AFTER SPENDING most of the past year on the casualty list, Frankie Mariano made an instant impact in his Castleford Tigers return.
Mariano, 29, scored a crucial try just moments after coming off the substitutes’ bench in the 38-24 win over Catalans Dragons two days ago, which confirmed Tigers’ place in the First Utility Super-8s.
“It is great to be back,” Mariano said of his game-turning comeback. “The fans welcomed me back really well and I got a try with my first touch of the ball, so it was really good. To finish the game off and play the full second half was tough on the lungs, but I am glad I got through the game. It was nice to walk away with no pains and to have that confidence that nothing is niggling any more.
“I’ll roll on for next week now and then I can’t wait for the eights to kick in. I want to crack on in the eights, get as much game time as I can to get my fitness up and then get stuck into pre-season.”
Knee and wrist injuries restricted the former Hull KR and Wakefield second-rower to just five games last year. He then suffered a quad injury on Tigers’ pre-season training camp which meant he missed the start of the 2016 campaign.
Mariano eventually made his comeback as a substitute away to Warrington Wolves in March, but the injury curse struck again. He said: “It was my knee again. Something else went inside the knee, which is totally different to what I did the first time. We thought the same injury had come back, but it hadn’t – it was a different ligament that tore, but I had to have another operation.
“I’ve had three operations in one year, which is not good, but I am back strong now.”
Mariano, who initially returned on dual-registration with Batley Bulldogs, described the past year as “tough”. He said: “It has been tough mentally as well, not being on the training field and just watching all the time or being in the gym. Now I am at the end of it, it is like all the hard work has paid off. The team have been amazing with me. All the coaching staff and physios have been outstanding.”
Of Sunday’s team performance, Mariano said: “It was a bit scrappy, but we got the win which was the main thing. We wanted to be higher on the table, everyone was aiming for the top-four, but credit to the boys who’ve stepped in and covered different positions when all the injuries kicked in.
“Like Rocky [Ryan Hampshire] – he played [on Sunday] and was outstanding. That’s the story of our season, everyone has put their hand up when needed. We are in a decent place now, so we just want to finish the season strong.”