2017 ended in disappointment for Castleford as, despite winning the Super League League Leaders’ Shield by a record ten points, they fell in their maiden Grand Final appearance. Those who thought that the team would struggle in 2018, however, have been proven wrong as, while the Tigers started slowly, they have built up some serious momentum and now have very real ideals on reaching the second spot ahead of the Super League semi-finals. Having guaranteed a top four spot before the league split, giving them an extra home match, hometown winger James Clare explained that the team are in a great position.
“That fourth home game is absolutely massive,” Clare admitted, continuing that “when you’re going into games against those teams around you, it’s great to have home advantage,” adding that he believes the Tigers faithful’s support could be the vital boost the team need to get wins in the tough games.
The injuries that have befallen Castleford, unlike some Super League teams, haven’t hindered their progress towards the top four. Indeed, the absences of some of their more celebrated stars have presented opportunities to the likes of Kieran Gill and Calum Turner while a teenage half-back has built on the reputation he started to forge towards the end of 2017. That man is, of course, Jake Trueman and Clare spoke glowingly of the Tigers’ young prodigy. “He’s been training brilliantly and playing great as well,” he expressed. “He’s probably going to be an England international in the future, he’s been doing so great for us and it gives us real competition for places.” Fortunately for the Tigers, their depth of quality in the halves has meant that the extended absences suffered by Luke Gale and Ben Roberts haven’t been as harshly felt as they could have been and, with Jamie Ellis and Trueman playing to a high level currently, it will provide Daryl Powell with a serious selection dilemma when all four are fit and firing.
The injuries which Castleford have suffered throughout the year have, indeed, showcased the youngsters at the club and Clare believes that is a testament to the work ethic and spirit at the club. “Kids are desperate to play in such a strong side. The drive and will to play from the younger lads means the lads in the seventeen are driven to perform better,” he explained. “The position I’m in now where I’m playing and enjoying it, I know that could end if my performance dips,” he admitted. “You’ve got to play well and do things right otherwise there are players ready to take your spot.”
That drive given to the first teamers is arguably something which played a factor in Clare’s strong season thus far and what aided his cause for a new contract which sees him tied to the club until the end of the 2020 campaign. “There’s always an element of not knowing what will happen,” Clare confessed. “It was initially a one year deal [when he joined ahead of this season] with a one year option,” he revealed, adding that the club informed him at the start of May that they wouldn’t be taking up that option immediately. “My leg was still broken then and the club told me that they liked what I had done but would wait until I was back playing again before we spoke about it all,” the 27-year-old explained. Now, having signed a two-year-deal – an improvement on that initial deal from when he joined – he is understandably delighted. “They’re my hometown club and I love playing for them but it also gives me the stability. Having been through the Bradford administration and the Leigh relegation, it gives me the chance to just focus on my game on the field,” he told Get ’em Onside.
The new deal marks a big change this year from 2017 for Clare who, after being injured for the vast majority of last season, went on to experience relegation with the Centurions in last year’s Million Pound Game. This season has seen him cross for four tries in nine Super League appearances for the Tigers, helping them to their third placed position at the time of writing. When asked whether he has played more than he thought he would this year, Clare was very reflective. “When I first came back, I felt extremely confident of getting into the side. In pre-season though, I was thinking that there was some serious talent here and it wasn’t until two weeks in that I realised how much work I really had to do with the Gregs both ahead of me then,” he admitted. “Cas are such a talented team and sometimes it’s a case of not realising how good they are until you see it all in training,” he articulated. However, he has earned his right to a shirt and hasn’t let his team down when handed the jersey. “I’ve worked as hard as I possibly could, waited for that opportunity and went on dual-reg to Halifax for a bit at the start of the season and it was a case of making sure I took the opportunity when it came,” he shared – something Powell and the Tigers believed he had done, indicated by his new contract.
That new deal ensures that the local boy will remain with the forward thinking club for the foreseeable future and, with a new stadium on the horizon, Castleford is clearly a great club to be at. For the rest of the season, however, the winger is clear on what the team’s targets are. “I think Saints are uncatchable now but we’ve got a special focus on working towards second spot for when it gets to the final four,” Clare expressed, aware that the top two teams in the competition get a home semi-final to earn a Grand Final spot – one which he believes that
Indeed, since interviewing the Castleford winger, St Helens beat Wigan Warriors which give Castleford the chance to leapfrog the Warriors into second with a win over Huddersfield tonight. Of that match, Clare – as well as his Tigers teammates – is aware that they can’t afford to take their foot off the gas against Simon Woolford’s Giants. “One of the lads made the point that they will be fighting on Friday because they could clinch a top eight spot – we have to be on our game to win that match.”