Castleford may have only brought in five new faces over the close season, but coach Ian Millward believes tying down their best young players to long term deals was top priority.
The former St Helens and Wigan coach, who returns to Super League after spells in the NRL and in the Championship with Leigh, admits that part of that is down to budget restrictions, having fought hard to keep hold of star man Rangi Chase.
He said: “We’ve had five in and nine out, which is probably one of the smallest turnovers in the league. It’s a little to do with budget, but we’ve upgraded the contracts of some of our good young kids like (Daryl) Clark, (Adam) Milner, (Oliver) Holmes, (Richard) Owen and Rangi Chase.
“When you look at that, we’re probably at the stage where while we’ve not signed too many new players, we’ve tried to secure the club’s future by securing our better players to long term deals.
Among the new signings is former Widnes and Salford prop Steve Nash, who follows Millward from Leigh, and many will be expecting him to reach the potential he showed in the early stages of his career. Little known Australian James Grehen was added to the squad as recently as last week, following Grant Millington, who joined from Canterbury Bulldogs, over from Down Under, while Castleford have also signed Lee Mitchell on loan from Warrington and Josh Griffin from Huddersfield.
But it’s the club’s home-grown youngsters that are catching the imagination ahead of 2012.
Hooker Clark, 18, impressed suitably with seven tries in 18 Super League appearances last term to warrant being handed the number nine jersey for the new season, although Millward did highlight the quality of both Adam Milner and Ryan Hudson as fierce competition to Clark’s first team spot.
Millward said: “I have three good hookers in Clark, Milner and Hudson, and one of them had to get the number nine shirt – that doesn’t guarantee that he will play every week.
“What it does show is that in the long term he is an important member of the team, but I still respect the quality of Milner and Hudson.
“Clark excites me, he reminds me a lot of James Roby.”
As well as rewarding the progress of their key young players, the Tigers ended much speculation over the future of Man of Steel Rangi Chase by signing him up to an improved four-year deal.
The 25-year-old was paramount to everything Castleford did last season, and Millward is expecting more of the same from the England international this season.
Millward added: “Rangi will be man marked, and so he should be. He’s a talented player, and he brings the X-factor to the game and to Castleford. We’ve got to understand that he will be put under pressure, and adjust ourselves in the way we play him.”
Chase assisted 27 of Castleford’s tries last season, more than double the next best, which was 13 from Richard Mathers. Mathers has been allowed to move to Wakefield on loan, but Richard Owen is expected to fill that void at full back.
Owen, alongside Milner, Clark and Jordan Thompson, signed a new long term deal towards the back end of last season, and back-rower Oliver Holmes followed suit by signing a new three-year deal shortly before Christmas.
Millward added: “For us to survive in Super League, and to underpin our rugby league department, we must continue to develop youngsters.