Millward not fretting over tough start
Castleford Tigers coach Ian Millward, whose side ended 2012 with a run of seven straight defeats, admits they could hardly have had a tougher start to 2013.
Millward’s men kick off their Super League campaign at title favourites Warrington Wolves tomorrow, followed by a clash with reigning champions Leeds Rhinos and then take on three more highly-fancied teams, Catalan Dragons, Wigan Warriors and Hull FC, all inside the first six weeks.
“It’s extremely testing but I’m not worried about it,” Millward said.
“My three goals to the halfway point are to have no major injuries, a team that can be competitive for 80 minutes and a team that is consistent in its attack and defence structure.
“If we get that, especially in the first eight weeks, it puts us in a really strong position. It also gets us in a position where we’re competitive to win games.”
Millward had tipped Warrington, last year’s Grand Final runners-up, to go one better this year even before watching them nil Wigan in the Ben Westwood testimonial match last Saturday and came away from the Halliwell Jones Stadium even firmer in his belief.
“I walked out of there thinking ’wow’,” he said. “I was more excited about our first game than I was before I went.
“I think it’s great for us to see where we’re at. We’ve worked hard in pre-season but we are going to start against what I think is the best team in Super League - followed probably by the second-best team.”
Warrington coach Tony Smith is refusing to take Castleford lightly, pointing to the arrival of seven new faces as evidence of the danger they pose.
“I don’t think we can judge them on last year too much,” Smith said. “They’ve had a lot of change in personnel, probably as much change as any club in the competition.
“They are a little bit of an unknown quantity for most teams this year.
“We’re excited at playing at home but also wary of what could be a very dangerous start for us.”
Catalan Dragons’ new coach Laurent Frayssinous is confident his side can overcome the absence of playmaker Scott Dureau when they launch their campaign against Hull KR at Craven Park.
Dureau, who has made the Super League Dream Team in each of his first two seasons in Super League, is still in Australia recovering from surgery to remove a tumour behind his eye.
Frayssinous is hoping the scrum-half will receive the all-clear to rejoin the club when he goes for another scan on February 19 but, in the meantime, says the rest of the squad have made a pact to make up for his absence.
The coach said: “He’s a big loss for us but when we came back after the Christmas break, all the players said we want our team-mate Scotty to be proud of what we do on the field.”
Frayssinous will turn to William Barthau, who played scrum-half for France in the 2012 internationals, and the experienced Thomas Bosc to help plug the gap alongside Leon Pryce until Dureau is fit to return.
“I am pretty happy with the depth of our squad,” Frayssinous added.
Two other teams set to start the new season without their main playmakers are Wakefield Trinity Wildcats and Bradford Bulls, who do battle at the Provident Stadium tomorrow.
The Bulls are without Luke Gale for Francis Cummins’ first Super League match as a head coach while the Wildcats are preparing to be without last year’s player of the year Tim Smith.
Cummins said: “Smithy would be a loss but may well feature. The thing is they’ve been together for a year so they will find another way.
“I like the way Richard (Agar) coaches them. They’re going to be a handful regardless, so it will be a great test. We’ve both got some players missing so let’s see where we are.”
In tomorrow’s other game, London Broncos will be aiming to pick up from where they left off in 2012 when they host last year’s wooden spoonists Widnes Vikings.
The Broncos endured a dismal season but finished off on a high with four wins from their last five matches while the Vikings expect to be better for their first season back in the top flight.
“We’ve got to improve,” said Widnes captain Jon Clarke. “This time last year we were coming together as a team of unknowns.
“Just knowing each other going into the off season in itself should be a positive for us.”