Who will be proved right? Castleford Tigers and Leeds Rhinos take different approaches

Jake Trueman: High hopes.
Jake Trueman: High hopes.
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CASTLEFORD TIGERS are looking to make one signing ahead of Super League 2019, but director of rugby Jon Wells insists he and coach Daryl Powell are happy with their existing squad.

Castleford, whose pre-season training is due to begin on Monday, are the only top-flight club who have yet to announce any recruitment for the new campaign.

By contrast, neighbours Leeds Rhinos, who have been in training since last week, are set to welcome the first of three overseas recruits to the club today.

Tigers finished third in the table this year and were beaten at eventual champions Wigan Warriors in a play-off semi-final.

Wells, who rejoined his hometown club last March, confirmed one addition is possible before Castleford’s Betfred Super League opener at home to Challenge Cup holders Catalans Dragons on Friday, February 1.

However, he believes the existing squad is strong enough to go one better than last term and is excited to see how the club’s emerging youngsters cope at the top level.

“There certainly won’t be wholesale changes and the emphasis right now is on finding possibly one more addition if we can,” said Wells.

“We’re constantly looking to do that, but we very much like this squad and believe it does have the potential to challenge for trophies, irrespective of whether new recruits arrive or not.”

Castleford’s ranks were strengthened during the 2018 campaign when they brought in former Hull prop Liam Watts and full-back Peter Mata’utia from Leigh Centurions.

“The signings of Liam and Peter were considered and thought out and the club paid significant transfer fees to do our business,” reflected Wells.

“They have added a great deal to this squad and, with the benefit of a full pre-season in our environment at Castleford, we’re confident we will continue to step up in 2019, especially when you add in the ongoing development of players like Jake Trueman, the reigning Super League young player of the year.

“We are working within the constraints of a salary-capped sport and you’ve seen a number of key players such as Jake sign new and upgraded contracts and that consistency in the squad can be a real strength.

“What we do have here is a deep squad and that means we can have such as Jamie Ellis come in and win a game for us, for example.

“Players like Mitch Clark and Calum Turner also came in last year and those players are a lot better than what several other teams have in their equivalent numbers in the squad.”

Wells stressed: “It’s not always about new personnel, it’s about unlocking the next stage of development in those we’ve already got.

“If you look at centre specifically, we’re looking at Greg Minikin, Fozzy (Alex Foster) or Ben Roberts as being genuine quality options on that right edge for us if required.

“With the likes of Luke Gale, Alex Foster, Greg Minikin, Greg Eden and Matt Cook fit and healthy again after missing large parts of last season through injury, we have every right to be excited about the players we already have.

“We are looking to further strengthen the squad if the right player becomes available, but Daryl and I are also very happy with what’s already in place.”

Wells promised a “real change in direction, tempo and focus” for pre-season this year.

He confirmed conditioner Ben Cooper has left the club with assistant Jamie Bell stepping up to take over.

Players Gadwin Springer, Jy Hitchcox, Jake Webster, James Green and Quentin Laulu-Togaga’e have moved on from Castleford’s 2018 squad.

Rhinos, who went from defending champions to a relegation battle last season, have adopted a change of policy under new coach Dave Furner.

Ryan Hall, Joel Moon, Brett Delaney, Mitch Garbutt and Jimmy Keinhorst have left since the end of last season and the future of several other first-team squad members is unclear.

The first of Leeds’ overseas recruits, former Wests Tigers half-back Tuimoala Lolohea, was due to meet his new team-mates today.

Centre Konrad Hurrell, brought in from Gold Coast Titans, is expected to arrive in England on November 30 and fellow marquee signing, former Australia Test prop Trent Merrin, will be booked on a flight once paperwork is completed next week. Leeds have also tempted teenage stand-off Callum McLelland back to rugby league following a spell in the 15-a-side game in Scotland.

Veteran second-row Carl Ablett had been considering leaving the club to play lower grade rugby in Australia, but last week signed a new two-year contract.

“I’m not going to scream and shout we are going to turn into champions,” said Ablett of Rhinos’ prospects for 2019. “Obviously, we are in a bit of a transition, we’ve got a few new members of staff and a few other changes at the club.

“It is really exciting; I’ve had a chat with Dave and a few of the coaches about the changes he is making and just hearing that different voice and those different ideas invigorates you a bit and gets you thinking about the game.

“Dave is a good coach and an experienced bloke. He has come in here and already you can see he is having an impact. He will be great for the squad and for the younger lads.”