IT would be so ironic if Daryl Clark rediscovers his Man of Steel form today against the side with whom he won the game’s greatest individual honour.
The England hooker, 22, faces Castleford Tigers this afternoon for the first time since his high-profile £180,000 move to Warrington Wolves.
The Cheshire club felt happy to pay that fee long before his heroics with Castleford last year saw him fire them to Wembley and into the play-offs.
The deal was actually struck in 2013 but, crucially, cash-strapped Tigers were allowed to keep their tyro for one more season.
Clark, who won Super League young player of the year award and made his international debut as well as lifting Man of Steel in 2014, has yet to spark truly for his new club but insists there is no “second-season syndrome” affecting him.
“It’s my fifth year (of Super League) so I’m a bit past ‘second-season syndrome’,” he said, ahead of today’s meeting with Castleford at Halliwell Jones Stadium.
“It was an awesome year last year and maybe some games aren’t going to be as good as then but, hopefully, I can get to something like that.
“I’ve settled in pretty well. I got on with everyone straight away and the systems we’re playing seem to fit me pretty well.
“It’s been hard getting judged on last season but I knew that’d happen coming into this year. I’ve got to keep working hard and get back to where I was last year.
“There are people that have been here a number of years and know the structures and the plays inside-out, whereas I’m pretty new to them. I’ve got to just sit back and get used to it.
“There’s class players throughout the team who can step up and do different roles, so the responsibility is spread out.”
This is true but Warrington’s 30-10 loss against Widnes was a third successive league defeat, their worst run since 2009.
“They (Warrington) are competing year-in, year-out and they expect to be there every year,” continued Clark.
“That now comes with a bit of pressure but I knew that coming in anyway, so it’s nothing new.
“Obviously, it’s disappointing losing a few games because nobody wants that, but that’s part and parcel of the season; you’re not going to go through the full season not suffering defeats. But, hopefully, we’ll win more than we lose and be up there at the end.
“We’ve had a couple of good performances but we’ve not really backed them up or strung a few together. Hopefully, we can get a bit of momentum coming into the middle of the season.”
Castleford are stuttering, too, though not to the same extent as today’s hosts.
Daryl Powell’s side put together back-to-back wins over Salford Red Devils and Hull FC before coming unstuck 26-12 against leaders Leeds Rhinos in an intense Good Friday derby, just the sort of occasion Clark relished with his home-town club.
They recruited former England hooker Scott Moore from London to try to replace Clark but, in truth, there is nobody who could really do that.
For all Moore is a talented footballer, he does not possess the devastating pace of his predecessor, who can cut open the tightest defences with a moment of dazzling magic.
It has meant Castleford have had to tailor their game and, so, it is perhaps not surprising with a new scrum-half, too, in Luke Gale, that they are still adjusting.
“I’ve seen their games and highlights on TV and they’re probably a bit like us,” said Clark.
“They’ve put a few good performances together and got some good wins but they’ve been poor in other games and been beaten. I’m sure they’ll keep improving and getting better, just like we will. Powelly is a good coach and he knows how to get the best out of people. He knows what he wants from his teams.
“He’s made some really good signings in the off-season and I’m sure they’ll do well.”
Of his own emotions today, he says: “Cas was the only team I played for coming through as a youngster so it’ll feel a bit different being on the other side.
“But it’s something I’m looking forward to. I’m not too sure what the reception for me will be, I’ll have to wait and see.”
Those Tigers fans will be fine – if Clark’s full Warrington initiation takes another week longer.