Castleford Tigers assistant Stuart Donlan says their players are intent on delivering a display to make head coach Ian Millward “proud” after the tragic death of his teenage son.
On Sunday, Wigan Warriors arrive at the PROBIZ Coliseum, just a week after 19-year-old Robbie Millward died from a massive heart attack.
With their heartbroken chief on compassionate leave, former Tigers full-back Donlan has been in temporary charge.
“It has been a devastating and terrible week,” he told the Yorkshire Post.
“I was with ‘Basil’ on Sunday when he got the initial news Robbie was ill and then, later, the awful news that he had gone.
“It really hit hard – I’m still trying to get my own head around it now. Coming in Monday morning was pretty tough, seeing Basil’s car there but not seeing him.”
It is not the manner in which Donlan envisaged taking control of a side for the first time; the 33-year-old only retired from playing last season and left Leigh with Millward to start his coaching apprenticeship at Wheldon Road.
“The players have been fantastic,” he said. “Everyone has come up and offered help and support.
“We had a meeting on Tuesday and I said the best way to help me is to get out on the training field and, come Sunday, put in a performance Ian would be proud of.”
Millward’s parents flew in from Australia yesterday to be with him and his bereaved family.
Donlan said: “He’s in the right place at the minute, with family and friends around him. I sent him a text on Monday just saying to get in touch when he’s ready.
“I’ve spoken to his daughter and she said she’d like the club to hold a minute’s applause on Sunday to celebrate Robbie life rather than a minute’s silence as he wouldn’t have wanted that.”
Castleford had performed well in Perpignan a week ago before eventually losing out 28-20 and Donlan believes they can cause Wigan some problems.
“It’s going to be more mentally tough than anything else for the players,” he said.
“But they’ve been in today and have been pretty positive; they’re a determined group.
“For 60 or 65 minutes, we were probably the better team against Catalan but just a few errors, like penalties late in the count, relieved the pressure on them.
“It was much better than the week before though and we haven’t picked up any injuries.
“The good thing about rugby is it gives you something to focus the mind and the players are focused on getting a performance for Ian.”