For those who have been missing rugby league and are wanting another fix following the great Boxing Day games, you won’t have to wait long as, on New Year’s Eve, Featherstone Rovers will host rivals Castleford Tigers and both teams are getting prepared for the clash.
Super League side Castleford will be preparing for the game without their head coach, Lee Radford, though and the man taking the reins has spoken to Tigers TV on the reasons why and what can be expected.
The Tigers won’t be forced to fend for themselves with assistant coach, Andy Last, taking charge with the 41-year-old having worked with Radford and then stayed on beyond at Hull FC beyond Radford’s departure in the 2020 season.
Asked if taking charge was an exciting challenge, Last responded: “Yeah it is, I took over from Lee in different circumstances back in 2020, which was a good experience and I’m looking forward to the game at Featherstone.”
Last alluded to his brief stint as a head coach, and the interviewer had also earlier alluded to Radford’s absence from the coaching staff referencing the “Samoa celebrations”.
Radford was hailed as an honouree Samoan and was one of their coaches at the recent World Cup, where he helped guide the Toa Samoa to the final, with former Leeds Rhinos’ head coach Richard Agar also being a member of the backroom staff.
As such Radford hasn’t returned in time and Last will lead out Tigers in a game he expects to be competitive against their rivals.
“Sean (Long) and Leon (Pryce) have put together a good team at Featherstone, it’ll be a competitive game and there’s a great rivalry between Castleford and Featherstone.”
The squad that Last references Long having built has seen plenty of changes from the side that finished 2nd behind Leigh Centurions but the likes of Super League veteran Craig Hall remains and he’s been joined by a hole handful of names.
Rovers have acquired Caleb Aekins, Mathieu Cozza, Thomas Lacans and Papua New Guinea World Cup star McKenzie Yei, which has all contributed to Rovers being priced as joint favourites alongside Toulouse Olympique to join rivals Castleford in the Super League.
Last also spoke about his own side and what can be expected for the team that has signed some veteran talent such as Gareth Widdop, Jacob Miller and Albert Vete but have lost trop try-scorer Derrell Olpherts.
“We’ll give some senior blokes an opportunity because they’ve trained well and some young guys will get an opportunity to show off to the senior guys, so it’ll be a mixed bag in terms of personnel.
“It’ll be a good exercise to see where one or two individuals are at from their pre-season on a technical and timing point of view, I’m looking forward to it.”
Kick-off on New Year’s Eve is at 12:00pm at the Millenium Stadium where Last and Long will pit their coaching against one another in a game that goes beyond pre-season friendlies given the rivalry between the sides.