Castleford potential is exciting for coach Millward

Rangi Chase and Ian Millward
Rangi Chase and Ian Millward
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The unmistakable gold ring adorning his middle finger is a constant reminder of his first Grand Final triumph.

Ian Millward proudly slipped on the instantly recognisable S-shaped emblem the night St Helens defeated Wigan in 2000 and has not taken it off since.

The head coach knows he is not expected to gain another such prize in his first season at the less illustrious Castleford Tigers, nor perhaps even by the end of his three-year contract at the West Yorkshire club.

Super League titles are not foreseen there in the immediate future no matter how fast they progress, but that does not dim Millward’s appetite for putting in place the standards which could eventually see such success materialise.

Castleford undoubtedly have some of the finest young talent in the country with players such as Daryl Clark, Joe Arundel, Jonathan Walker and Richie Owen proving their Academy system is thriving.

They also have the current Man of Steel Rangi Chase, an experienced captain in Danny Orr and the constantly-improving second-row Brett Ferres, so the tools are there.

The problem last season, however, was getting them all on the field together.

Under Terry Matterson, unfancied Castleford stunned the competition to actually sit top at Easter only for a crippling catalogue of injuries to ruin their efforts so badly they agonisingly fell out of the top eight on the final day.

Their squad was already shallower than most and they simply could not cope with such sustained losses.

Since taking over from Matterson, Millward has made it is his priority to ensure everything is now done to limit such problems in the future.

Funds are not there to make major signings – just four have come in and seven departed – but the former Leigh coach is bidding to maximise those at his disposal.

“There’s got to be a reason why they have so many injuries,” he told the Yorkshire Post.

“You can’t fulfil your promise if you’re continually having your squad depleted.

“We’ve had to have a review of that area and find out ways of trying to rebuild the players that have been left susceptible to injury and get more pro-active.

“That’s been a major focus for us and it is a challenge. People mainly look at what they do on the field but we need to work out what to improve to actually give them more access to us.”

James Parkes has been appointed head of athletic performance while Ben Stirling is the club’s new physiotherapist.

Matterson admitted a restricted budget and resources outside of the playing squad – compared to their rivals – had also dented hopes of challenging and Millward agrees.

“On a scale of one to 10 they were probably on one,” he said.

“That’s probably moved up a couple of notches now which is fantastic but it’s an area which needs to be an on-going focus.

“We’ve got a lot of young talent here but it’s no use saying we’ve got that unless we have the resources to service them.”

But Millward knows the players need to take more responsibility for their own actions as well and increase their professionalism, which has been questioned in the past.

To help engender that, the enigmatic 50-year-old has introduced new routines including employing a full-time chef so the entire squad can eat both breakfast and lunch together at the club.

That facilitates morning and afternoon training sessions and Millward said: “Overall, we’re trying to build up a bigger picture for the players of what a professional athlete needs to do.

“They realise there’s a little bit more to saying ‘I’m a professional player’. There’s some professional actions during the week with training, time, sacrifices and everything.

“It’s not just about us playing and winning. It’s getting ourselves more consistent in everything we do on and off the field. That’s the key for us at the moment.”

Millward – who worked back in the NRL at North Queensland and Canberra following his last spell in Super League with Wigan in 2006 – is confident if the right improvements are made, Castleford can make strides in 2012.

“The supporters here are very fanatical and very pro the local kids, which is great,” he said.

“There’s probably a lot of hope for them in the future – there’s hope for a new stadium and hope for retaining youngsters.

“When Shenton, Westerman and those sorts of guys were leaving, all of a sudden now your Owens, Clarks and Milners are re-signing when they’ve had really good offers from elsewhere.

“The club has been tested over the last four months with clubs coming in for our better players and they’ve withstood that challenge.

“That provides excitement for the fans – we want to develop a team, a new stadium – all good things for a club to gravitate towards.”

While short of outside backs, Millward stands by allowing first-choice full-back Richard Mathers to join Wakefield Trinity Wildcats on a season-long loan, a decision which surprised many.

“Richie (Owen) had offers from other Super League clubs with a view to playing full-back for them,” he said, about the youngster who spent much of last season on the wing.

“So, technically, when he signed a new deal here, I had to make some commitment I’d give him an opportunity to play full-back.

“I gave him that and then we had Wakefield come in for Richard (Mathers). Ryan McGoldrick can play full-back – as can 19-year-old James Clare – and to best utilise our squad and make some money potentially for a centre – where we’re short – we agreed.

“Richard (Owen) is quite raw but with his speed and enthusiasm, if we can work on the technical part of his game at full-back, I think we could have a real good player.

“As a squad, I’m not going to shout my mouth off and say we’re going to do this or that next year. It would be unrealistic.

“But we’ve got a good car. It just needs a lot of service in regards to management of their bodies and if we can get everyone on the field that car will do some good laps.

“I’m just not sure at this stage how quick the car can go.”