It’s been claimed that Jackson Hastings is having second thoughts about his switch from Salford to Wigan.
And even if it turns out to be tittle-tattle rather than the truth, this kind of speculation is the last thing Wigan will want as they continue preparations for what is a crucial campaign as they try to stay in touch with their arch-rivals from down the road at St Helens.
If Jackson is, in fact, hesitant about the move, then fair play to him for being honest.
At 23, he’s at a key stage, because he has a lot of Rugby League left in him. But he also knows that the wrong move now could have a big effect on what happens next.
Things could hardly have gone any better at Salford, because after difficult times in the NRL with Manly and Sydney Roosters, he was able to show the quality he possesses as a scrum-half.
While his club enjoyed a fairy-tale run to the Grand Final, beating Wigan along the way, Jackson won the Man of Steel award and toured with Great Britain, even if that particular episode didn’t go according to plan for anyone involved.
He obviously has a special bond with Salford, who gave him the platform to resurrect his career and where he was adored by the supporters.
To put it simply, he was a big fish. But at Wigan, he’s diving into a pool full of sharks, because that dressing room contains some very good players and some dominant characters.
It’s possible that might not suit Jackson, and could perhaps inhibit him.
To operate properly, a player needs to be happy and comfortable in his surroundings, and Wigan clearly wouldn’t want an unhappy player on their hands, particularly one in such a key position.
That said, they also know that the chances of bringing in an equally talented player at this stage aren’t great, because clubs both in Super League and the NRL mostly have their squads in place.
That includes Salford, who have brought in new recruits and might now find it very hard to find the funds to accommodate a player whose deal with Wigan is reportedly worth £500,000 over two years, which is hardly a drop in the ocean.
One thing’s for sure, Wigan’s rivals will be looking on at this situation with real interest, and one or two of them might well be weighing up an offer.
Danny settling in nicely
One player who certainly seems to be comfortable in his new surroundings is Danny Richardson.
I bumped into a few of the Castleford lads at a recent function at Lock Lane, and what they had to say reinforced my view that 2020 could be a very good year for the Tigers.
I’ve never hidden my admiration for Daryl Powell, who I firmly believe would make a great coach to lead England into the 2021 World Cup.
And I think he conducted a very smart bit of business in signing Danny, who like Jackson Hastings is 23, so has plenty of time ahead of him.
While St Helens had a great season, things didn’t go so well for Danny, who after a very good 2018 campaign, played only a dozen times.
But he still made the England Knights squad, and I reckon a change of scenery might well get him back on track.
Castleford, of course, needed a replacement for Leeds Rhinos-bound Luke Gale, and Daryl has shown that he has that knack of identifying not just good players, but ones who will fit in.
From what I’ve been told, Danny is already finding his voice on the training pitch, which for a halfback is absolutely vital.
At Castleford, he’ll likely be operating alongside an excellent young player in Jake Trueman.
I say young, which at 20, Jake is, but let’s not forget he has been playing in Super League for three years, which is experience that will stand him in very good stead.
Now the challenge for the two of them is to really step up to the plate.
The great thing for Danny and Jake is that they are playing under a coaching team loaded with former halfbacks.
If the two can click next season, then the Tigers will surely tot up the points, given the quality of the outside backs there.
Like most clubs, Castleford are well into pre-season, and I was interested to hear that the coaching staff and players had both completed the Yorkshire Three Peaks walk, raising some money for charity while they were at it.
It’s a tough undertaking at any time of year, never mind now, so well done to everyone involved.
I suppose it’s a bit of break from the routine of pre-season training, and I remember doing a few different things in my time.
We went to an outward bound centre in Wales with Doug Laughton and spent time at Catterick Garrison with Mal Reilly, but I have to say neither trip was especially enjoyable. My overriding memory is of being cold and wet.
Pre-season is an important time, and something you have to go through, because you are laying the foundations for what is to come. But I don’t think many players really enjoy it.
All you want is for the matches to come around, the sooner the better.
Challenge Cup gets on the road
I was pleased to see the draw for the first round of the Challenge Cup, to be played next month, get some coverage on the BBC local news programme in my area.
It’s a start, but the RFL really needs to step up the marketing of a competition that has lost a good deal of its lustre in recent times.
The Challenge Cup is an historic competition, one we have to make sure remains alive and kicking, and make no mistake, that incentive of playing at Wembley is still huge.
I know it matters to players, and I think it still matters to supporters, even if there have been question marks against some of the recent attendances at the final.
That’s where the RFL must step in and show they have the ability to both organise and market the competition the way it deserves.
A good start would be to end the seeding system which, weights the competition even more heavily in favour of Super League sides than it already is.
Upsetting the odds, in the way that Bradford did by beating Leeds this year, is what Cup football is all about, so let’s have some more of them.
Crucial first steps
I’ve been following reports of a takeover of Rochdale Hornets by a consortium led by the former Swinton chairman Andy Mazey.
It’s encouraging that new life could be breathed into a heartland club that has struggled in recent times.
The same goes for neighbours Oldham, who are back in the Championship and looking to make their mark with a new coach in Matt Diskin, after they went up under Scott Naylor.
It’s easy to forget that Oldham played in Super League for its first two seasons, and before that, I well remember some very difficult games at their old ground Watersheddings.
It’s a long route back for both Rochdale and Oldham, but at least some crucial first steps have been taken.
© League Express (Mon 9th Dec 2019)