2019 is make or break for Castleford. The Tigers failed to hammer home the advantage of a brilliant Super League season in 2017 by falling at the Grand Final whilst 2018 saw them come up short in the semi-finals. Head coach Daryl Powell is about to enter into his sixth full season as Castleford coach - a reign which has seen the Tigers go from perennial strugglers to silverware contenders. Now, though, whilst teams around them appear to have strengthened, Castleford look to have gone backwards.

Lack of new signings

Not one signing has made their way through the door in the off-season.

Some may argue that prop forward Liam Watts and three-quarter Peter Mata'utia can be counted as recruits for 2019, yet Powell has a habit of leaving money spare before the season starts in case the side needs refreshing midway through the year. Plus, a new fullback should have been on the agenda way before July 2018 when Mata'utia signed on the dotted line.

When Zak Hardaker was dropped from the Castleford side leading up to the 2017 Grand Final, Powell should have been on the lookout for a fullback immediately. The position was crying out for new blood, and it took seven different players - Ben Roberts, Michael Shenton, Greg Eden, Jake Trueman, James Clare, Quentin Laulu-Togaga'e and Calum Turner - to all try their hand at fullback before Powell ventured into the transfer market to sign Mata'utia.

I fear that history is going to repeat itself only this time in the centre position with the departing Jake Webster leaving a massive void, which has so far not being filled. Some of the rose-tinted brigade at Wheldon Road see no wrong in Daryl Powell, and, his trusting of Greg Minikin to pick up where Webster left off has been declared by some as a "natural shift".

To put it bluntly, that's utter tosh; Minikin is a good, solid winger, but his lack of presence and offensive quality makes him a far from ideal centre candidate.

With Minikin's shift to centre - indeed, he has been given the no.3 jersey for 2019 - it means James Clare has been given the no.2 shirt. What strikes me the most is just how weak the Castleford backline is looking going into the new season.

Clare is a good backup to have, but that's all he is - a backup. If the Tigers want to contend for silverware, it's going to take much more than a Minikin-Clare partnership on the right edge to help them towards that goal.

Huddersfield have signed Akuila Uate, Leeds Tui Lolohea and Konrad Hurrell, Catalans Sam Tomkins, St Helens Lachlan Coote and Kevin Naiqama and even Hull KR have signed NRL Grand Final winner Kane Linnett and Josh Drinkwater. Whilst other teams have strengthened, the Tigers have stagnated.

Castleford's latest capture of Chris Clarkson - albeit on trial - makes no sense at all. The Tigers already have Alex Foster, Oliver Holmes, Mike McMeeken, Jesse Sene-Lefao and Joe Wardle that can cover the back row.

The shortage of backs is alarming, yet there seems to be a lack of urgency to recruit players in the three-quarters. Castleford have a very forward-heavy squad which needs to be addressed before, like in 2018, it's too late.


No news is good news, right? Except when you're trying to build a stadium; the Tigers got full planning permission in 2015 with a view to moving into the new complex near the M62 and Glasshoughton's Xscape in 2017/18. In 2017, that date had been pushed back to 2020, whilst 2021 is now the supposed aim. Fans have been left in limbo for the past year, with little information coming from the Lateral group that are in charge of building the whole Five Towns Park - or Axiom as the project is now known.

Though millions will already have been pumped into the project, developers have been suspiciously quiet in the past few months. Major retailers Marks & Spencer, Next, Boots and Primark have all signed up, yet the current economic climate means that other retailers are sceptical to do so and those already signed up are perhaps questioning their decision to ever get involved. The Tigers are crying out for a new stadium; although the Jungle has one of the best atmospheres in Super League and Rugby League in general, its dilapidated nature means the club are losing out on commercial income that the likes of Leeds are raking in throughout the year.

Luke Gale injury

If things weren't bad enough recruitment wise, the news that Luke Gale could be out for the season before it has even begun is the last thing that Castleford fans wanted to hear.

A suspected ruptured Achilles tendon would see the influential halfback out for most of, if not all of, 2019, denting the Tigers' hopes of a finals place at the end of the season. Castleford still reached the top four in 2018 without Gale for most of the season, yet they lacked consistency and organisation for large parts of games.

The loss of Gale is a cruel blow for the man and the club, and, his likely replacements - Jamie Ellis, Ben Roberts or Cory Aston - are not fit to lace his boots. I hope that I am so wrong, but I fear for my team in 2019. The Tigers slipped down the table in 2018 and, with teams around them improving their roster, it could be a difficult year on and off the field.