As the off-season has unfolded there have been a lot of fans struggling to fathom out Castleford’s recruitment ahead of 2018.
The Grand Finalists took a big step towards becoming one of Super League’s elite clubs with their performances on the field last year, and the general consensus was that the Tigers would continue recruiting in a similar manner to last year, a time in which they signed the likes of Zak Hardaker, Greg Eden and Jesse Sene-Lefao.
Things started that way. Joe Wardle’s arrival from Newcastle Knights was the type of signing Cas fans were expecting.
But their business following the arrival of Wardle hasn’t been as high-profile.
Castleford have made seven further signings and three of them have come from the Championship. Jamie Ellis has arrived after a loan spell Hull Kingston Rovers. His Robins team-mate, Mitch Clark, has also arrived to bolster the pack, while Garry Lo has linked up with the club after a successful spell with Sheffield Eagles.
The other additions are James Green, the former Hull Kingston Rovers and Leigh Centurions forward who has suffered relegation with those clubs in the last two seasons. James Clare has also joined from Leigh while Cory Aston has signed after an unsuccessful spell with Leeds. Callum Bustin has also earned a contract following a trial with the club.
As a result, Castleford’s recruitment has been dubbed as underwhelming. But Castleford’s strategy ahead of 2018 is probably more out of necessity beyond anything else.
The performances of Hardaker, Eden and Sene-Lefao undoubtedly contributed to Cas’ success last year, however it was the efforts of their existing players that was also significant.
The likes of Mike McMeeken, Paul McShane and Adam Milner were all influential last year, and over the course of the year their stock rose rapidly, to the point that McMeeken earned international honours and the other two were on the cusp of going to the World Cup.
However, as reputations are enhanced, a player’s value on the salary cap increases, and Cas have had to act accordingly in the shape of new deals.
McMeeken has already signed a new deal while reports have surfaced that McShane will be the next to commit to the club. It’s almost a guarantee that both will have received improved salaries.
With Cas spending up to salary cap, the Tigers have to cut their cloth accordingly, and that they have done.
In Andy Lynch and Joel Monaghan, the Tigers have lost two of their most experienced pros. They have been replaced by Mitch Clark and Garry Lo, whose wages are going to be lower than the players they’ve replaced.
Tom Holmes’ departure has paved the way for Jamie Ellis to come in, and although the former Giants halfback will command a bigger salary than Holmes, Jacob Trueman’s emergence has resulted in Castleford not having to fill Rangi Chase’s place in the squad.
The remaining arrivals of Bustin, Aston and Green have all been made possible due to the business elsewhere, and as a result, Castleford have more depth in their squad. Joe Wardle’s signature has also become possible.
People have understandably questioned how Hardaker’s wage will be used after his drugs ban. But a good proportion of that is likely to be used tying up other of the club’s existing stars, such as Milner, Greg Eden, Jesse Sene-Lefao and Jake Webster, all of whom are out of contract at the end of the year.
Instead of criticising Castleford’s low-profile recruitment, opinions shouldn’t be formed just yet. Alex Foster’s arrival didn’t set the game alight last year, but he became a regular under Daryl Powell last year. In terms of value for money, he’ll have been among the best in the competition.
Castleford did a fantastic job recruiting players to get them to the top. Now they face a challenge of recruiting in a way that will allow them to remain there. That doesn’t always involve the arrival of world-class stars.