Castleford Tigers are delighted to confirm that young loose forward Ilikaya Mafi has joined the Club on a one-year contract with the Fords having the option to extend for 2024.
The 19-year-old is originally a product of rugby union but changed codes and found his love for league during his younger years whilst living down south in Essex.
Mafi was then picked up by Hull FC after moving to the north of England where he progressed through their youth ranks, representing the Airlie Birds at the Academy and Reserves level in 2022.
Mafi, who will be proudly sponsored by Gough and Kelly, has been settling in well into his new home at The Mend-A-Hose Jungle and working hard since the first day of pre-season. The youngster discussed his rugby league journey to date with castlefordtigers.com…
“I was playing rugby union from the age of 11 and then when I moved to Hull, I joined West Hull rugby league and since then I’ve been hooked. I then came through from Scholarship to Academy at FC.
“I was playing union in Oxford for a local team and then I played league on and off in Essex after moving there, but when I moved to Hull that was when I committed to playing league.”
In moving to the Fords, Mafi cited some familiar faces as a big reason for wanting to join, whilst adding that he is looking forward to being reunited with the likes of Rob Nickolay and Danny Wilson, while also paying tribute to a former Cas captain for aiding his development.
“It was good at Hull working with Rob Nickolay and Danny Wilson who came to Cas as well. Michael Shenton helped me a lot as well with developing my game in both offense and defence. I’m excited to be getting around a professional environment and learning from all of the players here.”
As well as playing and trying to push for a start in the First Team, Ilikaya has also taken up the option of the Tigers Foundation’s partnership with University Centre Leeds which offers aspiring players the opportunity to study alongside their playing career.
Mafi explained the advantages of gaining qualifications whilst being part of the Fords’ playing setup, by saying: “I’m doing the university program with the Tigers Foundation at University Centre Leeds which will be a big help for me in the future.
“I’ve got my level 3 sports diploma and I’m looking to get my sports coaching qualifications. It’s a good environment at the stadium and I’m surrounded by the whole team so it’s good.”
“I’m excited to be getting around a professional environment and learning from all of the players here…” – Ilikaya Mafi
Castleford’s latest addition joins fellow promising youngsters Jacob Hookem and Bailey Dawson who have been training with the First Team pack from day one of pre-season, and in closing, Mafi outlined what Tigers supporters can expect from him on the field.
“I’m powerful with good footwork at the line and I can move the ball about. In defence I can stay connected and I am a good hitter as well. I’m very excited and I’m looking forward to getting started.”
Tigers Head Coach Lee Radford expressed his delight on being able to bring another exciting prospect through the door and put forward that recent incomings will help achieve his aim of having a good number of eager young players in his squad for 2023.
“He’s a big athletic lad and he’ll benefit from being with us full time. I made some comments earlier in the year that we need to make the squad’s average age a little bit younger, so Ilikaya and the other lads coming on board will allow us to do that.”