There’s a new era rolling into the Jungle in 2022. The departure of Super League’s longest serving coach to Warrington in the shape of Daryl Powell has seen the Tigers turn to the more ferocious Lee Radford. If Powell revived Classy Cas, Radford will turn the Tigers into a physical outfit one who could be a contender for the top four this year. Radford’s recruitment going into the new year has been impressive and has created depth in key positions for the Tigers. With that comes the difficult task of settling on a first choice 17, one that we’re taking on today with our predicted line-up for the Tigers in 2022.
Fullback: Niall Evalds
This was an easy one. The road may have been bumpy at times last season for Evalds in his first year with Castleford, but he quickly settled claiming the Lance Todd trophy despite defeat at Wembley and earning a first England cap against France in the absence of England skipper Sam Tomkins. With pace to burn and a mouth-watering skillset, he’s a player any team in the league would like to fit into their 17. The Tigers are lucky enough to have him and he’ll be a key part of Castleford’s attack next year. After a season of settling into new surroundings, 2022 could be a huge 12 months for the ex-Salford fullback.
Wingers: Bureta Faraimo and Jordan Turner
Moving into the outside backs, things get tricky for Radford as he’s faced with a number of exciting options. Derrell Olpherts has done a superb job on the wing over the past two years, whilst 2022 could be the year Sosaia Feki finally finds some fitness and some form at Castleford. But right now, I think Radford will go with new signing Bureta Faraimo. The United States international was turned into a Super League star by Radford in 2018 and has gone on to show his quality since. An expert at busting tackles and breaking from deep, he’ll provide the Tigers with Radford’s signature brutality out wide – a fixture of his Hull team which claimed back-to-back Challenge Cups in 2016 and 2017. On the other wing is another ex-Hull man in the shape of the versatile Jordan Turner. His form in 2021 makes him undroppable going into the new season as he proved he still has the pace and skill to be an attacking threat. He was at his best last year when combining with the now retired Michael Shenton swapping positions with the former Cas captain when the time called for it creating a potent partnership. I can see Turner being used in a similar way this year considering Radford’s centre options.
Centres: Jake Mamo and Mahe Fonua
I still to this day don’t know what Mahe Fonua’s best position is: centre or wing? When on the flank he’s akin to Lesley Vainikolo and other brutish wingers we’ve seen devastate teams. But then again, when at centre he sucks in defenders opening space for his winger to sneak in and score. When playing under Radford at Hull, he played both and I believe we’ll see him play both in 2022 making him the ideal player to partner Jordan Turner on the left. The two have conflicting skillsets which make them the perfect foil for one another and if they can form a partnership like the one Turner enjoyed with Shenton last year, the pair could be a versatile and devastating threat on the flank. Meanwhile, on the other side Jake Mamo is almost guaranteed a spot at centre. In 2021, he had the season of his life becoming a blistering attacking threat at centre for Warrington scoring more tries than anyone in the league except for Salford’s Ken Sio.
Halfbacks: Jake Trueman and Gareth O’Brien
Like with the outside backs, Castleford have plenty of options in the halves. Not only do they have the two selected but they also have Danny Richardson and new arrival Callum McLelland in the mix. Richardson finished 2021 strongly taking up Jake Trueman’s edge and flourishing, but when fit Trueman is perhaps the best young halfback in the league with an outstanding running game and he’s too good to not be in the first 17. As for Gareth O’Brien, the former Salford man has looked at home since joining Castleford part way through 2020. He compliments Trueman’s game nicely and has more guts than most halfbacks willing to take the ball to the line and tie up defenders risking being clattered.
Props: Liam Watts and George Lawler
Castleford already have one of the most underrated packs in the league and the arrival of Kenny Edwards, Joe Westerman and George Lawler only adds more quality to their forward ranks. In Liam Watts, the Tigers have one of the best props in the league over the last five years when fit. If he’s gotten over the injuries which made 2021 a struggle for the ex-Hull man, he has to start tasked with building a solid platform for the Tigers. Alongside him, I think Radford will turn to George Lawler. A major signing from Hull KR, Lawler is perhaps at his best when at 13 but the sheer number of loose-forwards at the Jungle means he’s more likely to figure in the front row where his hard work and mobility will be key for Cas.
Hooker: Paul McShane
This one wasn’t tough at all. Now an England international, McShane has arguably been the best number nine in Super League over the last couple of years claiming the Man of Steel in 2020. With a great running game, a smart passing game and even a sharp kicking game, he has everything and ties together the pack masterfully for the Tigers creating attacking opportunities for himself and others down the middle.
Second-Rowers: Kenny Edwards and Cheyse Blair
For most of 2021, Powell trusted Oliver Holmes and Jesse Sene-Lefao in the backrow both of whom have moved on. Thus, Radford will have to rely on the fitness of Cheyse Blair this year after a difficult recent spell for him in terms of injuries. With definite quality, a good skillset for a forward and experience he has it in him to be a top tier second-row as does Kenny Edwards. Edwards has shone whether he’s gone in Super League and has always offered attacking talent down the middle of the field which could provide the Tigers with something extra in attack next year.
Loose-Forward: Joe Westerman
As aforementioned, Castleford have a number of options at 13 including Adam Milner and new recruit George Lawler. But the return of Joe Westerman to the Jungle – who excelled at 13 under Radford at Hull FC – means he’ll likely be the first choice loose-forward thanks to his brilliant blend of size and skill.
Substitutes: George Griffin, Daniel Smith, Adam Milner, Suaia Matagi
The number of brilliant forwards at Radford’s disposal also makes predicting a bench incredibly hard. Ultimately, I’ve gone for size as well as players I think did a stand-up job for the Tigers in 2021. In George Griffin and Daniel Smith, the Tigers have too grafting props in good form on the back of good showings last year and ultimately squeeze in ahead of the superb Nathan Massey. Meanwhile, Suaia Matagi’s permanent move to the Jungle is just rewards for an impactful year on loan with the club in which he proved to be a powerful impact sub. Completing the bench is Adam Milner whose ability to cover hooker will be a good tool for the Tigers as is his ability to provide further cover in the pack.