Castleford Tigers boss Danny Ward says that age is just a number for him as long as the players recruited are the right characters, contrary to the statement made by Director of Rugby Operations Danny Wilson earlier this week.
Ward’s own future has not been confirmed yet, with the Dewsbury-born coach brought in on a contract running until the end of the season last month and tasked with keeping the Tigers in Super League.
It was confirmed last Friday night that he’d achieved that, having beaten the side who were ultimately relegated in Wakefield Trinity as well as Hull FC during his short stint at the helm to beat the drop.
This week has seen the club confirm the departures of numerous members of their squad, including Suaia Matagi. The 35-year-old prop’s exit was announced by Cas with comment from chief Wilson who said they wanted to ‘lower the age profile of the squad’.
Another experienced head in 32-year-old Greg Eden was let go, with Love Rugby League reporting that he will join Featherstone Rovers for 2024 on Monday. The club have allowed Kenny Edwards to retire and return home to Australia despite being in the first 12 months of a three-year deal, and stalwart Nathan Massey had also already been confirmed as departing.
All signs point towards 43-year-old Ward remaining in charge at the Jungle for 2024, but he isn’t exactly in full agreement with the director’s verdict.
‘Age is just a number as long as you’re playing well’: Castleford Tigers boss Danny Ward responds to director’s comment
Speaking in his pre-match press conference ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Leeds Rhinos, Ward told Love Rugby League: “I hadn’t seen the comments in the press, but I know there’s been conversations around the club and the age has been something spoken about. I can understand what he was saying.
“It’s there for all to see that there’s some older bodies in there. What I would say though is that some of those older players have been playing fantastically well, so you can age is just a number if you’re playing well, and you want a good mix.
“Every team needs a good mix, and it’s finding that balance. If you’re performing well, then it doesn’t matter whether you’re a 16-year-old kid or if you’re 40. If you’re consistently training and playing well, you can do it.
“It’s finding the balance of having some youth and potential that you want to see at the club for a number of years to help build the squad, but you need some of those experienced players around who know the club and know what it’s like to play for Cas. Ultimately, they can drive the standards that we want at the club to that younger generation.
“You want the right people, it’s all about the characters for me, they’ve got to be right no matter what age they are. If they’ve got 200 games under their belt in Super League or they’ve got five or six, it’s about bringing people in who want to be at Cas for the right reasons and want to work hard.
“They need to want to play for the club and buy into what the club is trying to do moving forward.”
Tigers boss details challenges behind recruitment
Ward is the Tigers’ third permanent head coach this year with the club parting ways with both Lee Radford and Andy Last within just a few months of one another amid a difficult season for all involved.
During his time in charge, Last admitted recruiting players to come and join a team in a relegation battle had proved challenging, and Ward says it remains that way because of how long the race for survival went on.
He told Love Rugby League: “You’ve got to look at who’s out there and available, because trying to recruit players is hard once you get into September/October time.
“You’re kind of left with what’s out there, but if they’re the right people, age is just a bit of a number from my point of view.
“It’s very hard when you don’t know what central funding you’re going to be getting, and whether you’re going to be in the Championship or in Super League. That makes a massive difference to the whole infrastructure, coaching, youth development, first-team players, it just has a massive impact on everything.
“It’s almost impossible to recruit as much as you’d want to leading up to knowing where you’re going to be and if you’re safe or not. I can totally sympathise with the club because of where we’ve been at, and it does seem all rush last minute now, but you’ve got no choice in those scenarios sometimes.”