Castleford Tigers boss Daryl Powell admits to being excited by what his team can achieve in 2017.
Ahead of tomorrow’s opening Super League game anticipation level in the town is at its highest for some years and Powell believes his team are ready to live up to the expectations.
“The squad looks good, it’s got depth and ability in all positions,” he said.
“We’re really good at half-back and full-back, really key positions. Our nines look great and our pack has got a multitude of skills, it’s big, it’s athletic, it’s skilful and we can play different ways by slotting people into different positions.
“I think we’ve got a stronger squad, but the squad that was in place has matured as well.
“There’s been a couple of key players depart for different reasons, but we’ve recruited well on the back of that.
“We’ve also got players improving all the time. The Mike McMeeken you saw last year is a little bit better so is Greg Minikin. We’ve got Rangi Chase, who looks a lot fitter and is in a good place.
“We’ve got Michael Shenton back in fresh and Ben Roberts and Andy Lynch who didn’t play much last year so there’s three fresh players there. They should make a huge difference and we’ve already seen the significant impact that Michael has on the team from a leadership perspective for instance.
“If you look at the whole picture there’s a different mentality to defence and as we roll through the challenges we face we’ll see if we can be really durable with that, which is the plan. Hopefully we are a much better team than we were last year.”
While confidence in the Tigers camp is good, Powell expects his players to face a huge test in the opening match against a Leigh Centurions team sure to be pumped up at their Super League return.
He said: “Newly promoted teams are notoriously difficult to play first up.
“Leigh are a dangerous team. They showed that in the Middle 8s when they beat all their Super League teams apart from Leeds.
“We know it will be a difficult game. The only more dangerous game than this for us would be Leigh away.
“When the fixtures were coming out I said you don’t want to be going to Leigh first game. It’s a tough game we have, but we are at home, which is obviously a benefit to us.”
Castleford are likely to stick to the 17 players who played in the last pre-season game at St Helens, although hooker Adam Milner and half-back Ben Roberts are available after injury ruled them out of the warm-up.
Powell explained: “The team picks itself at the moment and it will be really strong.
“We’ve got a couple of injuries to Oli Holmes and Larne Patrick that will take a while to get right, but everyone else is available.
“Adam Milner will train again this week and we’ll have a look at him and see where he’s at.
“He’s certainly very close, but he hasn’t done the amount of training that we would have liked him to. I would have wanted him to play in our last game, but he just wasn’t quite ready. His injury flared up a little bit when we were in camp.
“He’s in the 19-man squad, but whether he rolls into the 17 we will see.
“It’s not ideal that he hasn’t played in any of the pre-season games, but Ridyard hasn’t played too much for Leigh and there’s potential that he’s going to take the field.
“Players can do it, but it’s not ideal.
“Ben Roberts is good to go. Unfortunately he had 21 stitches in his mouth when we were in Lanzarote. I wanted him to play against St Helens, but that took him out. It was disappointing for him, but he’s ready now and he’s looking sharp. He just came through in training and caught Jake Webster’s elbow.
“His teeth went through his mouth so it wasn’t great, but he’s okay now.”