CAS fan turned Cas player James Clare is “living the dream” after starting both of the first--team pre-season games for the Tigers.
The 20-year-old Townville outside back (pictured) is still pinching himself after being handed a first team squad shirt for the 2012 season and then playing full-back against Bradford and on the wing against Huddersfield.
The rapid progression has surprised the former Lock Lane junior, who was a late starter with the Tigers after missing out on the scholarship teams, but he is determined to make the most of his opportunity.
He told the Express: “To have gone from a long term supporter to playing for the first team means a lot to me.
“It’s normally me stood on the terraces cheering on the team, but to walk out in front of the supporters on Boxing Day was a whole different story.
“Then to have Danny Brough kicking a ball up and I’ve got to catch it against Huddersfield was a pretty nerve-wracking experience.
“I’ve played two games now and have got away without making any mistakes. Ian Millward is very happy with me and I’m looking to play against Wakefield. The game after that obviously is in Super League and it would be a dream come true to play in that.
“My short term goal is to get a Super League game under my belt this year and my long term goal is to get a regular place.
“I probably came into the squad hoping for an injury to get a chance, but Basil (Millward) said there’s no point doing that, you want to be better than anybody else.
“To be honest I thought I would get one of the two pre-season games on the bench or something like that, but to start both has been great.
“My first year with the first team squad is nothing like I expected, but it’s fantastic.
“I’m from Townville, lived here all my life and supported Cas all my life, as has my dad, so it means a lot to play for the team.
“I played for Lock Lane across the road as a junior and did a bit at Featherstone scholarship when I was younger, but to be honest I wasn’t interested and I didn’t get picked up properly until I was 18 or 19 so I missed all the scholarships and things like that.
“I was quite a late developer and very lucky. Credit to Steve Gill. He stuck by me and encouraged me.
“It’s difficult to say what position is my best. I think I’m a better, more skilful winger, but I just enjoy being involved and obviously full-back’s a more dominant role, you’re more hands on and do what you want to do kind of thing.”
Clare is more than hopeful the Cas fans he has shared a terrace with are in for an exciting season.
He said: “The coaching staff’s completely changed, they’ve brought in a lot of stuff and it’s very professional.
“No disrespect to Terry Matterson, who’s a good coach, but talking to people who were in the squad last year the same professionalism wasn’t there that’s there now.
“I think we’re in for a very successful season. I don’t think some people understand just how good the youngsters are that we’ve got.
“People say with Rangi Chase, it’s a one-man team. He’s a tremendous player and I’d never get rid of him, but there’s a lot of other players here who will surprise people.
“Quite a few of the young lads are going to be future England stars definitely. John Davies will surprise a few as well. He got a few chances last year, but he’s going to do well
“I’d say we’ll definitely be top eight and we’ll take our chances in the play-offs.
“We’d like a good cup run again. I was there as a supporter last year in the semi-final and maybe I could be there as a player this time. I’d like to say we’re going to win it, but it entirely depends on the draw. I wouldn’t write us off against any team, though.”
If he is not required for the Tigers first team squad this year, Clare could find himself gaining experience by playing in the Championship as he is on a dual contract with Dewsbury Rams.
He added: “Obviously I want to play for Castleford, but it will be good to get some experience with Dewsbury.
“One of the reasons Steve Gill’s sending me there is to play against men.
“Playing against under 20s is a whole different story. The last two senior games I’ve come away bruised and aching like mad, but I’m living the dream so there you go.
“I know a lot of friends who play in the Championship and it will be nice to play against them.
“Billy Harris, one of our other players, is at Dewsbury at the moment and he’s really enjoying it. He’s going away with all the lads and saying it’s really good to be there.”