CASTLEFORD TIGERS’ preparations for the new campaign are intensifying with almost the entire squad now back in training.
Ben Roberts, who is expected to switch from stand-off to full-back this year, reported in this week and Man of Steel Luke Gale is due back after the weekend.
Some Tigers players have been in pre-season since November, but coach Daryl Powell, whose side kick off at St Helens four weeks tonight, regards the next month as crucial.
“We’re not far off [having a full squad training],” Powell said. “It’s a really important four weeks for us now. Obviously the boys have been training pretty hard, but they’ve been missing a full-back, half-back and back-rower. Now we can start working towards key combinations as we move forward.”
Several players are yet to begin full contact work as they recover from injury.
Powell confirmed: “We’ve got a couple of boys who’ve had shoulder operations.
“Greg Eden is just getting back into training and Greg Minikin is still a bit off.
“Gadwin Springer [groin] has not been in full training so there’s a few boys in and around the edges of it. They are not in full training, but they are still working hard.”
Tigers’ senior squad will jet to Lanzarote next Thursday for a week-long training camp.
“That’s key for us as well,” Powell added. “We’ve been there for the last two years and it has worked pretty well for us.”
The camp will be followed by a Grand Final rematch at home to Leeds Rhinos on Sunday, January 21 and Tigers complete their pre-season campaign away to Newcastle Thunder the following Saturday.
Powell admitted that is one game fewer than he would have liked, but he explained: “We thought potentially we would be playing in the World Club Challenge so we didn’t want to put too much in there.
“We are probably a game down on what we’ve done in the past, but we also finished last season a bit later because of the Grand Final.
“It makes the Leeds game pretty important. It will be our main game leading into the season.”
Tigers played Rhinos five times last season, winning all but the final encounter.
“We had a specific reason we picked Saints last year,” Powell said of Tigers’ main pre-season game in 2017. “We wanted to break the hoodoo of not winning there.
“This one came down to a decision between the clubs, but I was happy to go with it. It will be a tough game and we’ll need that leading into the first Super League game at Saints.”
Castleford were beaten 32-16 by Featherstone Rovers in their opening pre-season game on Boxing Day, and the coach said: “We had 14 or 15 players missing so it wasn’t hugely significant, but I don’t think we were great by any stretch in that game.
“Games around Christmas are always contentious and awkward, but there’s nothing to stop you having a good attitude and I don’t think we went about it the right way.”