CASTLEFORD Tigers are feeling positive ahead of an exciting start to the 2012 Super League season at the brand new Salford City Stadium on Saturday.
The Sky Sports televised opener will mark a number of debuts as it will be the first competitive game in charge of the Tigers for head coach Ian Millward and it will see him return to the Super League after five years away while opponents Salford City Reds are playing at their new venue for the first time in Super League.
The hosts are out to make it a big occasion, but Millward is happy to start with a big game and pleased with how preparations have been going.
Although he will have to start without at least five first team squad members confidence remains high among the players as the Tigers set out to try to better their ninth place finish of the last two years.
“We’re ready to go,” Millward told the Express.
“Everyone’s excited about the start. Technically pre-season’s finished and we’re into the season now. Preparations are going well, we’ve had a good pre-season and everyone’s positive. Confidence is good.
“We know we’re not the finished article and we know we’re going to have some good days and some days where we feel like we could do better, but we’re looking forward to the journey ahead.
“Every coach will tell you they wished they had a couple more weeks, especially for myself as I’m only getting to know some of the players and they are getting to know me. But I’ve been really pleased with everyone’s attitude and time will tell what we have to do to move forward.
“I’ve been a career coach so I’m used to coaching, but it’s nice to be back in Super League. It was nice to go back to Australia too. I’m probably looking at the bigger picture from Saturday’s game than about me as coach. My focus is on the progress of the players.”
Millward admitted to having one or two tricky selection problems ahead of the opening game, but explained that all the players who feature will be fully fit.
Five senior players would definitely not make it after failing to recover from long term injuries that have kept them out of pre-season matches, but there was a chance of a return for prop Jonathan Walker after his surprise late inclusion in the under 20s team at York last Sunday.
Millward said: “Everyone who’s been playing and is fit to go will be in the 19.
“Craig Huby, Grant Millington, Paul Jackson, Steve Snitch and Nick Youngquest are definitely out. They haven’t recovered from their injuries, but all the other guys are fit.
“Jonny Walker had some short minutes against York at the weekend and it was good to have him back. He will add some size to us.
“He came through it okay and the game gave him some confidence coming back from his knee injury.
“But I’ll have to have a look at him in training this week and see the medical people before deciding if he will make the team.
“We are being careful with him after the problems he’s had with his knee, but the specialist said he could have a hit-out last weekend.
“As I’ve said all along I won’t pick anyone unless they’re definitely fit and under no threat of picking up further injury.
“There will be some tricky decisions. We’ve got three hookers and have to bring it down to two so it’s going to be tough on whoever misses out.
“The choice with who to go on the wing is difficult as well. Josh Griffin has been going well in the centres, Kirk Dixon’s been doing well so we’ll have to work out what we do there.
“There’s some competition among the back rowers. Brett Ferres is ready and available for selection, but Oliver Holmes and Lee Mitchell have done very well in pre-season.”
Millward ruled out a Super League debut for new Australian signing James Grehan, but declared himself pleased with the player’s performance against York last Sunday when he marked his first game in Cas colours with a second half try.
He said: “We’re happy with James Grehan’s performance at York. It put him in contention, but I don’t think he’ll make it. He’s probably not quite ready yet.”
Castleford are expecting a difficult test against a Salford side pumped up to mark their big home game game with a victory and Millward believes his side will have to play well to emerge with the points.
He added: “It will be extremely tough to start at Salford with their new stadium and all that goes with that. I hope it’s a big crowd because it creates a great atmosphere and our players can enjoy that.”
Millward said: “It’s a big occasion for Salford. It’s been a long time coming to move into a new stadium and hopefully we’ll get the same experience in a couple of years’ time.
“I don’t think it will give us any worries about playing on a ground we’ve never played on before. It will be more of a worry for them than us..”
“Salford have some key players we’ll need to deal with like Holdsworth, who’s been a good six for them and Smith, a good seven.
“They’ve played together for a while so they are obviously a threat along with Patten, who’s their other major player.
“They’ve threatened to improve for a year or two and will test us. It should be a good game.
“But we’re just focussing on our performance and we understand that we’ve got to improve to do well. We feel confident we can do that.”
Tigers’ under 20s star Ben Johnson is likely to be out of action for six to eight weeks after the scrum-half damaged ligaments in his fibia bone in the game at York.