Lee Radford interview: How Wheldon Road got the vote over Dallas from new Castleford Tigers coach

THE passport is packed away once more and Castleford rather than Dallas is now Lee Radford’s chosen destination.

Back in the game: Lee Radford, who takes charge of Castleford next season. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix

Just 14 months ago, when still head coach of Hull FC, neither option would even have been near his radar but professional sport is an unpredictable beast.

The gregarious Yorkshireman was earlier this week announced as Castleford Tigers’ head coach from the 2022 season, completing a bizarre period in his life which saw him switch codes and join a fledgling club in America yet never actually leave his home in East Hull.

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Radford should have been in the middle of Dallas Jackals’ inaugural season in Major League Rugby right now, orchestrating the rugby union club’s defensive systems against the likes of New Orleans Gold, Utah Warriors and San Diego Legion.

Instead, though, he is working out which Castleford players he needs to retain at Wheldon Road for next season, catching up with analysis of the Tigers’ games and reacquainting himself with the sport he has always known and loved.

It also means he is not leaving his family – Bradley, 18, and Logan, 16, are both promising players on the books at Hull – for months at a time to live in the States.

“You’ll have to ask them: it depends which day you get them on!” said Radford, when asked if his sons were glad he is now staying put and facing the far less taxing commute down the M62.

His American visa had arrived and he was about to book tickets to fly out when Dallas made the decision to delay their first season until 2022.

MOVING ON: Castleford head coach Daryl Powell will take over at Warrington next season. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

Radford, who won the Challenge Cup with Hull in 2016 and again 12 months later before being sacked last March, has spent this year further developing his union knowledge in readiness to move to Texas in September.

However, then came the news that Daryl Powell would be leaving Castleford at the end of this season to join Warrington Wolves in 2022: a rare head coaching vacancy emerged in Super League.

Radford’s pedigree meant he was an obvious contender for the role and the West Yorkshire club liked what they saw when meeting the 42-year-old.

The former Bradford Bulls prop has signed initially until the end of 2023 and it meant a difficult phone call across the Pond.

BIG OCCASION: Lee Radford, pictured during the captain's run at Wembley ahead of the 2017 Challenge Cup final. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

“I’d got a good relationship with the (Dallas) coaching staff and we spoke a minimum of once per week, sometimes three or four times per week,” said Radford.

“We were reviewing games in the MLR this year. It was obviously difficult to pick the phone up and let those fellas know.

“But they understand; it’s about family and that comes first. From a family point of view, it was always going to be hard anyway.

“Both of my lads are playing – one at the academy and one in the scholarship at Hull – and with the restaurant and bar we own, my wife was going to look after that while I was away.

WINNERS: Lee Radford, left, Gareth Ellis and Marc Sneyd celebrate beating Warrington Wolves to win the Challenge Cup at Wembley in August 2016. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

“It was just one of those things we had to accept. But then the second lockdown came and that probably made it more difficult for them, and for me, to go.

“Plus Super League head coach roles don’t come around that often – especially ones where it’s a position you want to take.”

There will be aspects of the American adventure that Radford concedes he will miss.

“It was hard making that call; I spent six months looking up about Dallas and things to do in America, building friendships with people at the club and I genuinely wish them all the best,” he added.

“I’ll be watching them next season when they get started.

“I’d like to say thanks to Allen Clarke, their director of rugby, who offered me the position.

“It’s just about timing: the Castleford job just came around when it did.”

What of Castleford? What enticed him? In such unusual circumstances for both coaches, has he spoken to Powell about next year?

“I had a chat with Daryl on Tuesday,” said Radford, the day his move was announced.

“It’s a difficult one because Daryl’s in the same position.

“How I’d describe it is, you don’t know how much you can invite yourself in; Cas are still obviously playing – they have a game tonight (Friday) – and have a competition they want to win.

“But, likewise, I don’t want to go in there blindfolded when I start officially in November.

“I want to get as much information as I can with regards the club, and the group. It’s a Catch 22.”

As Powell prepares to switch to a Warrington side who have consistently invested large sums in superstar players – Kangaroos legend Greg Inglis makes his long-awaited debut against Hull KR today – yet failed to deliver a league title since 1955, there is similar hope of making vital breakthroughs at Castleford for Radford.

Tigers have never won the championship in their 95-year history, something Powell hopes to address in his final campaign.

However, under the popular coach, they did finish top for the first time in 2017 only to lose out in their maiden Grand Final against Leeds Rhinos.

Radford says Castleford have 14 players off contract at the end of the season so – being immediately placed in charge of their recruiting and retention – he already has work to do.

He said: “Idiotically, I didn’t think it’d be as busy as it has been already. There’s a lot of blokes off contract and a lot who I’ve still got to speak to.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing the next three or four weeks and looking at some of the players’ performances in real detail. From thereon in, recruitment is down to myself. I don’t deal with the finances but I do deal with identifying and contact details as well.

“One of the appealing parts of the job is that Cas have been there or thereabouts for the last four or five years.

“They spend the (salary) cap and have got a good squad. It’s one I’m really looking forward to working with. It’s not a rebuild job. It’s not wholesale changes.

“We just need maybe one or two tweaks that can freshen the place up a little bit.”

Castleford fans will hope reigning Man of Steel Paul McShane and exciting young stand-off Jake Trueman –their two prized assets and both under contract – remain on board.

Radford said: “You want to work with your best players.

“Truey and Paul McShane are two of the very best. Macca is the face of Castleford at the moment.

“I’m wanting to keep him and he’s a great fit for the club.

“Truey’s best years are well and truly ahead of him. Working with him is something I’m looking forward to next season and hopefully beyond.”

With Radford re-energised after his enforced sabbatical, you can imagine this being a good fit for both parties. For now, at least, the States and union can wait.

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