THE LAST time James Clare played Super League for Castleford Tigers was May 2015 but the winger feels like he has never been away.
If things go according to plan – and the 26-year-old knows more than most not to presume they will – he should feature for his hometown club once more on Thursday night when they head to newly-promoted Hull KR.
Benefiting from an injury to last season’s top try-scorer Greg Eden who, like Joe Wardle, will miss around four weeks of action due to a hamstring strain, Clare knows he must take his chance.
Competition is stiff at the League Leaders’ Shield holders, just as it was when he made the tough decision to leave three years ago and join Bradford Bulls.
“It was one of the most difficult things ever given, as a young professional growing up, you just want to play for your hometown club,” Clare told The Yorkshire Post.
“Coming through that’s all I wanted to do – play for Cas. Making the decision to move, and that chat with Daryl Powell, was really difficult, but at the same time it was one of the best things I’ve ever done as it gave me an opportunity to go grow as a person and as a player.
“This time coming around for my second stint at Cas I feel much better, stronger, smarter and ready to give it a real go.
“It’s unfortunate for Greg getting injured, but it gives me a really good chance to get a game and hopefully keep that spot for four, five, six weeks or however long he’s out. Then, potentially, keep it again when he’s back and fight for that spot.”
Clare scored 21 tries in 30 games for Bradford in the Championship before they suffered liquidation last January, prompting his move to newly-promoted Leigh Centurions.
However, he suffered a cruciate ligament injury in a pre-season game and did not feature again until September, admittedly scoring six tries in five Qualifiers game, but was unable to prevent their relegation in the Million Pound Game.
Nevertheless, Powell re-signed the crowd favourite who crossed 24 times in 38 games after debuting with Castleford in 2012.
Clare recalled: “I went with a view to get as much game time as possible at Bulls and ended up starting every single game in the regular season, which was perfect for what I needed at the time.
“Obviously a bit of trouble there led me to leaving for Leigh, but you go through the adversity of an ACL reconstruction and that helps you grow as a person off the field as well.
“I feel I learned a lot more just watching so many games. Having a year out and doing a bit of stuff with the coaching staff over there allowed me to learn even more.”
Clare – who has spent the last three weeks featuring with Halifax – knew it would be tough again at Tigers especially as, allied to Eden, Greg Minikin and Jy Hitchcox, they also recruited Papua New Guinea star Garry Lo.
However, Lo is currently on loan at former club Sheffield Eagles so Clare is at the front of the queue to take his chance for the side that swept all before them last term before ultimately succumbing to Leeds Rhinos in their maiden Grand Final.
“Obviously I’m still a Cas fan and it was incredible last year,” added the Academy product.
“I felt I was part of the side as I was still very good friends with some of the team and was catching up with them for coffee each week.
“Unfortunately we fell at the last hurdle, but I feel the team is better this year than it was before and hopefully we can now go one better. And I can be involved in those big games.”