IT IS anyone’s guess who will play full-back for Castleford Tigers tomorrow but, if it is “unflappable” teenager Jake Trueman again, coach Daryl Powell knows he won’t let him down.
Last season’s League Leaders Shield winners head to Huddersfield Giants still, essentially, trying to work out who is the best fit in not one but two key positions.
England star Zak Hardaker’s drugs ban at the end of last term has upset the equilibrium of Powell’s side but he certainly has a raft of options.
Initially, Samoa stand-off Benny Roberts was pencilled in to play full-back instead of the disgraced Hardaker with ex-Huddersfield star Jamie Ellis returning to the club at No6.
But then 19-year-old Trueman surprisingly started the first game of the season at half-back only to swiftly be replaced by Ellis. However, for the last two matches, even more surprisingly, rookie Trueman went to full-back, Roberts returned to six and, on Easter Monday at least, Ellis was left out altogether.
He is in the 19 tomorrow, though, and there could be a new name in the mix today; anyone fancy Greg Eden to make his return from a hamstring injury in the Tigers full-back slot.
For a young player to go in there and play as he has at full-back, I can’t speak highly enough of him and what he’s done there.Castleford Tigers’ head coach, Daryl Powell, on Jake Trueman
He was originally signed by Powell for that role in 2017 only for Hardaker’s late availability meaning Eden swapped to the wing – and duly scored 41 tries.
It is an interesting conundrum but the temperament of Trueman, in particular, has been fascinating to see.
“Jamie (Ellis) is a good player and when he came in at stand-off he started playing outstandingly well,” explained Powell.
“He really pulled our right edge together and then he probably dropped off a little bit defensively.
“That put Ben Roberts in the frame (at six) and Jake Trueman has done an immense job at full-back. For a young player to go in there and play as he has at full-back, I can’t speak highly enough of him and what he’s done there.
“He came off the bench at Leeds in a powder-keg of a situation (25-24 win at Elland Road), then played in two watersplash games (at Wakefield and versus Warrington) at full-back.
“The half-back position then becomes really competitive and it’s a tough one.
“I’ll look at it week on week. We haven’t nailed that right-edge yet; I’m looking for someone to grab hold of that right-edge and deliver what we need.”
Remarkably, though, it emerged Trueman – the gifted youngster signed from Bradford Bulls when they went into liquidation last January – has never even played full-back before.
“He has only played there this year and had three or four training sessions in there before his first game, handling it incredibly well,” admitted Powell, Trueman looking assured in atrocious conditions during the 11-6 win at Wakefield a week last Thursday and again in the quagmire as Warrington won 18-6 on Easter Monday.
“He is pretty unflappable. He has handled it in his usual way. He doesn’t say a lot, something we are trying to improve in him. He is pretty assured in the way he plays rugby league.
“Particularly with teams’ kicking game, everybody’s gone after him and he’s handled it pretty easily.
“Teams are going to stop doing it when they realise there’s not a weakness there.
“He ran over the top of (Warrington’s) Kevin Brown. He lost the ball in contact after that, but he’s a tough kid with loads of ability and we’re going to see a lot more from him this season at full-back I think. He has done incredibly well.”
While it may prove worrying for some coaches not knowing a settled axis at this stage of the season – the one constant, scrum-half Luke Gale, may be a doubt tomorrow, too – Powell thrives in such situations.
“We’ve played (prop) Grant Millington and (hooker) Paul McShane as our starting half-backs at times,” he said.
“You’ve got to be flexible and adaptable. We’ve always been that way as a team.
“I’m looking for the best combinations and we’ve not found them yet. We’ve got to find a way to make things work for us.
“Everybody’s expecting what happened last year. It’s not happening, it’s got to be different –whether that’s different combinations to find out exactly what is best for us at the moment – that’s what we’re looking for.”
Huddersfield interim-coach Chris Thorman can only wish for such problems; Danny Brough is the latest player added to his growing injury list and 17-year-old twins Louis and Innes Senior are both included tomorrow.
Giants’ injury-hit forward Tom Symonds has been released.