Super League: Castleford Tigers' plan for Israel Folau and Sunday's talking points
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 14/02/20 5:20pm
We take a look at how Castleford Tigers are preparing to face Israel Folau, and what to watch out for on Sunday when Wakefield Trinity host Warrington Wolves and Hull FC host St Helens...
Powell has plans for Folau
All eyes will be on Perpignan on Saturday evening when Israel Folau makes his hotly anticipated debut for Catalans Dragons in the Super League clash with Castleford Tigers.
It will be the controversial Australian's first outing on a rugby league pitch since leaving Brisbane Broncos for spells in Aussie Rules football and rugby union at the end of the 2010 NRL season, and he is set to line up at centre in the absence of the injured David Mead.
Having the attention focused on one of their opponents' big-name signings is a familiar situation for Castleford this year, having lined up against Toronto Wolfpack when Sonny Bill Williams made his debut in their 2020 season opener two weeks ago.
Whereas Williams' arrival in Super League generated positive headlines around the world though, Folau's signing by the French side drew huge criticism due to the 30-year-old having been sacked by Rugby Australia last May for posting anti-LGBT+ comments on social media.
Regardless, Castleford head coach Daryl Powell is preparing his side in the same way they would to face any other opponent and he is confident the Tigers will test how up to speed with the 13-man code Folau is after so long away.
"He's a big athletic player, so similar to Sonny Bill Williams if not the same position," Powell told the Yorkshire Post.
"It is a bit of the unknown, so we have had a look at some footage of him looking at his right-foot step which is dominant.
"He hasn't played rugby league for 10 years, so you want to see if he's still any good at it. We'll have a good go at that, I think."
Powell's squad is boosted by Mike McMeeken coming in for his first appearance of the season, plus George Griffin and Tyla Hepi being cleared to play after missing last Friday's 16-12 win at home to Wigan Warriors.
Along with having Folau at his disposal, Powell's opposite number Steve McNamara can call on the services of winger Lewis Tierney after he completed his recovery from injury.
The Dragons were left without a game last week after their match away to Wakefield Trinity was postponed due to Storm Ciara and, aside from the focus on Folau, McNamara is eager for his side to make amends for the home defeat to Huddersfield Giants on the opening weekend of the campaign.
"We didn't get Round 1 right - Huddersfield played well against us - but we're not looking at long-term, we're just trying to get it right for this week," McNamara said.
"We've had a difficult approach to this week's game because of the circumstances around it so we've just got to concentrate on getting that right and playing a whole lot better this week."
Price ponders place for Widdop
Warrington Wolves have had their own off-field issues to deal with as well this week after centre Anthony Gelling was suspended by the club following his arrest on suspicion of wounding with intent.
The good news for Wolves head coach Steve Price is star off-season recruit Gareth Widdop is available to make his debut away to Wakefield Trinity on Sunday after recovering from an ankle injury he suffered during pre-season training.
That poses Price with a selection headache as he must decide whether to hand Widdop a place in the halves alongside Blake Austin, which would likely see Stefan Ratchford return to full-back in place of impressive prospect Matty Ashton or stick with the team which beat St Helens 19-0.
"All the players who have taken the field over the past few weeks have contributed to the performances," Price told the Warrington Guardian.
"Whoever does get left out, it will be a bit of hard luck for them. In saying that, I've got to do what's best for the team at Wakefield this week."
Wakefield head coach Chris Chester is set to hand Max Jowitt an opportunity at full-back, with Ryan Hampshire moving to the halves to cover for the injured Danny Brough and off-season recruit Alex Walker being ruled out due to injury.
Jowitt, who scored seven tries in 11 appearances for Trinity last season, has impressed Chester with his efforts in training and the boss is optimistic he can seize this chance.
"He's been good in training and Alex Walker will be back in contention next week, so he'll have people snapping at his heels," Chester told the Yorkshire Post.
"But he deserves this chance and I'm looking forward to Max putting in a good, solid display -both with and without the ball."
Forwards battle key at the KCOM
One of the most intriguing match-ups of Round 3 is at the KCOM Stadium on Sunday, where two of the early title favourites go head to head.
Hull FC, riding high following a win away to Leeds Rhinos and derby victory over Hull Kingston Rovers in their first two matches of the new Super League season, host a St Helens side still smarting from their defeat to Warrington last week.
The battle of the forwards is set to be a particularly fascinating one to watch, with Saints having Cumbrian pair Kyle Amor and Morgan Knowles available again to boost the pack along with Alex Walmsley, who suffering an injury in the warm-up against the Wolves.
"It will be good test for us," back row James Bentley told SaintsTV. "If you look at Hull, they've recruited well this year.
"They've got a big pack, so we'll have to match them down the middle and then go from there."
St Helens head coach Kristian Woolf also has last season's top try-scorer Tommy Makinson in contention again after recovering from the shoulder injury sustained in last year's Grand Final triumph.
Hull's strength in the pack has been hit by Chris Satae's suspension and former St Helens player Andre Savelio being ruled out due to injury after an impressive start to the season.
Nevertheless, the hosts are in confident mood and ex-Saints forward Josh Jones cannot wait to tackle the reigning champions as the Black and Whites aim to continue their unbeaten start to the season.
"I love playing against Saints and I always have done ever since I left," Jones said. "But it's going to be a tough game - I still think it's one we can win, though.
"We're definitely going into the match with a lot of confidence after the first two matches."