Exclusive: Castleford Tigers new boy Elie El-Zakhem out to prove NRL doubters wrong

John Davidson
Castleford Tigers badge, Elie El-Zakhem

Castleford Tigers new boy Elie El-Zakhem - Alamy

Elie El-Zakhem spent several years trying to get a spot in the NRL, but after landing at Castleford Tigers, the forward is out to prove his former coaches and doubters wrong.

Born and raised in Sydney, El-Zakhem had stints with the reserve grade sides of the Canterbury Bulldogs, Parramatta Eels and Sydney Roosters.

But at 25, his chance to step up to the NRL never came, and the determined second-rower has moved to Super League ready to make a name for himself on the other side of the world.

“I’ve been full-time for the past few years, but I just haven’t really cracked the NRL,” El-Zakhem told Love Rugby League.

“But then the opportunity arose to play in Super League and I was very excited to take it. I just want to show what I can do and try and make a name for myself.

“Obviously I want to do well with Cas, have a better season than they did last year. But at the end of the day I want to make a name for myself and pretty much prove them wrong, show them I should have got a crack.

“I was just unlucky and sometimes that’s just how it is. It’s just luck, sometimes someone goes down (injured) and you get a run, but sometimes you don’t. That’s why I’m very keen for this opportunity.”

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Elie El-Zakhem keen to make the most of Super League opportunity with Castleford Tigers

El-Zakhem signed a two-year deal with the Tigers after a recommendation from former Castleford utility Jordan Rankin.

The Lebanese international played alongside Rankin in 2022 in the Eels’ NSW Cup team.

“My first year in the NSW Cup was with the Bulldogs, after that I was at Parramatta for three years,” he explained.

“A few of those years got cut short by Covid. Then last year I was with the Roosters and the North Sydney Bears. I really enjoyed it there.

“A past player from Cas is a friend of mine, Jordan Rankin. He was a player-coach at one stage with me so we were very close.

“I just asked him about Cas and he gave it a good rap. It’s a good community, it’s pretty cool that they’re so passionate about the sport.”

The Tigers struggled in Super League last season, finishing second from bottom. But with a new head coach in Craig Lingard and a host of new signings, El-Zakhem says Castleford are bonding well as a team.

The back-rower is one of 12 new recruits who have arrived at the Jungle.

“I think because of how many new boys there are, new coaches, everyone is pretty much on side,” he said.

“Craig’s been really good. The culture is a lot better, there’s no egos or anything and everyone’s been welcoming.”

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