Written by Callum Walker
Before the 2019 Super League season began, the majority of Castleford fans were calling for backline recruits. Kiwi veteran Jake Webster and flying Aussie winger Jy Hitchcox had departed, yet, head coach Daryl Powell refused – or was unable – to bring in replacements.
The only signing that made his way through the Jungle doors in the off-season was halfback Jordan Rankin – an emergency recruit to fill the void left by the injured Luke Gale, Ben Roberts and Jamie Ellis. And, despite the Tigers gaining dispensation on the salary cap for the loss of Gale, no centre or winger was snapped up.
The fact that there are very few quality three-quarters on the market at this stage of the year is no excuse; an off-season is there to shape your squad for the year ahead. The Tigers did exactly the same before the 2018 season. Fullback Zak Hardaker left the club under a cloud, but Powell refused to delve into the transfer market and, only did so, in late July 2018 – nearly a year after the problem had first arisen in the build-up to the 2017 Grand Final.
The fullback signed – Peter Mata’utia – has since fitted in extremely well and has been one of Castleford’s most consistent performers in the opening rounds of Super League. Before the former Leigh man joined, however, eight different players tried their hand at fullback for the Tigers in 2017 – Ben Roberts, Jake Trueman, Michael Shenton, James Clare, Greg Eden, Calum Turner and Quentin Laulu-Togaga’e. A repeat in the centre position for 2018 may well be on the horizon.
It’s not like Daryl Powell and director of rugby Jon Wells have not had time; Webster’s deal with Bradford was announced in August. But, Powell put his faith in Greg Minikin and James Clare on Castleford’s right edge – a decision which cost the Tigers dearly in their 24-10 loss to Warrington.
Warrington’s 16-4 lead at half-time was largely down to Castleford’s pitiful defending. For Warrington’s first try – in the 21st minute – Greg Minikin shot out of the line, leaving a huge gap for Jake Mamo to take a cut-out pass. Seven minutes later and Mamo and the Wolves had their second. This time, James Clare failing to slide in defence gave Mamo an easy run to the line.
If the first two tries had not convinced Powell to change things at half-time then Warrington’s third certainly did. Jack Hughes this time bundled through some very soft tackling by Minikin and Jordan Rankin after the Tigers failed to deal with a high kick.
Powell’s obvious disgust in the stands led to Clare being hauled off and London-born Tuoyo Egodo taking the centre spot with Minikin pushed out to the wing – a tactic which evidently worked as the Tigers conceded just once in the second-half down their left edge whilst Minikin scored a try.
No matter what the staunchest of supporters say, this was Castleford’s first real test and they failed. Home fixtures against Catalans and Hull KR and away matches at Hull FC and London were not exactly the most difficult. And, it does not get any easier with St Helens, Leeds and Wigan coming up after the Tigers host Salford next Sunday.
The right centre and wing problem was obvious before the season even started, yet stubbornness or lack of funds – perhaps both – left the Tigers floundering against Warrington. If Castleford and Powell want a real shot at silverware in 2019, then something needs to be done. The Minikin-Clare partnership clearly doesn’t work.
The only two viable replacements at present are Egodo and Alex Foster, but Foster is much better in the pack and Egodo is still only 22. Krisnan Inu is currently without a club after being released by Widnes following their financial difficulties whilst the Vikings’ Anthony Gelling is a tremendous player on his day. This isn’t a knee-jerk reaction, it’s a response to a failing that could have been avoided months ago.