The future of the Castleford number 1 shirt

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It seems imminent that Castleford Tigers’ full back Zak Hardaker will be issued with a ban following his dalliance with the social menace of cocaine. The latest misdemeanour of the Pontefract born 25 year old’s career, following a catalogue of issues while with Leeds Rhinos as well as England, may well leave Daryl Powell and his team having to identify and bring in a new player to fill the number 1 shirt.

After watching the Super League Grand Final as well as the other occasions when Greg Eden has gone back to his original position of full back, it is painfully evident that he is not the answer in such a key position for a team hoping to win silverware in the near future. While Hardaker was arguably the safest defensive full back in Super League, Eden definitely isn’t and you can’t help but think that the dropped kick leading to Danny McGuire’s first try in the Final would have been taken. Another option, although unlikely, from within would be to drop Samoan international Ben Roberts into the back three. He has been such a threat this season in the halves with his elusive running and probing short kicking game, Roberts is a player who directs his team around the park and breaking up his partnership with England international half back Luke Gale would, in my opinion, be foolish.

A great option to try bring to Wheldon Road would be Salford’s Niall Evalds. Finishing the season with fifteen tries, he was the most prolific player in the Red Devils shirt this season and this happened to be four more than Hardaker. Aged 24, he is still a young player and, while defensively improvement may be needed, he has huge pace which would lead to vital yards being made as well as gaps being made. Like many of Castleford’s players, Evalds has played in difficult conditions, none moreso than the Million Pound Game in 2016. In fact, he scored one of the late tries showing that he is not afraid to step up in big, high pressure games – something which every member of the Tigers team will be aiming to improve on after the disappointment of the Grand Final. His ability to get involved in attacking plays from the back of the field would be huge for the Tigers if they are to continue with the same style of play next season and he would surely link up well with promising wingers Greg Minkin and the shortly arriving Garry Lo as well as Super League’s top try scorer Greg Eden.

With Marwan Koukash announcing his departure from Salford and, one would presume, his financial backing, the Red Devils will most likely have to cut back their budget next season and Evalds will certainly be one of the more sought after members of the squad. He is definitely an exciting, dynamic player who would fit into Castleford’s entertaining and pacey style of rugby league and, while not having the pedigree or necessarily the same level of ability at Hardaker, Evalds would certainly be a viable option for the Tigers at full back. Furthermore, the chances are he would command a smaller wage packet than the disgraced Hardaker which, if rumours of Daryl Powell’s squad building are to be believed, would free up some of the salary cap for what is currently looking like a barren stock of forwards.

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