By MATTHEW SHAW & GARETH WALKER
Castleford Tigers have completed the signing of Gareth O’Brien.
League Express revealed last month that the Tigers had reached an agreement with the fullback, but he would only take up the deal if Toronto Wolfpack’s return to Super League was rejected.
That decision was made on Monday and O’Brien has now signed a deal with the Tigers to join the club next year.
He will provide competition and depth at both fullback and in the halves, competing for a spot alongside Niall Evalds, Danny Richardson and Jake Trueman.
The decision to reject the Wolfpack has left O’Brien dismayed, and he believes Rugby League has lost a major opportunity by rejecting Toronto’s application to rejoin Super League last week.
“If the sport was going to get into another market then this was it, this was the chance,” he said.
“I can honestly say that before Covid and during the work we put into getting into Super League, it was the most enjoyable chapter of my career.
“I can’t put into words how good it was living with your team-mates there and then going out in front of a big crowd at Lamport and doing something we loved.
“We achieved what we wanted to in getting to Super League and were excited to get back over there this year.
“Then Covid hit and the world just stopped; the club had financial issues and it had to pull out of the league.
“I was lucky enough to land a loan deal at Castleford, but some lads have done six months without pay.
“We were all clinging onto the hope that the new owner would be accepted, the wages from this year would be paid and we’d be back in 2021.
“We’d been hearing positive things and it was just a shock last Monday.
“But it does feel as though some in Super League were against us from the start.”
O’Brien believes that Toronto owner David Argyle must shoulder the bulk of the responsibility for what has unfolded, having pledged to honour all players’ payments on a Zoom call earlier this year.
The players have been in talks with the GMB union about trying to recover those monies, but O’Brien’s thoughts have also turned to his former team-mates, who he hopes can now secure contracts at other clubs for next year.
He added: “I’ve been one of the lucky ones, but some of these guys haven’t had a wage in six months.
“I was heartbroken on Monday – I broke down and not because of myself; I’ve been lucky enough to get something sorted.
“But my mates have gone so long without money and some have no clubs to go to.
“I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to have half a year without anything coming in.
“I know some boys found jobs to keep themselves ticking over, but I don’t know if they’ve had to take out loans or use credit cards to stay afloat.
“I’m checking in with them all on a daily basis, because there’s a lot spoken about mental health and men needing to talk more, and what they’ve gone through is horrendous.
“I hope clubs looking for new players for next season look to these guys first.”
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