playing in round one against St Helens – that’s the most important thing.
“Hopefully I’ll get another chance [in the pre-season game] against Leeds to show what I can do and hopefully I’ll get a shirt for round one and keep it as long as possible.”
Clare has joined a side who finished 10 points clear at the top of the table last year and are among the favourites for glory at Old Trafford in nine months’ time.
He observed: “This Cas team is incredibly talented. There’s some of the best players in Super League here and I know it is going to be difficult to get into the team.”