Castleford Tigers boss Daryl Powell is confident of having a fully fit squad for the start of the 2016 Super League season.
Several players are still to report back for pre-season and a number are overcoming injuries at this stage, but only back row forward Frankie Mariano is a doubt to be fully ready for the big kick-off.
Powell explained: “Pre-season’s going exceptionally well.
“The effort and the application of the players has been superb. We’ve thrown a fair bit at them over the first week-and-a-half and they have responded in such a positive way.
“We’ve got a few players to come back in and once we get everybody back in we can really start to drive what we’re going to deliver this year.
“Joel Monaghan and Jy Hitchcox come in on November 27, Ryan Hampshire is here on Friday then Luke Gale comes back on December 7. He’s got a few weeks off having been in camp with England.
“We’ve got a few guys overcoming injuries – we’ve got a bad hand gang! Ryan Boyle has been in pot and will be out of that soon, Nathan Massey’s had one of his pots off, but has still got the other one on for a couple of weeks and Andy Lynch’s got his pot off, but is also not in full training yet.
“They’re working hard, but obviously not working with the ball at the moment.
“Nathan had both wrists in a pot. It’s been a tough time for him, but he’s got one hand free now, so it will be pretty handy now for him to be able to button his shirts up and pull his trousers up!
“He’s such a great kid, he’s been so positive all the way through it, which is fantastic when you’ve got blokes like that.
“If one hand at a time had been done it would have meant he wouldn’t have been ready for the start of the season, so he’s just had to cop it, to be honest. The recovery time is so long.
“Frankie Mariano’s also still got a bit of time to go. He’s working hard, but he’s had that knee reconstruction, which is always pretty tough.
“I think everybody should be okay for the start of the season. I’m not sure on Frankie, it depends how quickly he gets back into full training.
“It’s a complex injury he’s had the operation on and we need to make sure he’s okay. But I’m confident he’ll be right for the season.”
Powell believes the signing of outside back Jy Hitchcox is the final piece of his puzzle in putting his squad together.
Australian Hitchcox, 25, who played for local rivals Featherstone Rovers in 2015, put pen to paper on a one-year contract with a club option to extend the deal beyond 2016.
Along with on-loan Ryan Hampshire, he has been brought in to provide vital back-up and competition for established first teamers.
Hitchcox can play full-back, wing or centre and gives Cas the replacement they needed after Ashley Gibson, James Clare and Jordan Tansey left in the last six months.
Powell said: “Jy Hitchcox is the last of our signings.
“We had a bit of an adjustment to make to our squad for obvious reasons at the end of the season. Joel Monaghan’s come in and I felt we needed another outside back, another genuine winger. Jy gives us that option and he’s played full-back as well.
“He’s very, very quick and his footwork is electric.
“I think he’s got a fair bit of work to do to get into this team, but I think he’s capable of doing that. He could be a bit of bolter for us. I’m looking forward to seeing how he comes in, gets stuck into his work and challenges people.
“We’ve got Ash Robson as well who played well when he came in on the wing. The key for me here since I came in has been squad depth and players who can slot in with the team looking not too much different. I think we’ve really got that.
“We’ve got Ben Crooks who has been outstanding. He’s slipped off a bit for a year and we’ve got to get him back to where he was. Jake Webster’s re-signed, we’ve got Michael Shenton and brought in young Greg Minikin, who I have been really impressed with. So we’ve got some real depth and players at different points of their careers, but challenging each other, which is putting us in a really good place.”