ALTHOUGH most people detest friendlies, Castleford Tigers coach Daryl Powell says his side’s warm-up fixtures will genuinely play a big part in deciding who starts the Super League season.
In a rarity for the West Yorkshire club, Powell has real squad depth at his disposal in 2014 and readily concedes being unsure as to who will get the nod in their opener at Bradford Bulls next month.
It is not surprising that Castleford fans are quietly hopeful this could be a season where they break back into the play-offs for the first time in five years.
They finished 12th last time and lost England stand-off Rangi Chase to Salford City Reds, but Powell has used that cash wisely.
With nine new recruits, including ex-Hull FC captain Andy Lynch, Australian half-back Luke Dorn and Wakefield Trinity Wildcats second row Frankie Mariano, they have certainly strengthened.
Powell said: “There are places where I know some are pencilled in and some are inked in.
“But there are quite a few when I’m looking and thinking, ‘I’m not sure who’s going to get that’.
“You are dictated a little bit by the way they are training and by the history of the players.
“But with this group I’ll probably be dictated a hell of a lot by what happens in our three pre-season games. That will tell me who’s ready to go at the start in four weeks’ time.
“We look sharp, the players are looking good and we’ve spent a lot of time on 13 v 13. We couldn’t do that last year but we’ve quite a deep squad now and it’s been a real benefit being able to do that.
“I’m looking forward to it. We’ve a great opportunity this year.”
Powell arrived at Wheldon Road last May after Ian Millward was sacked and – while he oversaw an obvious improvement – spent much of the remainder of the campaign fire-fighting.
However, after a full pre-season working with his freshened squad, Powell is confident of making his mark. There will be no over-reliance on Chase for creativity with a firm belief Castleford are now capable of striking on various fronts.
“Rangi’s a pretty special player but I think there’s a more rounded feel about this team now,” said the ex-Great Britain centre.
“We’ll have a solid structure that everyone understands and if we get that right we’ll be pretty tough to defend against.
“Probably the best advocates of that have been Wigan in recent times. Their structure is very tidy and very difficult to defend – you know what they’re doing but stopping it is pretty tough.
“We’ll look to a very strong structure but with people making things happen all over the field.”
Johnathan Thurston has become only the third man to win the coveted Golden Boot on two occasions.
The Australia stand-off edged out Yorkshireman Sam Burgess to follow up his success in 2011 as the world’s best player.