Matterson determined to defy Castleford doubters

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The Independent Online

Castleford start their campaign back in Super League with modest expectations, but not quite as modest as the outside world's predictions for them.

The promoted Tigers are an almost universal choice as the side most likely to finish bottom of the table – albeit without the threat of relegation in the season the game switches to a regime of licensing.

Even their coach, Terry Matterson, can't argue with the logic. He has a squad of a mere 22 – the smallest in Super League – most of whom were in National League One last year. With injuries to Kirk Dixon and Ryan Clayton, Cas have little room for manoeuvre against the Catalan Dragons this evening.

For all that, Matterson is far from despondent. "We're definitely aiming higher," he says of all the wooden spoon nominations. "I want to be competitive in every game. I was very disappointed last time by some of the big scorelines put on us. That's something I'd like to eradicate."

If Castleford are to do so they must hope that some of their highly promising young players have learnt a lot playing at a lower level.

Already the 18-year-old back-rower, Joe Westerman, is tipped for a huge future. "You have heard plenty about Joe, but there are others coming through," Matterson promises.

Another reason to be cheerful is that Cas start with what could be a winnable game. The Catalans have never been very reliable on their travels and, without the magnificent Stacey Jones, could be even less so. They have included the rugby union convert, Jean-Philippe Baile, in their squad for The Jungle.

If Castleford do not finish bottom, then Harlequins, at home to Wigan, in today's other match, are the popular favourites to do so.

The game marks a return to The Stoop, a little sooner than he would have liked, for former Quins chairman, Ian Lenagan, who has now taken on the task of restoring Wigan's lost glories.

The champions, Leeds, who are at Huddersfield tomorrow, have confirmed that their Great Britain second-rower, Gareth Ellis, is leaving them at the end of the season to take up a contract with the Australian club, Wests Tigers.

Few will doubt that such a whole-hearted player will continue to give of his best for the rest of his time with the Rhinos, but he will not be easy to succeed.

"We will be looking to recruit a top-class replacement for 2009," promised the club's chief executive, Gary Hetherington.

For this match, Ellis has his regular second-row partner, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, back at his side after a rare absence last week.

St Helens are without Paul Sculthorpe and Jason Cayless at Hull KR, who showed such promise in defeat at Leeds last week.

Bradford take on Wakefield without two former Wildcats, the injured David Solomona and Semi Tadulala, but with another, Ben Jeffries, ready to make his debut. The Bulls have allowed their young centre, Jason Crookes, to go on loan to Widnes for a month.