Written by John Davidson
Photo by Matthew Merrick
Castleford director of rugby Jon Wells has defended the Tigers’ lack of activity in the transfer market in the off-season, and says the likes of Leeds and Warrington needed to bring big-name players in while his club didn’t.
Castleford signed Liam Watts from Hull FC and Peter Mata’uita from Leigh during the 2018 campaign, but have made no further signings for 2019. Former Hull KR forward Chris Clarkson is currently on trial at the club.
The Tigers have faced some criticism for this stance, from their own fans and others, especially with marquee players in Trent Merrin and Blake Austin arriving from the NRL at the Rhinos and Wolves respectively.
But Wells is happy with the players already at Daryl Powell’s disposal and with the depth of the squad of 31 at the Jungle.
“We’ve received quite a lot of raised eyebrows about the lack of transfer movement at the Tigers,” he said.
“Well my answer to that would be those are the clubs that needed to spend money. Leeds in particular have needed to rebuild their club from the ground up.
“Tyrone Roberts was I don’t think the signing that they he was, and Warrington needed to ante up and provide those Warrington fans, now they’ve made two major finals in 2018 and walked away with nothing – they needed to make changes.
“We’re a club that’s come from a lower base that’s building steadily and resolutely. I think we have a very, very good squad here.”
A flood of NRL players have arrived in Super League for 2019 with Merrin and Austin joined by Tui Lolohea, Konrad Hurrell, Akiula Uate, Matt Frawley, Kane Linnett, Lachlan Coote, Kevin Naiqama and Joseph Paulo. There has been a push from Super League office for more stars and marquee names to help boost the competition.
“The overseas imports are noticeably different this year,” Wells admits.
“There’s an awful lot of those big clubs have really ponied up this year. They’ve really put their money where their mouth is.
“I’m intrigued by Leeds. God knows the conversations that Gary Hetherington and Kevin Sinfield have been having, because from what I can gather from the outside looking in, having been a fan, a player, a Sky pundit and now an administrator, it’s probably at odds with Gary’s philosophy.
“There’s some magnificent stars in there. Blake Austin’s been a terrific signing.
“Trent Merrin and Tui Lolohea, a player we showed quite a bit of interest in last year, and Konrad Hurrell will be stars for Leeds. Kane Linnett at Hull KR, I’m a big fan of his.”
Castleford are expecting to be without Luke Gale for most or all of the season after he suffered a suspected ACL rupture in training. Wells said the club has not decided yet on whether it look to bring in a replacement halfback for the upcoming season.
“Luke is seeing a specialist today (Tuesday)… but it’s a fairly serious injury. We’re pretty gutted for him, he’ll be sorely missed,” the 40-year-old said.
“It was just a freak training incident, really nothing we could have foreseen. It’s a big loss for not only us, but for rugby and Super League as a whole.
“But we have a lot of options [in the current squad]. We don’t as a club have a marquee player, it doesn’t fit with Daryl’s philosophy. He likes a big squad.
“We’ll be drawing on those resources again. Jamie Ellis is the next cab off the rank, Benny Roberts has a vast amount of halves experience, Cory Aston played particularly well in the festive fixture, as did young Jake Sweeting.
“So we’re not short of options in the halves. If it is decided we need to go into the [transfer] market then that’s something we’ll address when that time comes.
“We would go the RFL and seek salary cap relief if Luke was ruled out for the season. Then we’d looking to get a replacement, but as I said, there’s a lot more options on the table now as it stands.”