Castleford full-back Niall Evalds is raring to get back into Super League action following a long road to recovery.
The 29-year-old sustained a season-ending shoulder blow last July, having required surgery earlier in the year on his bicep.
His injury-hit year limited him to just 10 appearances, forcing Lee Radford to play several players at the back in replacement of the one-time England international.
Evalds endured a long and somewhat lonely journey away from the playing squad in his recovery, but is now chomping at the bit to get going in 2023, having returned to full training during pre-season.
He started in the 48-10 friendly win over Huddersfield earlier this month, and has been named in the squad to face Hull on Sunday in their Super League opener.
“I’m very confident in my own ability”
He told Love Rugby League: “It’s been good. I obviously had a lot of injuries last year that was well documented.
“It’s allowed me a long sort of off-season to recover and rehab my shoulder and get my body right.
“I’ve been able to have a full pre-season and I’m feeling really good.
“It’s been tough like they always are, but probably one of the first ones I had looked forward to in a while. I missed rugby last year, so to get back in it with the boys and feel like a part of the team again.
“I’m very confident in my own ability. I know what I can do when I’m playing regular.
“Personally, I just want to be out there. I missed being out there with the boys last year and the feelings after the game whether you lose or not.
“I just want to play this year and enjoy it.”
Niall Evalds on 2022 and squad competition
Not only Evalds, but Castleford’s squad as a whole endured an injury-hit campaign that saw star players such as Jordan Turner, Danny Richardson, Jake Trueman and Ryan Hampshire forced to watch from the sidelines, with the latter two since leaving the Mend-A-Hose Jungle during the off-season for Hull and Wigan respectively
Despite the disruptions, Castleford were just one win from securing a play-off place, falling short against Leeds in the final round in an all-or-nothing clash.
And the injuries to first-choice players allowed youngsters to gain valuable game time, a positive spin made by Evalds.
“I think the negative side to last year was the injuries, but the younger lads got a lot of experience from it,” Evalds explained.
“They were really pushing at the door to get in the team. We have a good, competitive squad and it’s just about keeping players fit and we want to keep players on the pitch as much as we can.”
Looking ahead to 2023’s squad, with a strong 37-man squad, Evalds continued: “It’ going to be very competitive.
“There’s some good players and some young players as well who picked up a bit of experience last year.
“The aim is the play-offs”
“There are some players who have come in as well who will be pushing for spots. Jack Broadbent has been playing outstanding in training and in the trial games as well. There’s a lot of good players to keep everyone on their toes and keep you at your best.”
And having come so close in 2022, Evalds expects his Tigers side to be pushing once again for a top six spot.
“The aim is the play-offs,” Evalds claimed.
“Super League is a long season and you’re going to use your full squad. It’s a tough season, but we’re very confident in ourselves. But we’ll be focusing on each week and preparing best we can.”