LESS THAN two years ago Jake Webster’s future at Castleford Tigers was in doubt. Now he is set to be a key man in their bid for honours.
After uncertainty midway through 2015, Webster signed a new contract that autumn and extended his deal the following spring.
The 33-year-old former New Zealand Test centre’s form since then has been outstanding and he reckons he is enjoying a “new lease of life” ahead of Tigers’ Betfred Super League opener at home to Leigh Centurions in nine days’ time.
“I’ve felt great at training and I feel like I’m a young kid again,” Webster said. “Hopefully I’ll have a great start to the year and if my body keeps going all right I’ll be around for a few more years to come.
“I am on a year-to-year contract at the moment, with my age. I’m not sure how my body is going to handle pre-season every year, but this year my body has been really, really good.”
Webster reckons 2016 – when he scored 14 tries in 23 games – was one of his best. He was considered by many to be unlucky not to gain selection for the Super League Dream Team, but insisted: “I am happy just with the way I went for the club last year, especially with the added pressure of being the more senior centre.
“When we lost our captain [Michael Shenton, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in round one] there was a bit more pressure on me.
“To work with Galey [half-back Luke Gale] was a bit of a positive for me as well – he helped my game a lot – and also with Denny [Solomona] who has now moved on. It was a great year all round for our whole side, especially with the injuries we had. It is something we’ve got to build on.”
Webster is relishing his senior status at Castleford. He added: “That’s what my role is now.
“It will keep me in the game a lot longer than if I wasn’t sort of a mentor. It is bringing the young fellas through. I had someone – Matt Geyer – who did that for me when I was coming through at Melbourne and it does help a lot.
“He was a winger, but he taught me the ways of first-team training and how your attitude had to be. That was a real big help and if I can do that at a great club like Cas I will be happy with that.”
Webster believes Tigers – fifth in 2016 – are genuine title contenders this year.
“I can’t wait,” he said. “It’s been a great break we’ve had after a tough year last year and everyone’s come back in great shape and really excited about the forthcoming year.
“It is going to be a very tough season. We’ve seen the schedule and there’s a few very short turnarounds, more than last year, so the whole squad’s going to have to be ready to go. I think the depth the coach has got is looking really, really good. The boys have trained really well and the young fellas who have stepped in haven’t looked out of place.
“As long as we can build on it and keep everybody fit and healthy, the ball’s in our court.
“If we perform the way we know we can I don’t see why we shouldn’t be in the running for some silverware.
“The top four is the bare minimum, you have to be in the top four to really have a crack at any silverware so that’s going to be our goal. We’ll get off to a good start, hopefully, then take it from there.”