In our tenth edition of ‘Starting XVII’, we return to West Yorkshire to focus on Daryl Powell’s Castleford.
The Tigers made it into the top five by the skin of their teeth last year, beating Warrington in the first round of the play-offs before being knocked out by Salford.
The club have dipped into the transfer market, bringing in a few high profile signings as well as a couple of projects, but how many of them will make it into the starting side?
Fullback – Peter Mata’utia
Mata’utia was utilised as a utility last season, switching between the fullback, centre and halves positions. New recruits in the backs, however, should allow him to focus on the no.1 spot in 2020 though, while he’ll also be hoping to strike up an attacking partnership with Jake Trueman and Danny Richardson
Wingers – Sosaia Feki and Greg Eden
Daryl Powell has options on the wing, with new signing Feki providing competition for Eden and James Clare. The former Tongan international’s prestige means he should regularly occupy one spot on the flanks, while Eden’s pace and finishing ability should see him retain his place. Clare is arguably a better option defensively but Eden’s too prolific to leave out.
Centres – Cheyse Blair and Michael Shenton
Captain Shenton should be back in contention in 2020, after missing most of last season with a serious ankle injury. His leadership and influence on other was dearly missed last year, so he’ll be a welcome return for the Tigers. On the opposite side, mid-season recruit Blair slotted effortlessly into Powell’s systems and will likely take the other starting centre spot.
Halves – Jake Trueman and Danny Richardson
This a partnership that is guaranteed to get pulses racing. In Trueman, 20, and Richardson, 23, Castleford have one of the country’s most youthful and exciting partnerships. Both are creative, enthusiastic and highly skilful and will be crucial if the Tigers are to mount a title challenge.
Props – Liam Watts and Grant Millington
Watts’ absence from the Great Britain squad was nothing less than astonishing. The 29-year-old had the season of his life, topping the stats charts for offloads and finishing in the top ten for both metres and tackles made. Those stats alone show how much of an affect he had on the Tigers’ fortunes in both attack and defence. Millington offers a similar service, as a strong runner with superb handling.
Hooker – Paul McShane
Arguably one of Super League’s most underrated players, McShane has become a mainstay in the Tigers’ starting line-up. His craftiness from dummy half and superb vision makes him one of their most dangerous attackers, while his 5ft6in frame doesn’t stop him from putting in the big hits in defence.
Second Rowers – Jesse Sene-Lefao and Mike McMeeken
As wide-running forwards, these two offer very different qualities to the Tigers’ side. Samoan international Sene-Lefao is not only a powerful runner, but also has deceptively delicate handling and often creates space for the backs outside him. McMeeken’s tall, rangy frame makes him a real handful for defences, while he’s got a superb offloading game.
Loose Forward – Nathan Massey
On a slim pitch like the Mend-A-Hose Jungle, it’s ideal for Powell to have some extra bulk in the middle, making Massey the perfect choice at loose forward. He’s a mobile forward and provides just as much punch as Watts and Millington do.
Subs – Adam Milner, Junior Moors, Matt Cook and George Griffin
Castleford’s depth means there’s plenty of options on the bench. Adam Milner’s aggression and versatility and Junior Moors’ sheer size and power make them shoe-ins for the subs. Meanwhile, Matt Cook has proved to be a superb forward option providing relentless leg drive and go forward. The final bench spot is between Griffin and Oli Holmes, but Griffin’s form last season and his part in helping Salford reach the Grand Final just edge it. Holmes, Daniel Smith, Alex Foster, Jordan Rankin and Jacques O’Neill all provide extra cover.