Castleford Tigers Women star Kelsey Gentles is excited for the upcoming season but admits it was a big shock to lose their head coach just weeks before the start of the new campaign.
The Tigresses take on Featherstone Rovers in their season opener and Gentles is looking forward to playing her first competitive game in 18 months.
She said: “I’m really excited. I’m buzzing. We’ve been waiting so long to play. Eighteen months is a long time to kick off a season. Now that it’s getting closer, I won’t lie, I’m getting a bit nervous. But excitement is over everything and I can’t wait to get out there.”
Castleford enjoyed a successful season in 2019, having reached two major finals and claiming the League Leaders Shield.
When asked about who would be their biggest rivals this season, Gentles admitted that St Helens could prove to be the toughest opponents this year.
She said: “I think this year is going to be very interesting. I couldn’t call it. We all know that St. Helens are going to play really well. They played well in 2019 and since then they recruited some really good strike on the edges. They’ve got strength in depth, they’ve got strength all over the park.
“Leeds always play well. They’re a team that do the basic things right. But I think it’s going to be interesting how Wigan go.
“We have Fev in the first game of the season and we’re preparing ourselves for a really hard game because Fev always come out all guns blazing. It’s not going to be an easy game and we’re going to have to work hard for that win.
“I think even Warrington. They’ve got some strike as well so they’ll be interesting to watch. The Wigan v Warrington game, that will be interesting.
“But I do think that Saints are the team to beat this year. Two years in a row they’ve played well, this year they’ll play amazing because they’ve had such a good pre-season.
“They’re used to playing together, they’ve got a lot of England players who are used to playing the same combinations week after week.
“Cas and Leeds. I think we’ve got a job on if we want to get to those finals.”
Castleford’s first ever women’s coach, Lindsay Anfield, departed the club last month after five years in charge.
Gentles talked about that situation, saying: “When Lindsay did originally leave, it was a big shock to the squad and it did shake us right down to the core. But the way us girls reacted and stuck together, that’s really shown our character.
“Sometimes things like that happen and maybe things do need to fall apart for other things to come together. That’s kind of been our attitude that yeah, one thing has changed but our core values are the same.
“We’re positive about it and things have been coming together over the past few weeks.
“Lindsay has coached me since [I was] 16-year-old so personally it is a lot to adjust to.
“We just want to do Lindsay proud now. She’s brought a lot of us into the sport and we just want to do her justice when we play this year.”
The Tigresses are currently being coached by Castleford’s long-time assistant coach, Marie Colley, and former Bradford Bulls boss, Kirsty Moroney.
When asked about the coaching change, Gentles said: “Things could be a lot worse. We’ve got two really good coaches that have got a different coaching style to Lindsay and that’s something we’ve had to adjust to and learn.
“But it’s going really well. They’re really passionate about the game and they’re passionate about us, they want us to do well. We like to play with a bit of flair and they’ve really complemented that.”