A TOUGHER, more hungry Castleford Tigers team will line up against visitors Catalans Dragons for tonight’s season opener, forward Jesse Sene-Lefao says.
Tigers have waited since October to put right the disappointment of 2018 when their campaign ended in semi-final defeat at Wigan Warriors.
That was another example of Tigers falling short when the result mattered most and Sene-Lefao claims they have learned important lessons.
“With the challenges we have faced over the pre-season – not just physically, but mentally – we have had to really pull together and I think we’ve done that,” said the big pack man who is entering his third campaign at the club.
“Our pre-season has been very different to the last two years, a lot of high-speed metres, a lot of running and, physically and mentally, I think we are ready.”
Tigers will have to cope with the loss of half-back Luke Gale who suffered an Achilles injury in training last month, but Sene-Lefao insisted that is no excuse when the action begins.
“Galey is one of those players everyone wants in their team,” he admitted. “But, at the end of the day, we have to trust in our young fellas to step up.
“We’ve signed Jordan Rankin and he’s fitted in perfectly, Cory [Aston], the other half, is doing really well so we’ve got two guys who are fighting for it and I can’t wait for this game against Catalans.
“They are a big, physical team so it will be good. Every time they come to the Jungle they try and take over our forward pack.
“That’s what they are good at and it’s how they won the Challenge Cup, going through the middle. We are going to be tested straight away so I think there’s no better team to test ourselves against.”
Castleford got off to a flying start in their main warm-up game against Leeds Rhinos, leading 18-4 early on before winning 26-24 and that will send them into tonight in confident mood.
“Everyone was just excited to play, we’ve been training so much,” Sene-Lefao said.
“We really enjoyed it being back under pressure and stress and it was good for our team.
“They say these friendlies are supposed to test you and it did that.
“We had to hold Leeds out for the last 40 minutes and there was only two points in it so we had to scramble a bit.
“In the first half we had some good possession with the ball and what we’ve done in pre-season worked well for us.
“Hopefully we can put that into round one and start off well.”
Rankin could make his debut tonight and Ben Roberts is also in contention after recovering from a back injury.
Greg Eden missed the game at Leeds, but has been named in Tigers’ initial 19.
Recruits Sam Tomkins, Matty Smith and Matt Whitley have all been named in Catalans’ squad, but the visitors are without the influential Greg Bird who suffered a broken thumb in a pre-season win over Toulouse Olympique last week.
Castleford Tigers: from Clare, Clark, Cook, Eden, Foster, Massey, Mata’utia, McMeeken, McShane, Millington, Milner, Minikin, Moors, Rankin, Roberts, Sene-Lefao, Shenton, Trueman, Watts
Catalans Dragons: from Gigot, Mead, Wiliame, Tierney, Langi, Smith, Casty, McIlorum, Moa, Edwards, Garcia, Bousquet, Simon, Jullien, Whitley, Da Costa, Goudemand, Baitieri, Tomkins.
Referee: James Child (Dewsbury).
Kick-off: Tonight, 7.45pm.