The recruitment window is open, the rumours are spreading like wildfire and fans are already getting excited about who could be playing for their club next season.
However, one set of supporters have been less than impressed with their club’s transfer dealings.
Castleford Tigers have been one of the most active clubs since the May window opened.
The club announced the signing of Toulouse forward Tyla Hepi earlier this week while a deal to bring Salford winger Derrell Olpherts to the club has already been agreed for 2020. His Red Devils team-mate, George Griffin, is also expected to sign for the club.
Tigers fans are unhappy and are struggling to fathom the club’s recruitment strategy for 2020. But they also need to be realistic.
With no disrespect intended to the aforementioned trio, they aren’t the calibre of player that will push season ticket renewals or send merchandise sales through the roof.
But neither are the players they are about to lose.
Greg Minikin will be leaving the club to join Hull Kingston Rovers while Mitch Clark’s move to Wigan has already been announced. The other players off-contract who could yet leave are Will Maher, Cory Aston, Tuoyo Egodo and Keiran Gill.
None of those players are anywhere near the top of the Tigers’ wage bill.
All clubs must abide by a salary cap. Castleford are no different. You can’t lose two players somewhere near the middle of your wage bill and expect to replace them with players who will be among your highest earners. That’s not how it works.
In the last 15 months, the Tigers have signed Liam Watts, Peter Mata’utia, Jordan Rankin and Cheyse Blair, all of whom will be among the club’s top earners. You can’t just keep signing players of that calibre without letting others leave. That’s what Cas have done over the years. Watts’ move was made possible as a result of Zak Hardaker’s departure while Mata’utia’s arrival was a result of Rangi Chase leaving. Jordan Rankin’s salary was covered by Joe Wardle going the other way and Cheyse Blair was signed once Ben Roberts left. It’s very much a one in, one out process.
Recruitment and retention is cyclical. Castleford are in a year of their cycle where their top earners are still contracted. That means there isn’t likely to be much movement.
Next year, however, will be different. James Clare, Liam Watts, Grant Millington, Oliver Holmes, Mike McMeeken, Junior Moors, Matt Cook and Jamie Ellis are all off-contract. That’s a lot of salary cap space to work with for Daryl Powell, and a more notable recruitment drive is to be expected.
If fans really want to scrutinise the club’s recruitment, they could look at their preference to sign a lot of lower-end players to boost the size of their squad rather than go with a smaller squad that possesses more high-quality players. The Tigers do have a bigger roster than most in Super League and facilitate that by signing players who don’t cost much on the cap. There are pros and cons to both methods, but given their injury woes this year, they’re probably grateful that they went with a big squad.
But the biggest question mark over Cas’ recruitment is actually their retention.
A number of players were given lucrative extensions following their excellent 2017 campaign. Greg Eden, as an example, was given a substantial extension after his superb season in 2017, but few would say he’s performed to that level since. Others, such as Adam Milner, Jesse Sene-Lefao, Paul McShane and Mike McMeeken were also given new contracts off their performances in 2017. Whether they have performed to their new cap value is a case-by-case debate.
For now, the Tigers are tasked with replacing their outgoing players.
Both Minkin and Clark were recruited as projects on very modest salaries. Over the past few seasons, they have proven to be tremendous value on the salary cap. They’ve left because they’ve been offered better salaries elsewhere, as a result of their performances for Cas. If Cas wanted to keep them, they’d have had to let others move on.
Instead, they’ve put their faith in Hepi and Olpherts to provide similar value. Only time will tell if they have recruited adequately or not.
But it’s worth remembering that Tigers fans complained about the club’s recruitment heading into 2018, citing a lack of top-end players. Among their signings that off-season was Clark, who supporters are now annoyed to see leave.