ONE type of selection headache has been replaced by another for Castleford Tigers coach Daryl Powell.
Earlier in the season Powell had to dig deep into Castleford’s squad to field a team in the face of a huge injury crisis.
But players have gradually been returning to fitness and Powell has almost a full squad to choose from ahead of tomorrow’s visit from Widnes Vikings.
Forward Frankie Mariano has undergone major knee surgery and will not play again this year, but full-back Luke Dorn is the latest player to be back in contention.
The Australian former London Broncos and Salford man has been sidelined since April with a hamstring problem, but Castleford had no game last weekend, giving him more time to focus on his recovery and he in now back in full training.
That is good news for Castleford, who are on a four-game winning run and will move to within a point of third-placed Wigan Warriors if they claim another victory tomorrow.
It also creates a problem for Powell, who must now decide whether to bring Dorn straight back in at full-back or continue with Ben Roberts as his last line of defence.
Roberts, signed last winter from Melbourne Storm, made a slow start to his Super League career, but has been growing in stature and been outstanding since moving to full-back during Dorn’s lay-off.
The Samoan – and former New Zealand – international kicked the last-gasp winning drop goal in Castleford’s previous match, against St Helens more than two weeks ago.
Powell said: “Luke is available this week and that gives me a pretty big selection issue. Benny Roberts has been playing really well. Dorny has got some elements, with his experience at full-back, that will help us and Benny can learn from, but I’ve got an issue in terms of who we select this week, which is nice. It was only four games ago that we had just 19 fit players and that was pretty tough.”
Powell is considering giving a debut tomorrow to forward Gadwin Springer, who was signed last month from Catalans Dragons. The Castleford coach has high hopes of his French recruit.
“He has fitted in pretty well,” Powell said. “It looks like he is going to be a pretty good player for us. I am really pleased with his introduction.”
The visit of Widnes, who are third from bottom in the table, would have been a dangerous fixture for Castleford in recent seasons, but they will be strong favourites tomorrow.
Powell feels his team, who reached Wembley and finished fourth in the league last term, are a steelier proposition now, despite the loss of some key players at the end of 2014.
“We are playing pretty well and I think we are a little bit tougher this year, across the board,” he observed.
“I think winning those two big games last month, against Leeds and St Helens, showed that. To be able to do that back-to-back against the better teams was something we didn’t quite do last year.
“We have had to adapt the way we play this year, because the team is a little bit different and it has evolved across the season. We’ve had people injured, which has really hurt us. We have had to work really hard to glue the team together and we’ve had to strip it back a little bit at times. It is a slightly different team, but I think we’ve got a great opportunity, just like we had last year, of doing something pretty special.”
Setbacks earlier in the year could now pay dividends for Castleford, who have only the league to focus on following an early exit from the Challenge Cup.
“Players being injured for decent periods means they come back and they are pretty fresh,” Powell said.
“Being in the Challenge Cup final meant we didn’t have a week off at all last year and that has to have an impact. We didn’t have that many injuries last year, which meant when we got to the back end we had a few players who struggled a little bit.
“That is bound to happen, the same thing happened to Leeds and they fell in a big hole. It is very tough to keep going week after week. It is a long season and the boys work exceptionally hard. While you don’t want to be out of the Challenge Cup, it does have its benefits down the track.”