Castleford Tigers have completed their under 19s academy signings for next year with five more promising players added to the ranks.
Local youngsters Calum Turner, Jack Ray and Aaron Couch have signed 27 month contracts that begin in September. All three are products of Castleford Academy (formerly Castleford High School) and have recently returned from an Australian tour to sign for their hometown club despite interest from other Super League teams.
The eight week Australia visit with Castleford Academy enabled the boys to gain invaluable playing experience against players of their own age and above.
In September they will start studies on their new respective courses at Pontefract New College along with other players who have signed professional terms at the club recently. These players are the first intake that will be able to access their choice of study in the full-time education environment while pursuing their careers as aspiring players as part of the club’s new partnership with the college.
Speaking on the players’ return to the club following their time in Australia, Tigers head of youth Pete Riding said: “It’s great to see the lads back at the club following their time in Australia. I have no doubt that this experience will not only aid their development as players but also as young people as a result of the outstanding opportunity provided by Castleford Academy.
“The lads will now have a little bit of time off prior to commencing their studies at Pontefract New College and they will then start training again here at the club as they make the transition into the academy environment.”
Turner and Couch, both 16, played junior rugby for Castleford Lock Lane. Both are avid Cas fans and are delighted to have signed for the club.
“I grew up watching the Tigers, I’ve been a fan all my life and it’s been so easy to fit in here,” said Couch.
“I’ve played with some of these lads all through school and I’m so happy that it will now continue.”
Turner said: “Playing for my home town club is something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s my ambition to become a Super League player.”
Ray, 16, played his junior rugby for Oulton Invaders and thoroughly enjoyed the recent experience of playing in Australia.
He said: “It was great to get the chance to play in Australia and experience a different way of life and the differences in the game, it’s very defence heavy over there,
“I’ve been a Cas fan all my life. You’ll find me in the Wheldon Road End with the Barmy Army, I just love this place and signing a pro contract here is a dream come true.”
They will be joined in the academy by another local youngster, Brad Bellwood, who is stepping up from the scholarship after signing professional forms.
The former Castleford Academy pupil played for Castleford Lock Lane before joining the club’s scholarship programme 18 months ago.
He is delighted the journey will now continue:
“I’m really happy to have signed for Cas. It’s my hometown team and to get the chance to play for a professional Super League club like Castleford is just amazing.”
Tigers coach Pete Riding has been impressed by Bellwood’s worth ethic.
He said: “By his own admission Brad had a mixed year during last year’s scholarship campaign and at one stage it was looking unlikely that he would be offered a contract.
“However, what was pleasing was that Brad was self aware enough to realise what he need to work on, put in the time and effort to improve in these areas, and consequently applied these improvements in game situations.
“When adding his speed, evasive and finishing abilities to these mental skills we have no doubt Brad will give his self the opportunity to continue to improve in the academy environment.”
Completing the academy intake is 16-year-old Lewis Burbridge-O’Flaherty, who joins the under 19s set-up from the North East Academy.
Lewis has just been selected for the England Academy squad and youth boss Riding explained how he came to Cas: “Lewis came to our attention after he played against our U16s, where he was a standout for the North East team, coached by Lee Crooks. He has great speed and athletic ability and we are all looking forward to seeing how he will develop in our Academy environment.
“Lewis will be living with Jacques O’Neill and will continue his studies at Pontefract New College.”
Lewis is delighted to make the move to Yorkshire.
He said: “Castleford showed an interest in me and I jumped at the chance. It’s a great opportunity for me at a great Super League club.”