CASTLEFORD Tigers head coach Ian Millward is keen to see which of his players can stake an early claim for a first team shirt in the Boxing Day bash with Bradford Bulls at the Probiz Coliseum.
After naming a mix of established first teamers and inexperienced youngsters in a 21-man squad, Millward believes the traditional festive game offers a great chance for the players involved to impress.
The new Tigers boss would have liked to have been able to call on more senior professionals in the team, but he is still eagerly anticipating his first game in charge of a Castleford team.
He told the Express: “I’m really looking forward to the game. Obviously it’s not the same as a league game, but it should be good.
“It’s a good chance to see some of the younger guys, who are getting an opportunity.
“They’ve been working really hard and a lot of careers are made on these kind of games.
“It gives young players confidence and gives them a chance to earn some credit from their peers.
“It’s a first chance to stake a claim for all the players and there‘s plenty to get out of it.
“We’re happy we’ve got the game. It’s good for everyone I think. It helps finances, but the players are looking for a game too. They’ve been training for a while and will enjoy having a match to play in.
“We’re only resting two players in Rangi Chase and Danny Orr and that’s down to one playing in internationals and with the other we’re just looking after him. Anyone else who is not in the squad has an injury and the problem is that we do have a lot injuries. That’s a legacy of last season.
“I’ll be honest, I wish more players were available and I could pick them.
“But I’m looking forward to seeing the three hookers, Daryl Clark, Adam Milner and Ryan Hudson, play. I want to see the progress of some of our back rowers and I want to see how Steve Nash fares in the game after coming from Leigh.
“I want to see the two other new signings that are playing and see how Oliver Holmes and Lee Mitchell stack up against each other.”
Millward is pleased with the way training is going ahead of the first pre-season game, but admits it has not been easy with a huge injury list that has included Craig Huby, Brett Ferres, Jake Emmitt, Kirk Dixon, Paul Jackson, Joe Arundel, Nick Youngquest, Jonathan Walker and new signing Grant Millington as well as others now recovered.
He said: “Training’s been a bit hampered by the amount of rehabilitation we’ve had with injuries, but it’s moving forward.
“I would have liked to have recruited one or two more people in the outside backs. We’re a little bit vulnerable there, but there’s nothing available at the moment so we just have to move on.
“Aside from the injuries, I’m really happy with the way things are going and happy with the way the staff are going about it. Their attention to detail has been outstanding.”
Millward gave fans a rundown of the injury position at the club and the progress of three players who have undergone surgery.
He explained: “Craig Huby’s knee operation was successful. He had a steel plate taken out and they found some other areas that needed some work done to it, which is a positive in that we were able to nip them in the bud so they won’t reoccur during the year.
“He won’t be back until late March at the earliest.
“Brett Ferres had a knee operation too and it was very successful. We’re really happy with that.
“Paul Jackson had an operation on his hand, which will rule him out of the Boxing Day fixture. But he’s back in training soon.”
Another prop forward, Jonathan Walker, is also a doubt to start the Super League season after he suffered more problems with his knee, but several other players have returned to full-time training.
Millward said: “Jonny Walker went to see the specialist again. We’ve got to work out which way to go with him. Long term he should be right, short term we may have to take a few steps back before we go forward.
“Joe Arundel has got a bit of a problem with his knee so we’re just getting him fixed up at the moment. It’s not a serious injury, but it’s enough to keep him out of the Bradford game. Nick Youngquest is coming back from an Achilles heel problem, which will rule him out for a little while.
“But we’ve got some guys who’ve returned to training. Nathan Massey and Jake Emmitt are back in the squad training and Daryl Clark has returned after a slight injury.
“Obviously you don’t flick a switch and all the injuries disappear, it’s about rebuilding them, protecting them and making sure they are under less vulnerability for a future injury. That’s a process we’re going through at the moment.”
Millward has been impressed by what he has seen from a number of his first team players in pre-season training.
He added: “The injuries are there and we’ve got to deal with it long term and short term, but there’s been some really good performance in training.
“I’ve been really impressed with Richie Owen. His attitude’s been fantastic and his speed will really light up the Probiz Coliseum.
“There’s plenty of others, Ryan McGoldrick for one, who has been really impressing. He’s been very diligent in everything he’s done.
“Some of the back rowers have done well too, Oliver Holmes, Lee Mitchell, Steve Snitch - he’s just come back in after a leg injury and really stepped it up - and Stuart Jones. There’ll be some good competition in the back row.
“But everyone’s attitude is good. They’re going about their business and understand we’ve got a lot of work to do. I can see a lot of potential in the squad. If we can keep this squad together for a few years it will grow and we can be successful together.”
Meanwhile, Castleford Tigers Supporters Club kicks of its 2012 calendar of events on Tuesday, January 10, with the annual general meeting at the Wish Communications Hospitality Suite, at the Probiz Coliseum (7.30pm).
The AGM will feature a review of the accounts for the year 2011 and the election of the CTSC committee for the coming year.
Any CTSC member who wishes to be a member of the committee for 2012 should apply in writing to: The Secretary, Castleford Tigers Supporters Club, PO Box 116, Castleford, West Yorkshire, WF10 3WQ or by email to email@example.com stating what you will bring to the committee in no more than 100 words. Each applicant should be supported by a proposer and a seconder from the membership.