Castleford have become used to moving on without star names

Moving on: Castleford Tigers look like they will have to move on without Zak Hardaker, who was one of their best players in the 2017 season.
Moving on: Castleford Tigers look like they will have to move on without Zak Hardaker, who was one of their best players in the 2017 season.

Denny Solomona, Justin Carney, Daryl Clark, Rangi Chase – big names all and all having to be replaced for one reason or another following stellar seasons with Castleford Tigers.

In recent times barely a year has gone by when Cas have not faced the tough task of replacing a star player.

Now it looks like Zak Hardaker is set to join that list if he gets the expected ban for failing a drugs test.

And yet the club has continued to progress to the extent that they now have a first League Leaders Shield in the trophy cabinet and a first Grand Final appearance notched up.

Any doubters that the Tigers will not be able to cope without Hardaker only need to look back to the start of this year when there were plenty of people questioning whether they would able to replace the 42-try Solomona and the retiring full-back Luke Dorn, who was such an influential attacking player.

Yet more than just replace them, Cas somehow managed to move up a level without two of their biggest stars of 2016 and by common consensus were even better in attack.

Greg Eden and Hardaker were not mere like for like replacements, but proved quality additions with the former unlucky not to beat the try records set by Solomona.

The latter’s walk out on the club to go and play rugby union – and the protracted dispute that followed – could have severely affected morale and team spirit, but was remarkably brushed away as an even better team spirit was forged in pre-season and taken into a 2017 season in which Cas hit the ground running.

Now Daryl Powell and his coaching staff face a similar job to rebuild morale after the Hardaker body blow and subsequent Grand Final defeat.

A little bit of team rebuilding looks necessary as well with Cas set to be more active in the transfer market than they were originally planning perhaps.

Whether they go for a well established full-back to fill the likely Hardaker void will be interesting. It would seem the obvious way to go, but there are no obvious candidates available.

Powell may reckon he already has a full-back in his squad with Eden originally signed to play in that position, as he did in the Grand Final. The team would lose Eden’s brilliant finishing on the wing, however, as a result.

There are other options within the existing squad with Jy Hitchcox also having experience at full-back as he played there for Featherstone Rovers and Ben Roberts capable of switching to full-back - room for this having now been made with the re-signing of Jamie Ellis.

So far just two other signings have been confirmed in back rower Joe Wardle and winger Garry Lo while a lot of experience has been lost with prop Andy Lynch retiring, fellow forwards Larne Patrick and Kevin Larroyer leaving and winger Joel Monaghan going as well.

At the other end of the scale young half-back Tom Holmes has been allowed to join Featherstone and two more promising youngsters, hooker Luke Million and forward Conor Fitzsimmonds have left.

Add in Ben Crooks making his loan move to Leigh permanent and Cas appear to have cleared the decks with some room for manoeuvre should they look to add to their squad.

Fans will be waiting with bated breath for developments in the next few weeks, but the message from the last few years is clear – in Daryl they can trust.