Castleford Tigers boss Lee Radford talks aims, recruitment and fresh starts

AS THE work continues in readiness for the return of Castleford Tigers to pre-season training, Lee Radford is also relishing his own actual return to coaching.

Castleford Tigers coach Lee Radford (Melanie Allatt Photography)

He has been grafting hard in more ways than one since taking over from Daryl Powell as head coach at Wheldon Road following the end of the 2021 campaign.

For instance, with players not back in until Monday, Radford was lending a hand painting today having put in place some small but important changes to the player and coaching facilities at the West Yorkshire club.

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It was no surprise; Radford has certainly never lacked work ethic, either as a player or as a coach, and he seems refreshed and ready to go again after what he calls a “two-year sabbatical.”

His long reign at Hull FC, which brought two Challenge Cup final victories, came to a sudden end when sacked in March 2020.

The Yorkshireman then cross codes to start a new life with Dallas Jackals until their 2021 launch was delayed: and it also became apparent, at the start of the year, this would be long-serving Powell’s final season in charge of Castleford.

Radford applied for the vacancy and his appointment for 2022 was confirmed in April, since when he has been busily assembling the Tigers squad.

However, he finally starts getting down to the business of coaching again next week and is looking forward to the prospect.

Wakefield Trinity's Joe Westerman is one of eight new signings at Castleford Tigers (SWPIX)

Clearly, Castleford have done some excellent work in the transfer market. Among the eight new arrivals are Wakefield Trinity and England loose forward Joe Westerman plus Hull wingers Bureta Faraimo and Mahe Fonua, who all worked with Radford at the Airlie Birds, as well as Australian Jake Mamo who was Warrington Wolves’ top tryscorer in 2021.

Highly-regarded England Knights forward George Lawler has arrived from Hull KR while Tigers have brought in Alex Sutcliffe and Callum McLelland from Leeds Rhinos and explosive former NRL back-row Kenny Edwards from Huddersfield Giants.

The coach has options galore: Castleford fans will all wonder what his starting 13 might be.

Radford does not know himself yet. He said: “As a coach you love pre-season for that reason.

Castleford coach Lee Radford signs up at Wheldon Road. (Melanie Allatt Photography)

“There’s no highs or lows of a loss or a win on a Monday; you’re just coaching, observing and seeing what everyone is putting in.

“That’s one of the beauties of pre-season. I think it has such an influence on the starting team at the start of the year, as do pre-season friendlies.

“I always like to start pre-season with an open mind with regards selection Already I’ve been to watch a couple of the lads do their off-season programme and I’ve been impressed with a few.

“They have some brownie points in already. It’s been good.”

Radford is pleased with the squad assembled, especially given he has also retained players of the quality of former Man of Steel Paul McShane, Great Britain tourist Jake Trueman and newly-capped England full-back Niall Evalds.

He said: “It is very good. In a quiet market - and I think it’s been a quiet market this time - we’ve done really well with what we’ve managed to bring in. There’s some talent there, definitely.”

Is that Castleford done now on recruitment? He said: “We are there. We are at (full salary) cap.

“I never say never but it’d have to be something really out of the box to happen.”

Castleford were beaten Challenge Cup finalists this year but did not make the play-offs.

Radford’s answer is immediate when asked for his 2022 aims.

He replied: “Top six. We haven’t done it for the last two years and top-six gives you a shout at the Grand Final.

“And the Cup? I’m not saying its’ easier to win now but there’s probably less games to play than there ever has been to get there isn’t there? Anything can happen.

“When you look at the finalists over the last couple of years (Castleford/Salford Red Devils), that probably re-enforces that.”

Radford, 42, spent the majority of his adult life at hometown Hull as player and coach and knows all about how that can be like living in a goldfish bowl. As much as Castleford fans love their rugby league, there is not the same incessant pressures there.

Radford said: “Westy and Wattsy (Liam Watts) have been at Hull with me and that’s one of the things they said to me straight away: you’re not strangled here like you are in Hull.

“I’m looking forward to that. You love it and hate it (in Hull). They still love their rugby here but, over there, it’s win a couple of games and they book the open-top bus: lose a couple and you’re getting sacked. From what I can gather, there’s a little bit more middle ground here.”

The former Bradford Bulls forward, who was in charge at Hull for approaching seven season, does feel invigorated following his break away.

"Genuinely, if you were ever going to have two years out of the game, this was probably the best two years you could ever have had," said Radford, with the game shutdown for four months due to Covid not longer after his sacking.

"Speaking with staff and getting closer to coming in, some of the protocols and hoops they have had to jump through, it’s taken me a little bit by surprise.

"Hopefully that is coming towards an end. That must have been a challenge as a player and certainly as a staff, even as a club: the changing facilities have been in here - a bar - to play a game.

"To be fair, it’s probably bigger than the away changing rooms!

"I got to one game with no fans which was surreal. It’s not good. It’s not what you want.

"I'm looking forward to getting started again.

"And I just want to say thanks to the club for supporting us to allow us to make some changes around the place in the training areas and coach/player areas.

"They have been very supportive and we’re making some alterations which should make a difference.

"Hopefully the players will see and appreciate that when they come back in next week for pre-season training."