Released from Bradford Bulls at the start of 2017 and without a rugby league contract until April of that year, Castleford Tigers’ Alex Foster’s remarkable eighteen months have seen the back rower establish himself as a reliable Super League performer and a regular in Daryl Powell’s matchday squads. The man himself, however, admitted to Get ’em Onside that it wasn’t plain sailing for him last year.
“When I signed at Bradford, I felt I was still a long way off being ready for Super League,” he expressed over a coffee. “I still thought I had a lot of work to do but, throughout the course of the season, I think I came along a lot and worked really hard. I got into a position where I could say I was a Super League player again and play well at that level.” In a moment of reflection, Foster believes that 2017 was a rather special year for him as a player. “Looking at everything that happened in that year, it’s really something I look back at and think that I’d done quite well really!”
Indeed, having a contract torn up just weeks before the season starts isn’t the best start to a rugby player’s year. Foster’s however, proved to be a remarkable one. From having a trial with the Tigers in Spring 2017, he earned himself a deal with Castleford until the end of the campaign – before extending that to the end of 2019 – and ended his campaign scoring a Grand Final try, albeit in defeat to Leeds Rhinos at Old Trafford. A remarkable rise for the 24-year-old, he believes that his impressive rate of development is in no small part down to the reigning Super League coach of the year. “Daryl is a very, very good coach – it’s the intricate details that he looks at, he will look at little parts of your game in huge detail and see what it is that you’re doing in certain situations and how that impacts the game,” Foster expressed. Explaining that there are certain aspects of the game which enable a team to get the upper hand, Foster believes that Powell is a coach who can ensure his team can utilise them to their fullest. “When I came to the club, I’d never had that level of detail in coaching before. I don’t think many coaches would do all of that or necessarily have the ability to look so deep. He’s been massive for me and everyone at the club – he’s brought me on a long way.
Having come through the academy at Cas’ West Yorkshire rivals Leeds, Foster explained that a lot of the play was off the back of an offload and off-the-cuff play – a stark contrast to what he found when he arrived at the Tigers. “It was something that shocked me when I came to the club. Everything at Cas is so structured, you’ve got to know what you’re doing every tackle, on every play,” he expressed, admitting that it was difficult to get to grips with at first. “Watching them in the early rounds last year from the stands, they made things look so, so easy but I obviously knew the amount of work that we put in to get to that level.”
It is a testament to the hard work ‘Fozzy’ has put in that the club recently offered him another deal – his third in just over a year at the club. Now contracted to the club until the end of the 2021 campaign, Foster was understandably delighted to have sufficiently impressed Powell and Co, saying that “it was fantastic. It was a massive relief looking back with getting the injury just after. They’ve rewarded me for what I have done this year and how I’ve come along. It’s great to get that stability as well. I’ve moved around the clubs and had loan deals and, after what I experienced at Bradford, it’s great to get that stability.”
Currently, Foster finds himself out of action for the remainder of the 2018 season with a damaged foot. “It happened against Hull KR and, at the time, we were down four subs – we’d had four injuries. I seem to remember getting stood on but I knew it wasn’t broken so I hobbled on for the rest of the match,” he imparted. Now, however, the former London Broncos star must watch from the sidelines and, as frustrating as that is for him as a player, he is keen to see the club build on what has been an impressive – if not as spectacular as their 2017 exploits – campaign thus far. Indeed, when asked whether last year’s Grand Final defeat against Leeds would stand the Tigers in good stead for the future, Foster’s answer was, as you would expect, positive. “You only need to look at the performance of Danny McGuire in the Grand Final. He knew exactly what to do in that sort of challenge, he knew how to control the game and it’s because he has been there and done it all before,” he explained, continuing that “the experience will definitely stand all of the boys in good stead. We have a few lads who have played in the Challenge Cup final as well and now the Grand Final and, with those experiences behind us, I believe that the boys will be ready and raring to go if we get there again this season.”
Whether or not the club do reach the Grand Final this season or not – they are already guaranteed a top four spot ahead of the league split, giving them a fourth home match in the Super 8s – it is clear to all in the sport that Castleford remain a team on the rise. The club are unquestionably one of the best in the UK right now and, with a new stadium set to welcome the club in 2020, a sustained period of success shouldn’t be ruled out for the team that, for so long, were viewed as dramatically inferior to their big city neighbours. Foster – whose contract should see him at the club when they move into the new stadium – is excited about the future with the Tigers. “I knew when I first came that the club was going places. We are moving in the right direction and, with the new stadium plans, everyone at the club is really excited. It’s a great place to be right now.”
Foster is a man who has made it to Super League the hard way, taking in spells with London and Featherstone after coming through Leeds’ academy and all before his very brief time as a Bradford player. Bearing that in mind, it is clear that he is a man aware of how hard he has worked to get to where he is now. Being on crutches due to his injury didn’t inhibit his enthusiasm and clear enjoyment of talking about rugby and, with time still on his side, Foster’s continued improvement will stand Castleford in good stead over coming years.
10.30 – great club to be at