Castleford Tigers’ Cheyse Blair gets switched on for success

STANDING at 6ft 4in tall, you could argue that Castleford Tigers’ Cheyse Blair always had the ideal frame to play second-row.

SWITCHED ON: Cheyse Blair is tackled by Warrington's Ben Currie & Jason Clark. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

At the age of 29, after spending his entire career previously at centre or on the wing, the Australian is finally doing just that this season.

The switch has worked well; Castleford have won both their opening Betfred Super League games ahead of Friday’s Challenge Cup third round tie at Hull KR and he has clearly played his part.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Blair arrived at Wheldon Road as a centre from Melbourne Storm in April, 2019 on a three-and-a-half-year deal but, following Mike McMeeken’s off-season move to Catalans Dragons, he was handed the No 12 jersey for 2021.

Starting on Castleford’s right-edge, he has relished the change in role. Blair told The Yorkshire Post: “I do really enjoy it.

“You get your hands on the ball more. Mostly you just run at the half-back, too, so it’s a bit easier on the body.

“Sometimes in the centre you go missing a bit and it’s hard to get the ball but you always do in the back-row. I’ve got a bigger body frame and am probably built for it more now. Mikey’s a bit more muscular and stronger than me! But we’re the same sort of size.

“I had a disrupted pre-season with a calf tear so they’re just easing me into the year, not playing big minutes yet.

Pack move: Cheyse Blair. Picture: SWPix

“But, that will come. I have always loved playing in the backs and I came over to be a back. But it obviously hasn’t really worked out. I do see myself as a back-row now. That has worked out well.”

Castleford followed up their opening day win against Warrington Wolves with a Good Friday success over Leeds Rhinos, showing that the recent news head coach Daryl Powell will leave at the end of the season has not disrupted them in any way.

“We’ve got off to a good start,” added Blair, who played in the 2016 NRL Grand Final for Storm, having also represented Parramatta Eels and Manly Sea Eagles in Australia.

“I know it’s only early but I just think there’s no pressure on us.

FUN TIMES: Castleford Tigers' head coach Daryl Powell. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

“He’s giving us a simple job of getting out there and having fun.

“But there’s no pressure on him either and you can sort of see it on Daryl the way he’s coaching us; he’s having a laugh, we’re all having a bit of fun, the boys are jumping on the back of it and we’re playing well.

“We had a pretty crap back end of last season when we had a few injuries and weren’t playing to our standards. But we had a big pre-season and built the belief we can really do something this year and, as much as it’s early days, we’re on the right track already.”

Castleford were second before lockdown last year but then won just twice in 10 outings when the sport resumed in August.

There is a sense of unfinished business and, having not won the Challenge Cup since 1986, they are hoping to take a step closer to Wembley on Friday.

“Winning a (league) comp’ is big but the Challenge Cup is also massive,” added the former Australian Schoolboys international.

“It has so much history. Cas have been around for a long time and not done it since before I was even born. In England, it is something that is so recognisable. We’ll be going to try and win as much stuff as we can this year.”

In contrast to Castleford, Hull KR have lost both their opening league fixtures, but Blair insisted: “They are a tough team to read because they just do stuff that you don’t expect whether throwing offloads on their own line or spreading it. But we played them in our trial match so we have a bit of an indication of them this year.

“We’re looking forward to it.”

Rovers have made a number of signings from the NRL and Blair added: “I played a lot of junior rep’ stuff with Korbin Sims.

“I was a young fella at the (Sydney) Roosters when Shaun Kenny-Dowall was playing first grade there and I was at Melbourne for four years with Albert Vete.

“I know of Brad Takairangi, too, as he was at Roosters as well when I was there as a young kid.”

Blair has also welcomed the recent launch of the North American Rugby League. His elder brother Cory played rugby union for the USA.

“He ended up at Boston for two years, went to Orange County for a year, then back to Boston before four or five years in Huntington Beach, California,” said Blair.

“He got citizenship and played for USA in the Rugby Sevens.

“It looks like they’re throwing a bit of money into the North American Rugby League now to try get that going. It’s good for the game.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if players towards the back end of their career start going out there and playing.”

Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click HERE to subscribe.