Castleford Tigers vice-captain Alex Mellor can’t wait to see the back of ‘the toughest year of his career’, labelling 2023 as plain ‘awful’, and admitting that a scraped Super League survival is nothing for anyone involved to revel in.
Back-rower Mellor – who joined the Tigers midway through last season – and his teammates saw their survival confirmed last Friday night with a game to spare.
It took a golden point defeat for Wakefield Trinity at Leigh Leopards to bring an end to the relegation battle, with Danny Ward’s side that same night having been beaten 48-6 up the road at Wigan Warriors, their 20th defeat in 26 Super League games this term.
The 28-year-old is a Bradford Bulls academy product, and suffered relegation to the Championship in 2014 with the Odsal outfit, playing eight times. Despite staying up this time around, he puts 2023 at the Jungle below even that.
Castleford Tigers ace Alex Mellor: ‘We’ve massively underperformed as a team’
Speaking ahead of this evening’s final game of the year, which will see a return to Headingley with Cas taking on Leeds, Mellor said: “It’s been a hell of a long season. When you think about a loss, it’s not just a loss on a Friday. You take that into Saturday’s review, and that’s a negative review, and then all of a sudden your weekend’s ruined because you’ve lost.
“You might have had a bit of stick in review, so you can’t enjoy your Sunday. You turn up Monday, you try not to hang under a cloud from the week before, but then all of a sudden that week becomes so long until you play again. When that’s happening 20 times a year because you’ve lost 20 games, it becomes a hell of a long season.
“It’s definitely the toughest year of my career. I had a year in 2019 when it was really close at the bottom, I was with Huddersfield that year, but we were still winning games and a lot of the teams at the bottom were winning games. It wasn’t a huge gap between 12th and 11th to 6th and 7th, whereas this year it’s felt like all we’ve done is lose.
“Awful, just awful. There’s not really many positives that we can take from it. We’ve massively underperformed as a team and we’ve had a lot of injuries, which hasn’t helped, but there’s no excuses from us. We’ve not been good enough.
“We’ve had to rely on Wakey playing badly, as professional sportsmen that’s no way to be. In the end, when it comes down to it, we had to have them losing otherwise we’d have been nailed on to go down which is sad, sad for us because we know we’re underperforming and that we can perform a lot better than that.”
Tigers vice-captain weighs in on club’s desire to lower age of squad
With skipper Paul McShane fracturing his forearm against Salford Red Devils in June, and being sidelined ever since, Halifax-born Mellor has been leading from the front over the last few months as one of the more experienced men in the pack.
The club earlier this week confirmed their departures list, with the likes of Greg Eden, Nathan Massey, Suaia Matagi & Kenny Edwards all moving on. Director of Rugby Operations Danny Wilson commented that they needed to ‘reduce the age profile’ of the squad.
Head coach Ward – whose own future hasn’t been sealed just yet – told Love Rugby League yesterday that he didn’t necessarily agree with that, and Mellor is of the opinion that the club have relied too heavily on youngsters already.
He added: “One shining light, I suppose, is that there’s been a lot of chances for some youngsters to play and they’ve been able to get a lot of game time that they may not have had [if we hadn’t been in this situation].
“I think they’ve really stepped up, but when you’ve not played much Super League and you’re playing week in, week out, it’s a big ask for seven or eight youngsters to hold a team together or even carry it.
“A lot of the older, more experienced lads, we’ve let those players down a bit and as a collective we’ve been nowhere near good enough.
“As a club, we’ve been nowhere near good enough. There’s a lot of improvements that need to happen across the board, it’s not just the playing staff, but I think the club recognise that and hopefully they’re starting to take steps in the right direction to rectify that for next year.”
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