Back row star Oliver Holmes finally feels free of injury and is raring to go for Castleford Tigers for the start of the Betfred Super League season.
Holmes, 25, has had much of the last two campaigns wrecked by injury, but following an operation on his troublesome knee last year he is back to full fitness now and feeling the benefit of a full pre-season.
He told the Express: “I’m feeling good. I’m enjoying pre-season for the first time in a long time.
“I’m injury free. As much as I’ve said that in interviews over the past two years I am genuinely injury free now.
“I’ve been training properly with the boys for a good two months now, there’s been no hiccups whatsoever and I’ve got through it.
“This is the time of year when it’s probably hardest on your body, so it’s good I’ve come through that.
“It was good to get a fair few minutes under my belt in the Featherstone game. “Obviously we didn’t have the result we wanted, but Boxing Day games aren’t entirely about the result. There were a lot of younger players and new players out there, but it was good to get out and get some minutes.
“We said before the game it was going to be tough. They had a full squad out and it is a local derby as well. No matter if it’s a league game, a cup tie or a friendly with Fev it’s always going to be a tough game.”
Holmes spoke of how frustrating it was for him on the sidelines having to watch his team-mates for much of the last two seasons.
He said: “It’s been a horrible two years with injury for me. I’ve got through it the best I could and pushed it as hard as I could really, but now after having that operation mid-season last year it has done me wonders for what I’ve got now.
“I managed to get the back end of last year in and it was good obviously to play in a Grand Final, but to get a proper pre-season under my belt now for the first time in maybe three or four years will be a lot better for me going forward.
“It was a little bit of a recurring injury, but it was something we missed. I’d got a couple of fragments of bone that were stuck in the back of my patella tendon that had been there for seven or eight years.
“It had never really caused me trouble until the last couple of years, but the surgeon went in and pulled them out and I’m back to being normal I guess.”
Holmes acknowledged he faces increased competition for his place in the team with new signing Joe Wardle, England man Mike McMeeken and Alex Foster all vying for his back row position, as well as Jesse Sene-Lefao who is also capable of playing there.
He said: “Joe Wardle’s come in and Powelly’s obviously brought him in because he didn’t know where I was going to be with my knee – and neither did I until pre-season.
“Powelly’s done what he sees fit and brought in Joe, who’s a back rower and a top quality player.
“There’s a lot of people in that back row position trying to get in for the starting spots so I’ve just got to train well, do as well as I can in the friendlies and see what happens.
“It is good to have competition. Powelly likes to have it and it drives standards up higher and higher.
“You’ve got to be on top of it because if you are out there’s someone else who can come in and do a good job.”
Holmes believes it will be tougher for the Tigers to run away with the league as they did last year.
He added: “Teams aren’t going to be surprised by us now because the last couple of years we have been there or thereabouts.
Teams are going to be coming after us this year and we’ve got to be ready for it. Possibly it will be harder this year.
“Looking at the squads this year it’s hard to pick a top eight. You’ve got to be on your game every week.
“But we’re 100 per cent confident we can have another good season.
“We haven’t had a big change round in personnel. We’ve got a few additions that Powelly thinks can add something to the squad and it’s big enough, we’ve got strength in depth that has treated us well in previous years.
“You need that strength these days with the pace of the game and how harsh it is on your body.
“I don’t see why we can’t do anything different to last year, but one better.”