HEAD coach Ian Millward is confident a recharged Castleford Tigers can get their season back on track in the next few weeks after putting their unexpected week off to good use.
A weekend without a game, caused by the fourth round Challenge Cup exit has allowed players to get re-focused and allowed time for key squad members to regain fitness to play against Widnes Vikings at the Probiz Coliseum tomorrow (Monday, 2.05pm kick-off).
Millward expects full-back Richard Owen and goalkicking outside back Kirk Dixon (pictured) to be fit again after they picked up injuries against Featherstone then missed the Warrington game while winger Nick Youngquest, who was knocked out in the opening minutes of the Super League match at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, is also expected to have recovered in time to face Widnes.
Cas will still be without the suspended Rangi Chase, injured centre Joe Arundel and prop Paul Jackson, who is still about two weeks away from a return, but the coach is pleased to be picking more from strength this week.
Millward told the Express: “We were all extremely disappointed with what happened at Featherstone and I felt the loss knocked our confidence around a bit too for the next game. We had a lot of disruptions in the Warrington game and they were pretty hot, but the week off’s been good for us to recharge our batteries mentally and physically and get a couple of players fit.
“I’m confident we can turn our form back around. The players are working very hard and we should get back to the way we were playing.
“We’ll definitely have Kirk Dixon back and I’m pretty confident Richie Owen and Nick Youngquest will also be available.
“They started training again this week and we’re hopeful of having them back for Monday. With the the game not being until then it allows us a lot of scope.
“It is important to get them back because we’re very short on outside backs. We’re also in a situation at the moment where we don’t have any centres so once we lose a back it really builds up for us.
“Some of the guys who’ve been put in have been vulnerable because of their lack of experience so it’s really key for us to get players back.
“Just about everyone apart from Paul Jackson in the forwards is available. He’s had a nasty injury and he’s worked very hard, but he’s still two weeks away.
“It’s good to have Craig Huby back. He played in the under 20s the other day to help build up and he just needs time after he’s been out for 12 months.
“It’s good to get some competition in the front row. But forwards we’ve got enough of, it’s outside backs and we’ve got second row forwards playing in the centres, that’s where we’re vulnerable and it’s showing sometimes in our consistency there.”
Millward admitted filling the centre positions had been a problem, especially since Arundel picked up his shoulder injury, but there were no easy fixes with no top class players available to bring in from other clubs.
He said: “There’s no-one available at centre, there’s no-one forthcoming, we’ve got to look at that for 2013. For 2012 we need to get on with the players we’ve got and come up with band aid solutions for the rest of the year, that’s just a fact.
“We only have one centre in our whole organisation and that’s Joe Arundel and he’s currently out injured and probably will be for a fair while.
“As much as we’d like to say let’s go out and buy him, him, him and that there’s no good centres available at this stage of the year.
“We are being very pro-active in the market for 2013 and we know we need some outside backs. We’ve got a lot of players coming off contract.
“If Danny Orr retires there’s got to be a half-back purchase and there’s a couple of areas I’d like to strengthen.
“We need to give the guys playing at the moment a chance, but we have to keep one eye that we have to be very active - not looking, we have to be active.
“We don’t want to get caught in the bargaining with the bigger clubs because we might get out shot in that area.”
The return of Dixon will go some way towards solving the centre problem for Monday’s game against Widnes when Millward believes his team face a defensive challenge against opponents who have at times racked up some big scores.
The Vikings have lacked consistency since their promotion back to the top flight, but in among several thrashings they have scored 38 points against St Helens, 38 against London and 37 in beating Wigan.
“Widnes are scoring points and they’ve got some talented players,” said Millward.
“They’ve won a couple of games and will be looking to add to that when they come to Castleford. We will have to play well to beat them.
“The big thing with us is that we just need to get back to the way we were playing.
“Before the Featherstone game our form was good. If you go back to Hull, Hull KR, Wakefield, St Helens it was all good and we need to continue on that upward spiral and the way we were moving forward.
“I was happy with the way we were progressing. Our performances in the four games before the cup game were satisfactory and encouraging.
“Our next one against Featherstone obviously created a lot of disappointment, but life goes on.
“Everyone’s going to have blips and we’ve certainly had one, but there’s plenty of games to play and we’ve got plenty of wins in us.
“We’ve just got to keep working really hard in training and if we do that the rewards will come.
“Our season’s not finished yet. If we can get back to the good things we were doing then there’s good days ahead.”