In the first of a new series of articles, we take a look at each club’s recruitment for 2019 and what can be expected. First up, the Castleford Tigers.
Over a number of years, Daryl Powell has pieced together a squad that has catapulted the Tigers into Super League’s elite.
Now, his job is to keep it together and tweak where the salary cap permits.
It won’t be an easy job. The club’s mid-season capture of Liam Watts has taken a sizeable chunk out of the piggy bank that had been saved over from the departure of Zak Hardaker. What was left will have largely been used to retain Greg Eden and Jesse Sene-Lefao, who signed contracts earlier this year, along with the likes of Mike McMeeken and Paul McShane who were tied up in 2017.
But while Hardaker’s salary might have been used up, his position as the club’s number 1 certainly hasn’t. Ben Roberts was tasked with filling the void but quickly moved back to halfback, and while Jake Trueman has impressed in an unfamiliar position, his long-term future is almost certainly in the halves.
Castleford’s recruitment push for 2019 will largely revolve around finding a genuine replacement for their former number 1, although doing so will come at a cost.
To facilitate that move, Castleford have two options. Firstly, they could increase their cap spend next year, an option available for all clubs with the cap being increased by £100,000 to a total of £2 million. The other option is to move players on.
James Clare, Kieran Gill, James Green, Jy Hitchcox, Adam Milner and Jake Webster are among those off-contract at the end of the season, and the future of all of them seems uncertain.
Milner’s time at Castleford is the most unclear, with the forward turning down a new contract with the club in the last few weeks and now garnering interest from the NRL.
But Milner’s future isn’t likely to have too much bearing on Castleford’s fullback hunt. Should Milner leave, Powell will almost certainly want the majority of that money reinvested in his pack.
Instead, it’s the future of the backs that will most likely correlate towards the club’s fullback hopes.
Of those off-contract, Jake Webster is the biggest name and most likely the highest earner. But at the age of 34, he is nearing the end of his career and could well be in his final season at the club.
Should he hang up the boots, his loss would be felt, but Castleford perhaps pre-empted his departure when they signed Joe Wardle last year.
The former Giants centre returned to Super League having spent the majority of the 2017 season in the back-row at Newcastle Knights. But with the likes of McMeeken, Oliver Holmes and Alex Foster in the squad alongside Sene-Lefao, Wardle could well slot in Webster’s position if he’s to retire. That, along other potential departures, would free up funds for a fullback.
The arrival of Jon Wells to oversee the club’s on-field business certainly has fans intrigued. His role as part of Sky’s broadcast team has seen his extensive knowledge shine through, but his ability to handle business has yet to be proven.
Yet the early signs have been impressive. His ability to swoop and sign Watts under the nose of Toronto was an impressive first foray into the transfer market, while the retentions of Sene-Lefao and Eden have marked a strong start to his time at the club.
A fan’s view – Mike Preston
Fullback. This is the obvious area of concern. Ben Roberts started the season at number 1, clearly Ben didn’t fit the bill. Jake Trueman then filled in the gap and has done a great job, but neither are Zak Hardaker. Will we try to re-sign Zak? Will we sign David Mead if Tomkins signs for Catalans? Or is there a gem in the lower leagues that Powell could be eyeing up like Alex Waller at London.
The other area is wing. Although we aren’t short on a winger or two, I’m not sure on the quality. Although Jy never lets us down, I don’t think he will get a new deal. The same with James Clare and now Garry Lo is gone. Could we look at another winger coming in?
We have a really strong squad tied down, I’d like to see Adam Milner, Callum Bustin & Tuoyo Egodo sign new deals then I’m happy going into 2019.