St Helens can’t expect wounded Tigers to roll out welcome mat, warns Lee Radford
Not since Buffalo Bill led his Wild West circus, comprising two trains of trick cyclists, camel riders and 500 Cossack horsemen, up Lock Lane in 1904 has Castleford braced to receive visitors of such global renown.
But when freshly-crowned club world champions St Helens troop into the west Yorkshire town for their opening Betfred Super League fixture at the Mend-a-Hose Jungle on Sunday, they are unlikely to discover their hosts have strung up the bunting.
Just over 24 hours after Saints’ historic triumph over Penrith Panthers in Sydney last weekend, Lee Radford’s Tigers were opening their campaign with a dismal defeat at Hull FC, despite launching the kind of stirring second-half fightback of which even Bill’s best escape-artists would have been proud.
It is his desire to shake off the immense disappointment of that opening display that has consumed Radford, a winner himself of the World Club Challenge with Bradford Bulls in 2004, rather than any thoughts of affording the victorious Saints special treatment.
“I never got one when I became world champion,” was Radford’s blunt response when asked if his club had any plans to follow the recent football trend of forming a guard of honour for their title-winning opponents when they take to the field.
“I’d have liked one, and I never got one. Times might have changed since then, we’re more friendly now. I had my St Helens shirt on last Saturday morning. But I just want to right some wrongs from last week and I know a lot of the players do as well.”
The domestic game has basked in Saints’ success this week, after a golden point drop-goal from Lewis Dodd made them the first Super League side to win the title Down Under since Wigan in 1994.
And Saints’ rivals might be forgiven for thinking they are ripe for the taking as they battle to shrug off the jetlag after a nightmare 53-hour return trip, which involved stop-overs in Bangkok and Stockholm, then a coach home from London after a cancelled flight.
In addition, captain James Roby could join Tommy Makinson – who failed a head injury assessment in the first half against Penrith – on the sidelines at Wheldon Road after undergoing a scan on a minor injury, while Joe Batchelor has undergone ankle surgery that could keep him out for 10 weeks.
But Tigers back Jordan Turner, who made over 100 appearances for Saints between 2013 and 2016, insists his team-mates have shut out any potential implications arising as they focus on fashioning the kind of instant response that Radford is demanding.
“Everyone was writing Saints off but I know there are players in that side who are world-beaters so I wasn’t surprised by anything they did,” said Turner, who played for Saints in their 2014 Grand Final win over Wigan.
“But we can’t go into the game worrying about what they’ve been doing or whether they might be jet-lagged. We’ve got to focus on turning up because we certainly didn’t turn up last week.”