Van de Velde back to haunt Castleford

Click to follow
The Independent Online
It Is one of the small ironies thrown up by the Super League fixture list that Castleford must try to kick-start their stalled season today against the side now coached by the man who brought them their last stab at the big-time.

Castleford, without a point so far, will have mixed feelings about the return of Darryl Van de Velde, who, after a settling-in match against Oldham last week, takes full charge of Warrington for the first time. He is associated with some good times for Castleford, with Yorkshire Cup wins in 1990 and 1991 and a trip to Wembley in 1992. In retrospect, it seems a time of near-achievement rather than of achievement proper. Van de Velde admits that he did not lie dreaming during his boyhood in Queensland of what it would be like to win the Yorkshire Cup.

Castleford won the 1994 Regal Trophy with Van de Velde's team but under the coaching of John Joyner. Since then it has all been downhill, culminating in a series of defeats to start this season and the subsequent resignation of Joyner.

Van de Velde, who has inherited problems of his own at Warrington, looks back with affection on his five years at Wheldon Road. "It was a great time in my life. We had a very competitive football team that was perhaps just a couple of players away from being able to win the big ones," he says. "I don't blame the directors. They made the money available that they had. There just wasn't quite enough there to put the finishing touches to the team."

Unfinished as it might have been, Castleford fans now would regard a line-up including players such as Richie Blackmore, Tawera Nikau and Mike Ford as a gift from the gods. But since 1993, when Van de Velde left, there has been a steady drain on the club's playing strength. "I wouldn't blame John Joyner for anything that has happened there," he says. "You can't keep losing players like that without it having an effect."

One of those departed players, Ford, re-signed this week from Wakefield Trinity to fill the scrum-half position left open by the sale of Tony Smith to Wigan. He had been mentioned as a possible coach but his involvement, initially at least, will be purely on the pitch.

Others who are supposedly in the frame are Steve Martin, who had an eventful period in charge of neighbouring Featherstone, and Steve Ferres, a Castlefordian who has built a solid reputation at Hunslet and Huddersfield. Grant Bell, the former North Queensland coach, is another who has applied, but Phil Sigsworth, uncertain of his future despite doing well, insists that he has not.

What is certain is that the long-serving prop forward and captain Lee Crooks, who misses today's match after a knee operation, wants the job. In charge this afternoon is the reassuring figure of Mick Morgan, someone who has done virtually every job at Castleford over the years, including acting as assistant coach to Van de Velde.

He is unequivocal about those years as the Australian's right-hand man. "He was a brilliant coach and a brilliant man," he says of Van de Velde. "The discipline and the knowledge that he brought to the job put the club on an even keel - just as I'm trying to do now."

He nevertheless sees the arrival at Wheldon Road of a Warrington team that has had its own ups and downs this season as an opportunity. "It's a winnable game. Basically you've got to win your home games if you are going to survive in Super League, and we had better start now," he says.

The same applies to Oldham, who have a visit from Paris St Germain tonight. The only other Super League club without a win, Oldham must find their winning way if they are to move away from the basement.