HE might never have had chance to play for his home-town club but Daryl Powell is certainly savouring the opportunity to now coach Castleford Tigers.
The former Great Britain centre takes charge for the first time this afternoon when they face Catalan Dragons in Perpignan, fully 11 days after being unveiled as axed Ian Millward’s replacement at Wheldon Road.
A free weekend following Castleford’s exit from the Challenge Cup has given Powell extra time to get to work with his inherited squad after his switch from Championship neighbours Featherstone Rovers and he hopes to see immediate dividends.
The West Yorkshire club are already on the right track after assistant Danny Orr guided them to two wins from three Super League games while in temporary charge, lifting Tigers off the bottom.
Speaking to the Yorkshire Post from Castleford’s training base in the south of France, Powell admits he has been pleased with the squad’s initial reaction.
“It’s been fantastic,” he said.
“The players have responded and have been real passionate about the things we’re doing while, for me, being back in the day-to-day business of being out on the field – far more so than when working with part-time players – has meant a bit of an adjustment process.
“Hopefully, I’ve got my messages across and we’ll start seeing some development on Saturday.
“I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a great opportunity to come over here and get to see the boys in a different environment.
“It’s a very important game for us. We want to build on the win against Hull KR a couple of weeks ago. We have some improving to do but I can see the players are looking confident and really focused on their performance here.”
There is no surprise that Powell has targeted Castleford’s resilience as his principal basis for turning around fortunes.
A renowned defender in his playing days with Sheffield Eagles, Keighley Cougars and Leeds Rhinos, he has transported those beliefs in to all the sides he has coached since with disciplined Featherstone finishing top in each of the last three seasons.
“We have to be consistent and we’ve talked quite a bit about defending,” he added.
“Our focus has to be on the defensive side of our game. We haven’t had a massive amount of time together but we’ve worked hard in training and now need to deliver on the pitch against a very formidable Catalan team.
“The boys are looking forward to that challenge.”
But, undoubtedly, it will be a significant moment too for Powell, not only for the fact he takes charge of a side he supported as a boy but also as it completes the decade-long journey back to life as a Super League head coach.
It was the end of 2003, when his Leeds Rhinos side were denied a Grand Final spot only by a late drop-goal from Wigan’s Danny Tickle, that Powell was last at the helm in the top flight before making way for Tony Smith.
He has admitted since that that top job at Headingley had come too early – Powell was just 35 when he took over in April, 2001 – yet, undeniably, he had a major influence on a group of young players who would soon go on and enjoy unprecedented success in Super League.
Did he think it would take so long to finally get back to the elite?
“You just get on and develop yourself,” insisted Powell, who coached Ireland in 2004 and, more recently, was assistant to England chief Steve McNamara.
“As a coach, I’ve had some interesting experiences over the last 10 years including in rugby union with Leeds Tykes and also, in four- and-a-half years at Featherstone.
“I got a massive amount out of that and it was a real pleasure there.
“You are always looking to improve yourself. I always felt if I worked hard enough it would happen and I have worked pretty hard to get where I am now.”
Powell, who won 33 Great Britain caps, famously became Sheffield’s first professional signing when he joined from Castleford amateurs Redhill in 1984 going on to become a legend for the South Yorkshire club.
However, he revealed: “I would have liked to have played for Cas as I did support them as a young man. But, at the time, they only offered me a trial and I had firm offers from Sheffield Eagles and Hull KR.
“It was Sheffield I chose as I thought they offered me the best opportunity to actually play.
“They only had one team at the time so I knew I was going to be playing first-team rugby league and thrown in at the sharp end of the game.
“I think I was the only player from that Redhill side to sign pro’ but at that time there was no restrictions on overseas players.
“Some top teams were playing with nine, 10 or 11 overseas players and that was the main reason I didn’t join Hull KR as I think they had a dozen in their side. It’s history now, though, and I certainly never held any grudges.
“I made my own path and thoroughly enjoyed my playing career but it will be a proud moment to be able to coach them.
“It is a great honour and there’s lots of things about the side and the club I’m looking to develop and grow.
“Danny Orr has done a wonderful job stabilising things and there’s plenty to build on now starting against Catalan.”
Prop Craig Huby, meanwhile, is set to make his 200th appearance for the club, having made his debut, ironically, in a 39-26 defeat to Powell’s Leeds side in June, 2003.