I find it interesting that one of the main beneficiaries of this new licensing system that is aiming to fast track expansion is one of the most storied, grandest, traditionalist clubs of all. Cas have already seen gains come out of the licensing system, through not getting relegated at the end of a disappointing return campaign in Super League last year where they finished six points adrift at the bottom. But as well as that, it’s enabled them to keep hold of some of the most promising talents in the game.
Castleford had an odd season last year. For the first month it genuinely crossed people’s minds that they might now be able to win a game, such was the woeful nature of their play. Then they scored probably the upset of the year with a more-than-convincing 38-20 victory over the newly crowned World Club Champions, Leeds Rhinos. In fact, amongst their seven league victories were games against the Rhinos, St Helens and Warrington, which seemed to imply their downfall was a lack of consistency more than anything else. After all, this is a side that conceded 68 points against St Helens one week, only to score 66 against Harlequins the next.
Castlefords points tally for wasn’t all that bad, although it could do with some improvement. There’s fairly good reason to assume that will happen, as their back-line is full of young players who should be much better for a season’s worth of experience under their belts (given the paucity of options for England in the threequarters, look for Michael Shenton to be challenging for international honours this year). What they really need to work on this season is their defence. Castleford last season felt like a team that once you finally broke them down, the floodgates would open. Castleford need to find out how to either a) not get broken down or (more realistically) b) learn how to rally back from adversity.
Realistically, you would have to assume Castleford would be hoping to scrape into the playoffs if things fall into place for them during the season. They probably need to establish momentum early, as the impact of their terrible start ended up dragging down their whole season last year. As long as they’re putting up a fight this season, and if their young talents are performing at a high level, they should be entertaining to watch. Pros: The only way is up. After finishing bottom of Super League last season, the Tigers were nonetheless deemed worthy of being given a Licence for this Brave New World we now live in. They’ve brought in a few interesting names to compliment their current players, included a few young talents that are already pushing for international honours.
Cons: Well, they finished bottom last season and there was a period at the start of the season when people were wondering if they would even win a single game. They finally got their act together, but there’s a massive amount of work to do for Cas to be challenging for a playoff berth.
Coach: Terry Matterson has done a pretty good job with Castleford so far, even allowing for the debacle that was the first half of last season. I’m sure he knows that now is the time for the Tigers to push on.
Captain: Ryan Hudson walks straight into this role after arriving from Huddersfield.
Key Man: I think the combination of Brent Sherwin and Ryan Hudson could prove key to any success for Cas. Hudson has rebounded from his drug suspension to become a dependable presence at Hooker, and if he can provide Sherwin with decent service, and if Sherwin can in turn get his forwards and backs moving around the park, then Cas might just surprise a few people this year.
Young ‘un: There are a few at Cas, but Joe Westerman is the reigning Young Player of the Year, and with the back-row perhaps the biggest disappointment for England at the World Cup, look for him to push for an international start this year.
Wild Card: Sione Faumuina was supposed to become a Harelquin in 2007, a year after being fired from the New Zealand Warriors for misconduct. He never made it here (although he had a cameo for Hull FC the season before) for reasons that were never fully discussed. Hopefully for Cas, he’s got his act together.
Gains: Rangi Chase, Dean Widders, Sione Faumuina, Stuart Jones, Ryan Hudson, James Evans, James Ford, Chris Feather, Kirk Netherton, Brett Ferres
Some solid inclusions and some young Brits from bigger clubs that hopefully will use Cas as a springboard to consistent high -evel performance. Their pack should have more dynamism this year.
Losses: Awen Guttenbeil, Anthony Thackeray, Scott Moore, Luke Dorn, Ned Catic, Adam Fletcher, Stuart Donlan, Peter Lupton, Mark Leafa, Andrew Henderson, Michael Korkidas
A lot of overseas players being released here. Guttenbeil was solid for the Tigers, and they’ll miss Luke Dorn’s tries (if not his erratic creative play and defensive work).