CASTLEFORD players will be aiming to impress head coach Ian Millward ahead of the new Super League season when the Tigers take on Huddersfield Giants in the second of their pre-season matches at the Probiz Coliseum tonight (8pm).
With places in the starting line-up for next month’s first league match up for grabs, Millward is looking for a big performance and he has picked his strongest available line-up.
Several players return from injury after missing the first pre-season game against Bradford on Boxing Day and the Cas team will be led by Danny Orr, who will resume his half-back partnership with Man of Steel Rangi Chase.
Kirk Dixon and Joe Arundel are other additions to the back division from the first game, while new signing Josh Griffin will be out to build on his impressive two-try debut at centre against the Bulls and promising youngster James Clare has been handed another chance to stake a claim with a place on the wing.
Ryan McGoldrick starts at full-back with Richard Owen on the bench as he is still recovering from a back injury.
In the forwards, Ryan Hudson comes in at hooker and Jake Emmitt has been declared fit and will be substitute prop. With four other front rowers sidelined it will be fingers crossed that the former St Helens man comes through his comeback unscathed.
All 22 players named in the squad will get a run out and Millward is confident that Huddersfield will provide his team with the test they need at this stage of their preparations.
He told the Express: “We are still trying to work out what our best team will be and the next two friendly games will determine that.
“Friday’s game will give me a chance to see how we are. Everyone who is fit is selected.
“It’s the strongest team we can pick for this game and we’re looking for a strong performance.
“We think Huddersfield’s a great side to play at this stage because they are genuinely now a top six or top four team and they throw a lot at you in attack so will test us defensively.
“This is an area we’ve got to improve after averaging close to 30 points against last season.
“This game will tell us a little bit more for the final 17 for the Wakefield game and that will get us pretty close to the first game at Salford.
“Preparations have been going well and we’ve got two players who have been out long term in Jake Emmitt and Kirk Dixon, Jake with his knee and Kirk his shoulder. It’s fantastic to have these two guys back.
“Joe Arundel and Ryan Hudson are also back from injury. Joe’s done all right in training. He’s a young player with a good future and he’s fit again after a bit of a knee injury that kept him out of the Bradford game.
“Richard Owen is returning from a back injury and will be on the bench. He’s doing okay, but we just can’t give him long minutes, it’s got to be steady, steady with him.
“From a medical point of view we’ve had to try to rebuild all their bodies. We’ve had too many injuries and too many players susceptible to injury and that’s been one of our criteria to try to reinforce. It doesn’t happen overnight, it takes a little while.”
Millward is looking forward to seeing what 19-year-old loan signing Ryan Shaw has to offer alongside the Tigers’ own promising youngsters Clare and Josh Atkinson, who has been rewarded with a place on the bench following his well taken try double against Bradford.
He said: “We’ve got quite a young squad when you look at it, but there’s a great opportunity for more youngsters.
“I’ve picked the young guys who played well on Boxing Day and kept them in the squad.
“They will get more minutes against Huddersfield and James Clare will actually start the game, which is a reward for him.
“Ryan Shaw will play in both friendlies and we’ll determine what we’re going to do with him after that.
“This will be a good chance to have a look at him. He’s got genuine speed and has been impressive in training, but we want to see whether he can handle the demands of Super League competition.
“Josh Atkinson will get another opportunity after he did well on Boxing Day. He showed some good attributes and I’m interested to see how he goes again.
“The rest of the under 20s will play at Gateshead on Sunday. No-one will double up.”
Six first teamers are still on their way back from injury and look unlikely to play a part in any of the pre-season fixtures. Millward has already ruled two of them out of the opening Super League match at Salford while the others are racing against time to be ready.
He said: “Anyone who is not picked for the Huddersfield game is still a long term injury and obviously may struggle to be around for the first Super League game.
“Craig Huby and Nick Youngquest definitely won’t be ready for the first Super League game. Paul Jackson is still a little bit off and Grant Millington, Brett Ferres and Jonny Walker - unfortunately many of them are front rowers so we are short of numbers in this position.
“But it’s great to have Jake Emmitt back. He’s worked very hard and trained really well.
“I’m very impressed with the way he is going about his business.
“Jake now lives with our physio Ben Stirling. They were both working together on his recovery before he (Stirling) joined us at the start of pre season. Obviously each injury is different, but this is a major reason why we have been able to fast track him a little bit. It’s a credit to both of them that Jake is ready as early as our second friendly.
“All the other guys are progressing well and will be back in February some time, except Craig Huby, who’s more likely to be April.”
The Tigers squad for the Huddersfield game:
1 McGoldrick; 2 Clare, 3 Griffin, 4 Arundel, 5 Dixon; 6 Chase, 7 Orr; 8 Nash, 9 Hudson, 10 Massey, 11 Holmes, 12 Snitch, 13 Jones; 14 Mitchell, 15 Emmitt, 16 Shaw, 17 Davies, 18 Atkinson, 19 Thompson, 20 Owen, 21 Milner, 22 Clark.
Tickets for the match are £13 (adults) and £6 (juniors/concessions).
Richard Owen is eligible to play tonight after admitting a breach of the club’s code of conduct at a disciplinary hearing last week.
The full-back, who recently signed a four-year contract with the Tigers, was “sanctioned” by the disciplinary panel with details of the punishment remaining confidential.
The club consider the matter closed and Owen will continue with his playing duties.
Following the hearing Owen said: “My punishment is deserved. I have learned my lessons and will make sure this never happens again.
“I’m even more focused now on restoring the faith that Basil (Ian Millward), my team-mates, the club and fans have in me and will do all I can to make a big impact on the pitch for the club next season.”
The club is also aware of a recent incident in Pontefract involving the player that is the subject of other investigations. This matter will be considered by the club, if required, when the appropriate authorities have determined this issue.
A season launch event will take place in the Marquee at the Probiz Coliseum on Tuesday, from 7.30pm.
The annual event provides a chance for fans to meet the squad and see each player receive their shirts for 2012. There will be a chat on stage with Ian Millward, his assistant Stuart Donlan and first team players. Entry is £3 (adults) and £1 (juniors), pay on the gate.