CASTLEFORD Tigers head coach Ian Millward is preparing his players for what he thinks will be one of their toughest matches of the season when they go to Perpignan to face Catalan Dragons tomorrow (Saturday).
Millward (pictured) was hugely impressed by the Dragons when he went to watch them in their only Stobart Super League game so far - a 34-12 victory over a Bradford Bulls side that in turn defeated Cas at the Probiz Coliseum last Sunday.
The Tigers boss is expecting Catalan to continue their improvement from the second half of last year and challenge strongly for a top four finish and a possible Grand Final spot in 2012.
While they will not have their usual hot weather advantage of later in the season they may be even more dangerous for Castleford to face at this time as they will be fresher, having had their intended home game with Hull FC postponed last weekend due to a frosty pitch, while the Tigers players have had to battle it out on two heavy pitches.
Cas hoping to get some training in before tomorrow afternoon’s game and coach Millward is looking forward to the benefits of his first trip away with the team.
He told the Express: “Hopefully it will warm up and we’ll find some better conditions. It will be a good trip for us and good for team bonding to get away for a few days.
“But it’s going to be a very tough game. I think Catalan are a genuine top four team.
“I’ve been very impressed with their recruitment and their size and they’ll be very hard to beat.
“Their hooker Ian Henderson is outstanding, but all across the park they have some quality players.
“Their whole size makes them hard to beat and I was very impressed with them when I saw them play at Bradford.
“They will come into the game very fresh. Leon Pryce will be fit and ready to go in his debut there and we are going to have to play really well. It will be a good test for us.“
Millward is resisting the temptation to make changes despite the defeat to the Bulls, although he expects to have back row forward Steve Snitch available again after injury ruled him out of the first two Super League games.
He said: “I think I will be picking the same 17 from last week, but I’ll include Steve Snitch in our squad. He’s returned from injury and we’ll see how we go from there.
“He had a shoulder injury that he picked up in the pre-season game against Huddersfield, but has been making good progress.
“The next game or the one after were hoping to have Grant Millington available as well. We’re not far off, but we’re not too sure yet which game he can come in for.
“We’re having complications with Paul Jackson and he may be out for longer.
“James Grehan is coming along well and hopefully down the track we can give him a run. I put him in the 19 last week, but the Catalan game is not one to throw him in for.
“Ryan Hudson’s been off sick for the last few days with a bug. He hasn’t trained all week and was off late last week so he won’t be available.
“But everyone from the 17 that played against Bradford got through okay. There’s a few bumps and bruises, but nothing that will keep any of them out of the game.”
Millward admits he is still finding out about the players at his disposal, but he is happy with the effort shown by all of them and did not think they were far off making it two wins from two against Bradford.
He added: “I’m not sure where my team’s at yet. I’m like a horse trainer that has come into a stable full of horses trying to work out the best way to train them and get them going.
“But there were a lot of positives to come out of Sunday’s game. There wasn’t much in the game.
“Defensively we were good around the ruck area, we made more running metres than them and we only missed eight tackles all game, which is very low.
“It was frustrating that we had so many chances, but we’ll learn from that. It’s great that we’re making chances.
“Everyone had some good parts about them and everyone tried very hard. We weren’t far off the pace and there was a lot of things I was impressed with.”
The kick off time for tomorrow’s game at Catalan has been brought forward to 3.30pm (local time) at the request of the home team to eliminate the risk of a frozen pitch.