Castleford coach Daryl Powell believes Ben Roberts could be set for the best year of his career in 2018 as he prepares for the ominous task of filling the gap vacated by Zak Hardaker as the Tigers’ fullback.
With Hardaker facing a well-documented suspension, Castleford have opted to revert Roberts to fullback this year as opposed to acting in the transfer market.
But Powell believes that, despite thriving at half-back in recent years, the Samoan international could be even better with the number one shirt on his back.
He told TotalRL: “He will get his first hit-out in the friendly against Leeds next week.
“I think he’s a natural fullback, I’ve always thought that. I think he’s got a great chance to nail a position there and play his best stuff.
“I think he’ll produce the best football of his career this year, I really do.”
With Roberts moving to fullback, the battle to step in at stand-off appears to be between new signing Jamie Ellis and the highly-rated Jake Trueman – and Powell concedes an injury to the former will hand Trueman the first chance to stake his claim to partner Luke Gale on the opening weekend against St Helens.
And Powell admits he’s been impressed with the former Bradford junior, saying: “Jamie has hurt his ankle and he’ll be out for a couple of weeks – so it’s a great opportunity for Jake to impress and he’ll get the first chance against Leeds.
“It’s a good battle though. Trueman I’ve been hugely impressed with, and the players have too. They enjoy playing around him; he’s played right side in training and he’s a very good player. He’ll play a part this year – whether he’s in at the start I don’t know, but Jamie Ellis has got a job on his hands to keep that spot.”
The Tigers head to Lanzarote today (Thursday) for their traditional pre-season training camp, and Powell admits it is a big week as they prepare for the new campaign.
He said: “Everyone’s back in training now; it’s taken us a bit of time to get Luke Gale and Mike McMeeken back in, so it’s been tough from that perspective. But the players have been working hard, and we go to Lanzarote and Thursday and hopefully we’ll nail everything like we did the year before.
“It’s a big week for us. We go through everything there and make sure we nail our combinations and have some key meetings and make sure everyone knows what their responsibilities are to the team and the town of Castleford.”