BIG PROP Liam Watts is coach Daryl Powell’s Castleford Tigers player of the season so far.
Watts, who rejoined his hometown club from Hull a year ago tomorrow, has been in explosive form during Tigers’ strong start to the campaign.
Castleford are second in Betfred Super League and have lost just once in their opening five games ahead of Sunday’s home clash with Salford Red Devils.
Tigers have shrugged off a lengthy injury list – including some key forwards – and Powell reckons Watts’ performances in the middle of the field have been hugely influential.
“If you ask any of our players they will tell you he has been our best so far,” Powell said of the 28-year-old front-rower. “Paul McShane has been exceptional, Peter Mata’utia has been very good at the back and Shenny [Michael Shenton] has been good.
“They have been the stand-outs and out of all that I think everybody would say Liam has been exceptional. His leadership in practice and within games has been really good. He is on top of his game and there isn’t a tougher more durable front-rower around.”
Watts will need to be at his best on Sunday against an on-song Salford team who are fresh from a 46-0 thrashing of Catalans Dragons in Perpignan last week.
“Salford have been a good side for a while – and much better since they started signing with a bit more stability in mind,” Powell warned.
“They have got a really good coach, Ian Watson has done a high-quality job and they tore Catalans apart last week. They have got some quality players and they will really challenge us.”
Both teams like to play expansive rugby, but Powell believes Tigers have reined in some of those instincts in the early part of the campaign.
“We wanted to start the season with a solidity about us,” he said. “The conditions are pretty tough at this time of year and we wanted to approach it a little bit differently.
“It was a deliberate approach in terms of the first month, making sure we are not going after too much. We have tried to have a bit more balance [between attack and defence], but we are looking at times now and saying ‘we need to play a bit more’. It is just about getting that balance right.”
Forward Nathan Massey has agreed a new deal keeping him at the club until the end of 2021.