PROP LIAM Watts will be at the centre of attention when Castleford Tigers face Hull this afternoon.
It will be Watts’ first return to the KCOM Stadium since joining Tigers from Hull two months ago.
Hull fans are famous for giving former players a hostile reception, but Cas coach Daryl Powell has no doubt he will cope.
“I don’t think it will bother him too much,” Powell insisted. “He is a pretty experienced player. He understands it is going to be tough for him going back there, but he will just focus on what he’s got to do.”
Tigers paid Hull a “significant fee” for Watts, who fell out of favour with his former club after being sent-off four times in a year.
“He has settled in really well,” he said. “He had a bit of an off game when probably he shouldn’t have played against Wigan, but apart from that his performances have been really good for us.
“He is pretty tall and strong and he has got offloads. We haven’t seen too many of them yet, but I think he’s still coming to terms with exactly how we play and how the players around him play. But he had big metres again last week and his metres after contact were outstanding.”
The coach knows Watts and his fellow forwards will need to be on top of their game this afternoon. Hull were stung by a shock defeat at Catalans last Saturday and Lee Radford is looking for a response.
“Hull have had a mixed season so far, but generally if they’ve lost games it has been pretty tight,” said Powell.
“They lost last week at Catalans, but they got a couple of injuries similar to us last week and they had to adjust a lot.
He is a pretty experienced player. He understands it is going to be tough for him going back there, but he will just focus on what he’s got to do.Daryl Powell on Liam Watts
“Whatever happens to Hull they hang in there, they are a really good defensive team and have got a good spirit about them. We can expect another big battle this week. It generally is, they are a big, physical team throughout, even their wingers are always difficult to handle.”
The showdown between Watts and his former front-row partner Scott Taylor could be crucial.
“Taylor, in particular, is a very good player,” warned Powell. “He has got an offload, he’s difficult to handle on his carries and gets a lot of penalties.
“In the middle of it all they’ve got an outstanding hooker, Danny Houghton. He is exceptional and they are a good team across the field.”
Man of Steel Luke Gale is beginning a three-month layoff with a fractured kneecap suffered in last week’s win over Wakefield Trinity, so Cory Aston has been called into Tigers’ squad and Alex Foster and James Green could return.
Powell said: “As well as Luke, Ben Roberts is still out as are Greg Eden, Nathan Massey and James Clare. We’re a bit patched up, but that team played the second half last week and had real good control of the game.
“Paul McShane, whether playing at nine or half-back, was excellent and Jamie Ellis did some smart things. Those two guys will continue at half-back.”
Joe Westerman could make his first appearance for Hull since rejoining them from Toronto Wolfpack. Another former Castleford man Marc Sneyd will return, along with Jamie Shaul, Danny Washbrook and Chris Green. Stand-off Albert Kelly (hamstring) is sidelined and Hakim Miloudi and Jordan Abdull drop out.
Hull FC (from): Shaul, Faraimo, Griffin, Tuimavave, Talanoa, Connor, Sneyd, Taylor, Houghton, Bowden, Manu, Minichiello, Hadley, Washbrook, Paea, Lane, Westerman, C Green, Matongo.
Castleford Tigers (from): Aston, Cook, Ellis, Foster, J Green, Holmes, McMeeken, McShane, Millington, Milner, Minikin, Moors, Sene-Lefao, Shenton, Springer, Trueman, Wardle, Watts, Webster.
Referee: Gareth Hewer (Whitehaven).
Kick-off: Today, 5pm.