Holmes on the hunt

Posted: Thursday 27th August 2020 - 9:00 AM

There has never been a season like 2020 but the aims for Daryl Powell’s men remains the same, silverware is firmly in the sights for Castleford’s #11 Oliver Holmes. 

146 days. That’s the amount of time since Castleford Tigers were without match action, from 15th March against St Helens to 8th August and the first fixture of the resumption against Catalans Dragons. During that time everyone has had to readjust to everyday life including Castleford’s players who had not been at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle in over 4 months. ROAR sat down with Oliver Holmes via Zoom during the first week back of training and he was delighted to be getting some form of regularity back.

“I am so ready to get back into the rugby and it’s been long overdue with the hiatus from it all hasn’t it? It’s been a bit of a strange time for everyone, that’s what you hear from anybody who does interviews on Sky News or in the Downing Street broadcasts due to the unprecedented times we are all living in. We’re looking to get back to normality as quick as possible and a little bit of that is around the corner with the return of a bit of RL coming back into action.”

Training from home for the Tigers has presented not only new challenges but also new opportunities to try different things or given them time rest their bodies in a period of the year they might not be accustomed to.

“Lockdown for me has been alright to be fair, I know there’s people out there who have struggled during this period but for me it’s given me a lot of time for reflection and a lot of time for getting the body right I suppose.

“Rugby can be quite a rollercoaster mentally, physically and I guess this prolonged period of rest has brought new things to light in my life, new hobbies, new interests and things that I usually wouldn’t get the time to think about doing has now come to the forefront because I was furloughed and doing no rugby. In a nutshell I’ve half enjoyed it, it’s been a busy time off but I’ve sort of got used to it a little bit, maybe too much, the shock to the system is about to hit with all these games.”

Countless sporting events have been affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic but maybe in 2021 Holmes could tryout for the Tour de Yorkshire after becoming a keen cyclist during the lockdown period.

“It’s a weird one really because if you’d have told me before lockdown that I’d enjoy being on a road bike I’d say ‘that’s stupid’ due to me hating Wattbikes, the difference though is the Wattbike is supposed to put you in pain and road bikes are more of a leisurely, enjoyable ride out and about in the country.

“How it came about is a little weird as well really, I was trying to find different ways to exercise during furlough and I was going out on my mountain bike which is about 15 years old, still does a job but it weighs a ton. I wasn’t going off track because I didn’t want to get hurt and then come back into training injured so I was out on the road on this mountain bike and no matter what I did every bike overtook me and it was like old men on road bikes.

“I was thinking ‘this shouldn’t be happening, why is he overtaking me?!’, did a bit of digging into the cycling world and it turned out my girlfriend Emma’s dad had an old road bike so I ended up trying it out. I went out on a couple of rides with Jy (Hitchcox) whilst he was back over from France and I just flew on it and I thought, ‘I’m having one’.”

It’s not just been a lockdown fad for Oliver though as he continues, in his own words, his addiction to road cycling and it even saw him purchasing some questionable cycling wear.

“Bought a road bike, bought all the lycra and I still stick by it and go out doing 25/30k which isn’t extreme but it gets the legs moving and good for recovery, good fitness and you get to get out around the roads. I’m up in Selby now and it’s lovely around here, it’s nice and flat so there’s no hills and it’s something different that I never said I’d like but I feel like a kid again bobbing about on a bike.

“The lyrca has been toned back now since the first pieces that I bought, a bit baggier now and seeing me in lycra is not something anyone really wants to see!”

There has been a lot of changes to the competition of Super League with decreased matches, new rules such as ‘six again’ and games to be played initially behind closed doors, however changes of protocols have also been introduced at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle too once the players returned to training on Monday, 20th July as Holmes details.

“We’ve got designated parking spots so we’re not parking close to one another, you come in after being temperature checked, wash your hands, sign to say you’ve done your wellness and COVID precautions at home before leaving the house and then get tested if it’s test day and then you’re into the facilities then.

“It’s still all socially distanced and the gym, the weights and the racks are now under the main stand allowing open space but it’s been good we’ve got the music blasting out at the side of the stand where we’re training. Whilst the equipment is a little different the training has stayed similar and we’re still getting everything that we need to be doing but we’re just doing that at the side of the field, which is quite good because it’s nice and open and the lads can have a bit of a chat with each other and the atmosphere’s been great so far.”

Five wins from the opening seven matches saw Daryl Powell’s side looking in good shape back in March but that seems an age ago to Oggy.

“Our last game against Saints was unbelievable and so 2020 so far had been quite successful from what we’d done. We had a great pre-season and we looked in a really good position in the league, playing well but it seems that long ago it doesn’t seem like it was this year.”

In the Tigers’ second home match of 2020 Oliver celebrated a significant appearances milestone for the club and to top off that achievement he scored against the old derby rivals, but it was exceptionally sweet for Holmes who managed to get his own back after receiving plenty of stick from the Wakefield fans.

“For me personally having my 200th game is a good milestone and I’m happy about it, wish I got it earlier but reaching it and getting that try was great. I was so happy to get that try because throughout the full first half, with the Wakey fans in the Railway End, I was getting a whole load of abuse and them Wakey fans hate me, hate me.

“So I was getting a fair bit and I pictured myself scoring going into the Railway End at some point in that game and it just managed to happen and I’m glad it happened right in front of them, just to shut them up. They gave me so much hammer and every time I score against them it shuts them up, I don’t know how it works out that way, but it just does and I’m happy about that.”

With such a jam packed schedule, particularly in the later months of the season, the young Tigers look even more likely to be given a chance in the team, similar to Oggy who came into the Cas First Team squad in Super League at just the age of 17.

“In October if you make the semi-final and final of the Challenge Cup I think it’s seven games in that month and I think for one of those there might be a game only two games before the final or three days after it, something like that. If you’re in and around that spot you’re going to have to utilize the full depth of your squad and it would look like pretty much all the young lads in the team would get a shot. Probably might get a shot earlier on too but we’ve only got three games in August.

“It’s not ideal but I know the RFL have backloaded games towards the backend of the season in the hopes of having fans back in, so clubs can start making a little bit of money to make them a bit more stable. Us as players have got to dig in, young players out there are probably going to get a chance earlier than what they thought, and they’ve got to be ready to take it. As a young lad you’re going to be chomping at the bit to get that opportunity and they should be happy with it and ready to grasp it with both hands.

“For me making my debut it was a bit of a surprise because I only found out a couple of days before the game that I was going to be playing, it seems that long ago now so I can’t remember too much but I remember being nervous at 17 years old. I just wanted to get on and do my job and do it correctly, didn’t want to set the world on fire which is probably the wrong mentality to go into a game with but that’s just how I was as a kid. Just come on, do my job, and not make any mistakes, be solid and let the rest of the team do the more important stuff.

“They should come in and want to make an impact and young kids usually do make an impact these days being a lot more physically able than I was at 17. Physically they are there and ready to do it, they might be a little lighter than what they need to be in weight but in skill, power and strength, they’re all there ready to take it and just come in with a good mentality which I’m sure they will.”

With the likes of Adam Milner, Nathan Massey and Oliver Holmes all serving the Tigers as #ONECLUB men, the culture within the squad has evolved and there is a good mix of young talent mixed with more experienced players too.

“I think we’ve got a good culture at the club and it’s slowly changed over the last couple years, or it has from my point of view because I’ve transitioned from a young lad to one of the seniors and the culture has changed because there’s been a lot of us at the club for a long time now and have been part of the transition through the years.

“We’re more of a mature side I think this year and we’ve got those mature heads inside that build the culture and all the calm heads or leaders on the field, then you’ve got the young lads like Truey and Danny Rich that give you that youthful spirit that you need and the energy and spark that they bring, I think we’ve got a good balance at the minute.”

When asked what his personal aims for the rest of 2020 were, Oliver provided a simple answer.

“The aim is - we want to win something.

“We want to win the Challenge Cup, the League Leaders’ and the Grand Final, we want to win all three really, now I don’t know what it would look like playing a Challenge Cup Final in an empty Wembley if that’d be the case, I have no idea. I don’t know if playing a Grand Final would be in front of fans, so it’s going to be strange, but the aim is still for silverware and I want to be consistently in the squad and consistently playing well. I want to push myself to the best of my ability and help the squad as best I can.”

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