France v England: Niall Evalds following in footsteps of Castleford Tigers legend Graham Steadman

FOR Castleford Tigers fans of a certain vintage, their memories of great full-backs centre around Graham Steadman, who commanded a world record fee when joining from Featherstone Rovers in 1989.

Friday, 22nd October 2021, 10:00 pm

The following year he made his international debut for Great Britain – admittedly in his original position of stand-off – in a shock loss against France at Headingley.

But in 1992, his second cap came with two tries off the bench as the Lions defeated France at Stade Gilbert Brutus in Perpignan – the ground where England face the same opponents today.

Steadman’s most memorable international moment, of course, came with his dazzling try as Britain defeated Australia 33-10 in Melbourne just a few months later.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Today, though, Castleford’s current No 1 Niall Evalds, who has so quickly endeared himself to the Tigers faithful in his first season at Wheldon Road, will look to start making his own Test match memories.

In terms of excitement, he brings a similar dash and verve to Steadman and has honed his skills so well that few could argue he does not deserve his England debut.

At 28, he has had to bide his time but there have been some notable full-backs around at the same time, not least Sam Tomkins, the England captain who misses out today due to injury, and Zak Hardaker, who thrilled Castleford fans in 2017 before his infamous ban.

The fact Hardaker lines up at centre today, though, shows how highly England coach Shaun Wane rates Evalds, who won the Lance Todd Trophy despite playing for the losing side in Tigers’ Challenge Cup final defeat to St Helens in July.

Ready for international bow: Niall Evalds in England training this week. Picture: SWPix

This is England’s first Test match since 2018 and the only one this year while there will be perhaps only two outings in 2022 before the World Cup starts next autumn.

With that in mind, Yorkshireman Evalds – who joined from Salford Red Devils – knows he has to make the most of the opportunity.

“I know Sam (Tomkins) would have been selected if he was fit,” he said.

“He’s Man of Steel and had an outstanding season.

Castleford's Graham Steadman: Made his own Test match memories.

“But it’s an opportunity for me to put down a marker and show what I can do.

“The World Cup is something I’ll be desperate to be involved in.

“There’s so many outstanding full-backs so the competition is tough but that rivalry is good for everyone and I’ll take this as an opportunity to show what I can do.

“I intend to take it with both hands. I’m just so excited for Saturday. I’m very proud. Playing for England is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time now.

“It’s a proud moment for myself and my family to be selected, and I can’t wait.”

Although born in Halifax, Evalds has Latvian heritage.

He conceded: “My brother and me always had in the back of our mind that we could play for Latvia one day.

“But England’s always been the big goal. My grandfather’s passed away, but he kept in touch with a lot of people over there and would always send money back.

“They’d go back to Latvia every so often. Unfortunately, I’ve never been over to catch up with some distant family members. It’s something I hope to do soon.”

Evalds’s international experience consists of playing for England Knights in Papua New Guinea in 2018 and Jamaica the following year.

His progression, then, is further proof that the second-string Knights is working as a concept.

Ahead of his bow in Perpignan, he said: “We’ve talked about not expecting a nice reception from the French crowd.

“They really get behind the Catalans boys there so we’re expecting the same for the national team.

“We’ve all played in atmospheres where the crowd isn’t on your side so it’s nothing new.

“Waney’s big on working hard for each other and doing all the little one percenters that win big games. He’s not over-complicated things; it’s about working hard and doing your job for the team.”

Evalds added: “With Cas, I enjoyed my first year but I think I can do a lot better – and I aim to do that next year.”

If he puts in a big 80 minutes today, he could be in for big year for club and country in 2022.