Written by Callum Walker
All Castleford fans know just how damaging the absence of an experienced fullback can be to a team’s prospect of silverware.
Following Zak Hardaker’s indiscretion in the week leading up to the 2017 Grand Final, head coach Daryl Powell has tried and failed to rekindle the same type of attacking threat and defensive prowess that the current Wigan star brought to the side.
With Jordan Rankin’s arrival midway through 2019, the problems at the back – and at halfback following the injury to Luke Gale – were largely alleviated with the ex-Hull FC man providing a great attacking outlet as well as comfort under the high ball. But, the utility back’s departure due to the current coronavirus pandemic has left Powell and the Tigers back to square one.
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Salford’s Niall Evalds has apparently signed for 2021 and beyond – according to a number of media outlets though not the Tigers themselves – but there seems to be little truth in the rumours that he will be joining Castleford early for the rest of this season.
The Red Devils have acted quickly to replace Evalds with Frenchman Morgan Escare on his way on a three-year deal, but it’s to be believed that deal won’t tempt the Lancashire club to part with Evalds for any less than they feel he is worth.
Castleford fans, however, have been calling for the Salford man to join early, particularly if the club do not want a repeat of 2018 when no less than seven men tried their hand at fullback – Ben Roberts, Jake Trueman, James Clare, Michael Shenton, Calum Turner, Greg Eden and Quentin Laulu-Togaga’e.
Powell’s comments last week did little to inspire hope that the number one issue would be solved before the season started up again, pointing to the likes of Clare, Eden and Turner trying their hand there during training. One little ray of sunshine, however, may well be the reference to 17-year-old sensation Bailey Hodgson – nephew of Canberra’s talisman Josh Hodgson.
— Castleford Tigers (@CTRLFC) July 29, 2020
The teenager has a very bright future ahead of him and is already being touted as one of the most exciting prospects in Super League so it will be interesting to see whether Powell brings him into the reckoning. That old saying, if you are good enough, you are old enough could well ring true, though it’s unlikely a 17-year-old would be up to the rigours of two fixtures a week.
As it stands, however, the Tigers do not have a recognised fullback in the midst. That could well be the difference between missing out on silverware again or finally winning a trophy.