Davis has wit and wisdom to restore Tigers' roar

The Australian's experience and guile can take Castleford back to promised land of Super League.
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The Independent Online

When Castleford start to explore some of the less familiar highways and byways leading to the National League's grounds, they could not have a more experienced guide than Brad Davis.

When Castleford start to explore some of the less familiar highways and byways leading to the National League's grounds, they could not have a more experienced guide than Brad Davis.

The Tigers, relegated from Super League at the end of last season, start their campaign to get back where they believe they belong at Doncaster on Monday. It will be a different world from familiar away trips to Wigan and Leeds, but it is a world Davis knows well.

The Australian was the oldest player in Super League when Cas brought him back from France midway through last season, and much of his long playing career has been spent in the lower divisions with clubs like York and the now defunct Nottingham City.

"I know my way around most of those places pretty well," said the 37-year-old. "I can pass on a bit of that experience to players who have never played outside Super League, so they don't expect it to be the same this year.

"They're used to going to big grounds and playing in games that are refereed very cleanly around the play-the-ball. I can pass on a bit of knowledge, so they realise they're not going to have things all their own way."

That has been a theme in Castleford's preparation for the season. Just because they have a full-time squad with a good leavening of Super League players, the others are not going to roll over for them - quite the reverse, Davis believes.

"I think clubs will raise their game by 10 to 20 per cent every time we play. We've already seen that in the Northern Rail Cup," he said. "Every ground we go to, the gate will be up by 50 per cent. Teams will be looking forward to playing us and will lift their performance."

Davis experienced the general pain that relegation caused in the town last season. That was bad, but failing to go back up at the first attempt would be far, far worse.

"I can't say that it would be the end of the club, but it would be a disaster - there is no hiding away from that fact - and there are going to be some very tough teams trying to stop us.

"Hull KR are looking strong. Whitehaven could go backwards after missing out in the Grand Final last time, but I think they have the ability to bounce back, and Rochdale have been running in some big scores. Starting at Doncaster, at "the House of Pain" on Monday, will be a good test, but everyone's going to be looking to knock us over."

Davis will not be playing at Doncaster - at 37, you don't rush back after a twice-torn hamstring. But his know-how will be invaluable as the season goes on. There are those in Castleford who believe that, with his lower division experience, he would have been the ideal man to guide them through National League One, but he is a strong supporter of the coach the club has brought in, his fellow Australian Dave Woods.

"He's a very calm coach and he's brought a lot of new ideas with him. He doesn't say a lot, but when he does it's worth listening to - which is a good approach for all the young guys in the team."

It is those young players on whom Cas are pinning much of their faith for the future. But, at the other end of the scale, Davis is no longer the oldest in his division, or even at the club. The prop Dean Sampson, nine months his senior, has been re-registered as a player and has already featured in the Northern Rail Cup,

"Age doesn't worry me," said Davis. "It's a matter of all of us, old and young, working hard to achieve some consistency in our performances. That's what was missing last year and that's what will get us back into Super League."

If everything points to a battle for Cas in National League One, then National League Two could be even more competitive, as relegated Keighley do not look strong enough to be regarded as automatic favourites to return.

York, Swinton or Workington might all be better equipped to take a step up, but the new club, the Blackpool Panthers, could be in for a difficult debut season.