THE Super League fixture planners may not have been kind with the toughest of starts handed out to Castleford Tigers this week, but head coach Ian Millward is sending out a positive message to fans after overseeing the first few weeks of pre-season training.
Millward (pictured) is keen to ensure that his side hits the ground running at the start of the 2013 season and they will have to do just that after being given the huge task of playing the two 2012 Grand finalists in their first two matches.
Cas open away to runners-up Warrington Wolves on Sunday, February 3 then follow up with a red hot first home fixture against the champions with Leeds Rhinos due to visit the Wheldon Road ground on Sunday, February 10.
It does not get much easier for the Tigers either with three more of last term’s top eight to play in their first six games, while the Magic Weekend will bring one of three derbies with Wakefield Wildcats, the others being on Good Friday at home and at the Rapid Solicitors Stadium on the final day of the season (September 8).
But Cas boss Millward is not too concerned at this stage by how difficult a start his side faces.
He told the Express: “I don’t look too much at the fixture list because you’ve got to play everyone eventually.
“It creates interest for the fans, but for us it’s more about concentrating on what we’re doing as a team and learning new structures we’re putting together.
“On paper our first 10 games look extremely tough, but having said that what we’ve got to do is get our game right and the rest will take care of itself.
“There’s still a long way to go, but I’ve been very pleased with everything so far. Training’s been brilliant.
“We started two weeks earlier than last year and we’re working the players we think a bit harder. We felt we probably didn’t get the right mixture there.
“We’ve changed all our attack and defence structures and we’re doing a lot of work on that.
“We’ve only got a small squad and that’s our biggest concern over a long season, but we’re happy with the way we’re going.”
Millward believes the team is ahead of where they were at this stage last year with fewer players in rehab.
He said: “We’ve got some players who’ve had shoulder reconstructions and leg injuries and all that, but everyone’s doing some form of training and this time last year we had a lot of blokes who just couldn’t train.
“Jordan Tansey is back training now after his knee operation, Jamie Ellis is still getting over his shoulder and Kirk Dixon and Lee Gilmour are recovering well. They are all able to do some form of training, which is very good.
“From a coaching point of view it’s a very positive start. The new boys are settling in well and have been very good.”
Millward added: “Lee Gilmour, Michael Shenton and Jake Webster bring a lot of experience with them and will be very good for the team and Justin Carney can be a big hit.
“Weller Hauraki’s not here yet. He’s still waiting for his visa, but it should come in the next week or two and that’s the only thing that’s disrupted us.
“Rangi Chase joins us back later this week after having a bit of extra time off because of his England duties.
“He hasn’t played for a long time and it was a very hard task for him, but I thought he did well against France.
“From my point of view I’m just happy he’s still with us because he’s a top player. We’ve got to make sure that like every player in the squad we get him playing at the best of his ability and get everyone playing as a team.
“He’s a quality stand-off. He missed over 10 games last year and that’s a lot for Cas because he’s such a vital player.
“The squad’s okay at the moment, but we’ve only technically got 23 players and last year we used 32 and the year before I think it was 33.
“One or two additions would be good. But that’s out of my hands, that’s the board’s decision and it comes down to finances.”
Castleford fans will only see the first team squad take the field twice before the real stuff of Super League starts in February with just two pre-season fixtures planned this time.
Millward added: “There won’t be any more first team pre-season games than the two announced as far as I’m aware. We’re playing Hull away and Featherstone at home and we’re looking for games of intensity, which these teams will provide.
“We expect and we’re very hopeful that every player will be available for the two games and with a 23-man squad we need that.”
Castleford’s new home shirt will be revealed on Sunday when first team players and the Claws will model the new kit and ISC merchandise at the Probiz Coliseum.
Due to popular demand there will be two fashion shows with a members-only showing at 3pm followed by a second at 3.45pm where the new ISC home shirt will be exclusively unveiled to fans.
Doors open from 2pm with an opportunity also for those who have secured a place to see the first team train on the main pitch between 2.30pm and 3.15pm. From 3.45pm the shirt, ISC merchandise and Tigers leisure wear will be available to buy.
The shirt launch is a ticket-only event with limited spaces left. Fans can secure their place by getting a ticket at the club shop in Carlton Lanes, by calling 01977 555336 or buying online via the Castleford Tigers website.
The club shop in Carlton Lanes will be selling the new ISC merchandise and home shirt from 10am on Monday, November 26. To meet demand it will also be opening its doors on Sundays from 10.30am to 3.30pm until Christmas.