Castleford Tigers could not have had a worse start to the season on or off the pitch but they would be wrong to act too hastily in appointing a new head coach.
Three straight defeats over the backdrop of an untimely scandal involving senior player Joe Westerman meant Lee Radford’s relatively short tenure came to an end this week. Another star man, centre Jake Mamo, looks set to leave too.
The squad is an old one, with most players 30-plus, and is at risk of a complete break-up at the end of the year, with half the players running out of contract. In truth those are the pressing concerns, the demographic of the playing squad rather than the man leading it, and so Cas need to take time to make the right choice for head coach.
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This week’s briefing of clubs to reveal the criteria for IMG’s proposals to return licensing is another added stress for clubs like the Tigers too, who could be scrapping for their top-flight status.
As for the top job, former Hull Kingston Rovers boss Justin Morgan is an early favourite with Betfred and may prove a popular choice.
But for now Radford’s trusty right-hand man Andy Last steps up and could yet prove himself the safest pair of hands to steer the Tigers through these unwelcome murky early-season waters.
Furthermore he wants it. Last stepped in for Radford at Hull FC three years ago so knows the drill. He’s also worked with England, under Shaun Wane and alongside Paul Wellens, the new St Helens boss.
“This is a job I want,” Last confirmed today as he prepared his side for a Friday night trip to Huddersfield.
“Ultimately it will be the players who decide, with their performances. But I had a taste for it at Hull FC and felt I did a reasonable job there. I’ve been a coach now since I was 23 and I’m coming up to 42.
“I have vast experience of working with some top coaches, and you pick their brains. I’ve coached some top players too - Sean Long, Gareth Ellis, Craig Fitzgibbon. These guys would tell you if you weren’t very good at coaching! I’m confident and hopefully I’ll get the opportunity here.”
Last can make a big claim for the job if he can get Cas winning again, and at least two of the other favourites for the job can be ruled out straight away.
Former club captain Andrew Henderson has only recently taken over at Betfred Championship side York Knights and is relocating to live there this month. Henderson has no interest in the Castleford job right now, having applied for it and made the final two in the interview process that saw Radford appointed two years ago.
Another former player, Danny Ward - coach of London Broncos until 2021, also went for the job back then and has registered an interest again two years on. The Tigers did not deem Ward a strong enough candidate back then so it would appear remarkable that he is now, having not coached in between times.
Former Wakefield Trinity coach Willie Poching has been mentioned and is priced at 10/1 for the role. But this is a non-starter. The Sportsman can reveal that Poching and his wife are returning to New Zealand next month and he will not be applying for the job.
There is a lot to sort out at Castleford right now, and Last should be given as much time as he wants to guide the club through it all.
Discipline, or loss of it, and eight-point tries were the big talking points from last week’s round of Betfred Super League action. Some St Helens fans felt the champions were hard done by in a shock home defeat by Leeds Rhinos, and you would expect a big response from them at Leigh Leopards this weekend.
But head coach Paul Wellens offered up some gracious answers this week when quizzed on the controversial incidents in that loss. Tellingly, Saints opted not to appeal the bans handed out to Konrad Hurrell, who was sent off for a late hit, Sione Mata’utia and Curtis Sironen.
“They’re honest blokes and they know they need to be better in those areas and have already acknowledged that,” Wellens said.
Saints did have a genuine gripe when Leeds forward Sam Walters escaped punishment after a blatant shoulder charge for which he has since been fined. In truth, things escalated on the pitch after that, with players opting to take the law into their own hands.
But to see some Saints fans in the face of Leeds coach Rohan Smith after the game was a real disappointment and not what this game is about. Thankfully, he dealt with it with the same grace as Saints coach Wellens showed dignity in defeat. Fans take note. You sense the next time these two Grand Finalists meet there will be fireworks again.
Eight-point tries have emerged as an early-season talking point after Warrington Wolves benefited from two in their comeback win over Salford Red Devils. Red Devils boss Paul Rowley was completely disillusioned by the decisions when I spoke to him this week and he has my sympathy.
A foul in the act of an opponent scoring a try should be malicious, intentional or both for it to be deemed an extra punishment on top of the try itself. We cannot see the game develop into one that adds on penalty points to every try where there is a miscalculated contact by the defender attempting in vain to prevent the try.
Just because there is a foul in the act of scoring should not deem these incidents worthy of a penalty and a try - in the same way that a footballer fouled in the act of scoring doesn’t then get to take a penalty too.
Rishi Sunak praised Rob Burrow for his campaign on MND as her presented the rugby league legend with an award in Downing Street
Watch 'Living With MND' here
It’s been a great week for Rob Burrow. The legendary scrum half and MND campaigner has both met with the Prime Minister, and received a Sports Journalism Award for his groundbreaking MND documentary, filmed by the BBC. He continues to navigate the most brutal of illnesses with an extraordinary mindset and it has been wonderful to see the nation share in the qualities that Rob has always kept quietly to himself.
It was a big decision for Rob to go public with his illness and say yes to the BBC’s requests to film it all. It was not something he did lightly, or felt comfortable with, but ultimately, like most of what Rob has done in his life, it was for selfless reasons rather than for these media awards that the industry craves. He agreed to it to help others, even if he makes himself feel uncomfortable or vulnerable in doing so. What a man.
This weekend brings more exciting live rugby league action and I can’t wait to team up with St Helens forward Alex Walmsley for Sunday’s Betfred Challenge Cup blockbuster at Featherstone. The game will be streamed exclusively live here on The Sportsman, with Sean Long’s Rovers running hot in the league and facing a Halifax Panthers side stung by defeat at Post Office Road only last month.
And prior to that we make a bit of history on Saturday with the first ever Betfred Super League match available to watch on pay-per-view via the Our League app. Former Castleford captain Michael Shenton will join me for that game between Hull FC and Salford, and his thoughts on the Tigers may make for interesting viewing too.
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