Hull KR v Castleford Tigers: Classmates on collision course for crucial test

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STRANGELY, there could be plenty of alumni from Tuggerah’s St Peter’s High School on the New South Wales Central Coast tuning in to see what’s happening in East Hull tonight.

KC Lightstreams Stadium, or Craven Park as it is more commonly known, is not ordinarily a source of too much interest for folks formerly of that educational establishment around 90 miles north of Sydney.

Castleford's Grant Millington will come up against some familiar faces in tonight's trip to Hull Kingston Rovers. Picture: Richard Land

Castleford's Grant Millington will come up against some familiar faces in tonight's trip to Hull Kingston Rovers. Picture: Richard Land

But two of their old students will be locking horns this evening more than 20,000 miles away in the Super League game between Hull KR and Castleford Tigers.

Grant Millington, Castleford’s Australian prop who has been so central to them since joining from Canterbury Bulldogs in 2012, faces his old classmate Josh Mantellato, the rangy winger who few ever expected to play professionally let alone venture to Europe.

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“We were in the same group together through high school,” explained Millington, about the Rovers player who has been a revelation in his first year here, scoring 13 tries and 59 goals.

“Josh was bit of a late bloomer. He didn’t really kick on until he was about 25 or so. He played local league and then got picked up by Newcastle (Knights) and he’s done really well.

“He should be proud of how he’s gone really as he’s taken the high road, one of those guys who has stuck with it.

“Josh was always a good player at school but it’s one of those things – sometimes they don’t get picked for representative sides or whatever.

“But he was always your solid go-to man, who would do his job every week and kick goals for you like he does with Hull KR. He’s pretty good at that and he’s doing a good job there.

“It’ll be good to play against him and catch up.

“We’ve got a few friends giving us some banter about who’s going to win. I’m really looking forward to the weekend.”

Mantellato, 29, contacted Millington about the move when he opted to join Hull KR ahead of this season.

“He didn’t ring me – he’s too tight for that – so he got in touch on Facebook!” he laughed.

“I told him to go for it. We’re actually both being groomsmen in a friend from school’s wedding in the off-season.”

Sydney-born Millington took the more direct route to professional rugby league, starting out with Canterbury Bulldogs in 2008 and spending three years there before switching to Cronulla and then to West Yorkshire.

It means there will be another familiar face in the opposition tonight, too.

“I played with Albert Kelly at Cronulla,” added the Castleford forward, about the dynamic scrum-half who has starred since joining from Gold Coast Titans last winter and who this week turned down the option of a NRL return.

“He was coming through and made his debut as a young kid when I was there. Alby’s one of those guys who the ball just seems to bounce for or he can pluck an intercept out of the air or something.

“He’s very, very talented and we have to be on the ball with him as sometimes you don’t know what he’s going to do.

“Sometimes I don’t think he knows what he’s going to do either and then he’s gone and through a hole.

“But they’ve got that all over the park – (Terry) Campese controls the game really well and they have pretty good strike on the edges in people like Josh.”

Tonight’s game is crucial for both sides.

Castleford, who reached Wembley and fourth place last season but have struggled for consistency since, have won only half of their 16 league games yet remain in contention for a top-four slot.

If they lose at Rovers, however, Daryl Powell’s side are suddenly in danger of slipping out of the top eight.

Tenth-placed Rovers, meanwhile, can ill-afford another defeat if they are serious about reaching the play-offs.

They have lost five of their last six league games, including a sobering 46-20 derby defeat to Hull FC at Magic Weekend where Castleford thrashed Wakefield.

Millington, 28, admitted: “We need to kick on. We’ve a few tough weeks coming up – Hull KR, Leeds away, St Helens at home – so we have to take some confidence from what we’ve done against Wakefield even though we know it will be a step up again now.

“We needed that win and enjoyed the way we played. Hopefully, we can push on to the back end of the season and do the same.

“We’ve shown flashes of control and quality almost every week – we’ve still got that in us – but we tend to either start poorly or well and then go the opposite for periods of time.

“We just get torn apart in those poor periods and it hasn’t been good enough really but I think we’re getting there.”