THE start of the new Super League season is still around two months away but Castleford Tigers head coach Daryl Powell has seen enough to suggest his club is ready to embark on a “real special era.”
They have undoubtedly made significant progress since the former Great Britain centre took over in May, 2013, reaching the Challenge Cup the following year and also claiming their best Super League finish of fourth.
They narrowly missed out on repeating the latter this year, coming in fifth and, therefore, just missing out on the play-offs.
However, Castleford have made some fine signings for 2016, such as prolific Warrington Wolves winger Joel Monaghan and Ben Crooks, the former Hull FC centre, who was named Super League’s finest young player just two years ago.
The news earlier this week that captain Michael Shenton, the England centre, has also signed a new long-term deal at Wheldon Road has further strengthened Powell’s view that the traditionally unheralded club is continuing to move in the right direction.
“Hopefully, it’s the beginning of a real special era for Castleford Tigers,” he said.
“I certainly get a great feeling at the moment, the way players are working, and I can’t see why we can’t be seen as one of the top-four clubs in the competition.
“It’s a big challenge but something we should be aiming for.
“It’s great that Shenny’s re-signed and we’ve had a raft of players recently commit their futures to the club.
“We’re working through the other guys at the moment who are off contract at the end of next year so I think it’s a real statement that this is a club people want to be at. They enjoy coming here to work, enjoy playing in front of the amazing support we’ve got and the future is bright.
“The new stadium is on the horizon and the future of the club has never been in a better position.
“To cap that off is going out and winning something. I think that’s the next step for us. It’s a tough challenge but one this squad is capable of achieving.”
Castleford proved they were no one-season wonders last term even though many onlookers thought, with the loss of Man of Steel Daryl Clark to Warrington and scrum-half Marc Sneyd to Hull FC they would struggle to repeat those sterling efforts of 2014.
“People talked us about us losing players and said we’d brought in quantity rather than quality,” said Powell.
“The year before we’d lost Rangi Chase, too, but we’ve shown we can help support players to improve and that makes you a force if you can do that.
“We’ve shown it wasn’t a one-off in 2014. We were pretty strong again this year – not quite where we wanted to be – but we’ve got a great chance now to kick on.
“The new players have bedded in and that will really help us to go after teams in 2016.
“I just think we have as good a chance as anyone across all competitions.”
The final piece of Castleford’s recruitment for next season is Jy Hitchcox, the Australian utility-back who signed a fortnight ago.
He played Championship rugby with nearby Featherstone Rovers last season and arrived back in the country this week to start pre-season training at Wheldon Road.
Powell admitted: “He’s a little bit unknown. I’ve watched him play, seen some video footage and he’s very sharp with great feet, very strong and has a bit of instinct for the game.
“He beats people for fun. He’s got a fair bit of work to do physically but if he can do that he will be challenging.
“He could be a bit of a bolter for me, someone who comes in, and provides something people don’t know what to expect from and that’s very exciting for us.”