CASTLEFORD Tigers have been given a double boost ahead of tonight’s Stobart Super League clash with local rivals Leeds Rhinos.
Australian prop forward Grant Millington has been declared ready to make his English Rugby League debut while England squad back row forward Brett Ferres (pictured) – who missed last Sunday’s 46-4 mauling by Wigan – is likely to return to play against the world champions. Both are included in the 19-man squad.
Acting head coach Stuart Donlanconsidered selecting Jonathan Walker, Ryan Hudson and Jordan Thompson as well after they impressed in a win at under 20s level for Cas against Wigan last weekend, but has chosen to give the 17 on duty last weekend a chance to make amends for their collective disappointing performance. Confident Leeds, meanwhile, have Jamie Peacock back and could hand a debut to 20-year-old hooker Liam Hood.
Donlan, who will once again be in charge for the Rhinos game in the absence of Ian Millward, admits it has been tough to prepare without the head coach, but says the players are determined to put on a better display than against Wigan.
He told the Express: “The players have trained really well and come Friday I know that they’ll be ready.
“It’s another tough game for us against Leeds, but we want to put right a few wrongs from last weekend’s game.
“We just didn’t turn up defensively on Sunday and we’ve been working on improving that on the training field. Hopefully we can put in a better performance.
“It’s going to be tough against the champions, but we’re looking forward to it. If you can’t get yourself up for a Friday night Sky game at home against Leeds then I don’t know what you can get up for.
“When I played here a few years ago I remember we played Leeds at a similar stage of the season. They’d just won the World Club Challenge and we beat them down here so it’s possible and if we can repeat that feat it will be a nice way to start the weekend.
“There should be a big crowd and a good atmosphere and I hope we can give a performance that does us justice. The scoreboard will then take care of itself.
“If we do all the little things right that we didn’t do last week we’ll be there or thereabouts come Friday night.”
Castleford will once again be without injured centre Joe Arundel, who is likely to be out for another two weeks with a shoulder injury, but Donlan is delighted to have Millington and Ferres available to boost pack options.
He said: “Grant Millington’s available for selection for the first time this year so we are looking at bringing him into the 17 in some capacity.
“Whether he starts or not, I’ve not yet decided, but he’ll definitely be in the 17 for Friday.
“He’s trained with his team-mates for the last three or four weeks and he’s chomping at the bit to play.
“We’re looking forward to watching him perform on the field of play and hopefully he can add a bit of size to our pack and give us a bit of go-forward.
“It’s a timely return and he’ll bring us some experience that I think we lacked on Sunday. We’ve got a very young pack and bringing Grant in there at some point on Friday will give us that little bit more know-how. Hopefully it will help the younger ones come forward and take on the Leeds pack.
“There’s a possibility Brett Ferres could be available also. He’s done some stuff with the physio on his calf injury and we just need to see how he reacts.
Donlan added: “As it stands at the minute it’s looking positive. Brett was touch and go to play last weekend and only pulled out on Saturday morning.
“He tried to train on Saturday morning, but after about 15 minutes of the session he said he wasn’t right. I admire Brett for being honest with me, but we’re looking at having Brett up for selection this week.
“Joe Arundel won’t play, but he‘s not as bad as we first feared. He went to see a shoulder surgeon on Saturday afternoon in Manchester with the physio and came back with better news than we thought. He just needs a couple of weeks in rehab so we’re hoping it won’t be too long before we see him back out there.
“I’ve had a bit of a selection headache for this week. Jonathan Walker, Ryan Hudson and Jordy Thompson went well in the under 20s and all came into contention. It’s unfortunate for some to miss out, but others will get an opportunity and hopefully make us stronger. It’s definitely good to have some competition.”
Donlan does not yet know if he will remain in charge beyond the Rhinos game.
He added: “It’s Ian’s son’s funeral on Friday so I’m in charge and maybe for the week after as well. We don’t know if Ian will be back or whether he’ll need some more time off. It’s been a lot better this week than it was last. Obviously knowing that we’ve got to take control for this week things are settling down a bit and we’re getting on top of things.
“Short turnarounds like we have this week are never easy, but in the circumstances it makes it even tougher to find time to get through all the video stuff to review Sunday’s game and go through and get some edits for the players on Leeds.
“It’s pretty time consuming and a hectic work load for myself and the staff, but it’s something we’re getting on with.
“I’m really enjoying it back at Cas. Obviously it’s not been the ideal situation the last couple of weeks, but the lads have been great and the staff have been great. They’ve really helped me in this last week, it was just unfortunate that we didn’t get a performance last week.
“We didn’t work on the defensive principles we’ve worked on all pre-season. We didn’t get any numbers in the tackle, we didn’t slow Wigan’s ruck down and as a consequence Sam Tomkins took control of the show. When you’ve got a player of Sam’s calibre he’s going to have a pretty easy day when you defend like we did on Sunday.
“But the players have trained really hard this week and a win against Leeds would be a great boost for everyone and would make it better for Ian when he does return to have a couple more points on the Super League ladder.”