THERE is a common misconception that Castleford Tigers’ Adam Milner is a hooker now earning a growing reputation as a converted loose forward of some calibre.
It was during last season that he initially made the switch for the West Yorkshire club and, this time around, he has made the No 13 slot his own with the surprise Super League leaders.
Indeed, such has been Milner’s form, his coach Daryl Powell suggested earlier this week he could force his way into the England reckoning if he continues his rate of progression.
However, ahead of tonight’s game with champions Wigan Warriors when the 25-year-old will face England’s current loose forward Sean O’Loughlin, Milner insisted that the role is nothing new to him. Far from it, in fact.
“At amateur level and school I played at 13,” he explained.
“I sort of got chucked in at nine from a late age. I was 16 – I think – and it was due to the regional camps I went on.
I am really enjoying it and am just looking to develop in that area. Whatever comes off the back of that I’ll be happy with.Castleford Tigers’ Adam Milner
“I think it might have been Steve Crooks who said ‘I don’t think you’re suited in this position’ so since then I’ve just thought ‘Right, I’m going to be a nine for the rest of my career’.
“But always in the back of my head I was thinking I probably could play at 13.
“As any player will say, they’ll play wherever they’re put but now I feel really at home there and hopefully will keep getting better in that position.”
The arrival of former Leeds Rhinos hooker Paul McShane from Wakefield Trinity facilitated the switch for someone who has played his entire career at Wheldon Road but often played second fiddle to the likes of Daryl Clark and, before the current England hooker, Ryan Hudson.
“It was only the pre-season before last that I tipped Powelly up that I wouldn’t mind, when he was spelling me, to play 13,” explained Milner.
“Paul McShane had arrived and I knew he could play big minutes but I wanted to be playing big minutes, too. So I said to Powelly don’t hesitate to put me on at 13.
“I played a lot there last year and enjoyed the role I had in the team. I wanted to continue it this pre-season but had an injury. I suppose I have still brought that form into this year, though.
“I am really enjoying it and am just looking to develop in that area. Whatever comes off the back of that I’ll be happy with.”
With his greater mobility and handling ability, Milner offers a variation to the modern trend of playing an extra prop at 13 but it is something Powell has liked to do since the start of his coaching career when he employed Kevin Sinfield in that role at Leeds.
For all his relatively slight frame, Milner relishes the defensive workload in the middle and believes he has improved that aspect of his game in 2017.
He certainly has; it is no surprise Castleford’s defence as a whole has strengthened considerably this term given the manner in which the Wakefield-born player leads their line with such voracity. After a lightning start when they won eight of their opening nine games, the Tigers have, however, suffered a dip with consecutive losses at St Helens and then at 12-man Hull FC (26-24) last Sunday.
Milner admitted: “We are disappointed; that’s two on the bounce where we’ve come up just short. Full credit to Hull. They defended heroically and played 60 minutes a man down.
“We are well up for bouncing back now, though, and there’s no better team to turn over than Wigan.”
When Castleford won 27-10 at Wigan earlier this month it was a fourth successive match the champions had failed to win but they have won all three since and will go top if they prosper again.
Milner is relishing tackling O’Loughlin, the 34-year-old England captain who will fly out to Sydney with team-mate George Williams and Tigers trio Luke Gale, Zak Hardaker and Mike McMeeken tomorrow for next Saturday’s Test against Samoa.
Milner said: “For me, personally, he’s the benchmark; I watch him and his game and he is such a massive player and leader for Wigan. When they’re going through tough times I’m sure a lot of those guys look up to him and the England boys too.
“I want to get to his standards and those of Gaz Ellis, too, at Hull last week.”