Clare on stick-ing around with Cas!

Posted: Saturday 30th January 2021 - 2:30 PM


This article is taken from the January 2021 digital edition of our monthly club magazine ROAR which you can read in full for free by visiting castlefordtigers.com/roar.

Ed – Castleford Tigers are pleased to confirm that James Clare has signed a two-year extension through till the 2022 season! The Club’s initial reporting of this story referenced James Clare’s extension as a one-year extension to the end of the 2021 season. However, we wish to clarify that this was actually a two-year extension until the end of 2022. We apologise for any confusion caused. 

The 2021 campaign will be the Fords’ fleetfooted winger’s eighth season with the Tigers, and speaking about the news to ROAR, the decision to remain at his hometown club where he made his debut in 2012 was quite straightforward:

“Growing up as a Castleford lad, to sign on for two more years, under the coaching staff we’ve got here with Daryl Powell and Ryan Sheridan, it’s just going to get the best out of me. I have a young family now, with my wife Kimberley and my little boy Arthur, so to have that kind of stability, it lets you just focus on your rugby, you know where you’re going to be for a couple of years, and hopefully, you get the best performances on the field as well.

“For me this year, it was quite an easy decision to re-sign, I didn’t want to look elsewhere or test the market. I love playing for the Castleford Tigers, so I’m happy to get a deal with them over the line as quickly as possible! I know Daryl wanted to keep me as well, so it was a very smooth, simple process getting everything sorted.”

As already mentioned, the opportunity to work with Daryl Powell for a sixth season going into next year was a strong lure for Clare to resign but he insisted that after working together for so long, he’s only seen more drive to succeed from his Head Coach!

“Sometimes coaches and bosses can get a little bit complacent, you get to know each other a little bit better, and the standards slip etc. and you can just plateau. But somebody like Powelly, he’s never slowed down for me, he’s just got faster and faster….well I mean his legs have got a little bit slower as he’s got older and older! But in terms of his rugby brain and what he expects of you is little improvements as a player and as a person away from the field. He’s someone that is on you 24/7!

“It’s difficult, because every team no matter who you are, has a vision to get to a Grand Final. But I can just feel a change here, it’s not necessarily something we’ve seen in such a short space of time, but Powelly’s energy this year in 2021 so far, I can already feel it and it’s rubbing off on the lads already. It’s one of those things where I think the drive will come from the top and Powelly wants to get the best out of this team. There are few players who may be retiring in coming seasons, so there could be a big changeover in the next couple of years, so I know Daryl Powell will want to get the best out of everybody and have one big push and do something special.”

Clare is again proudly sponsored by Geoshield for the coming season and after coming into 2020 on the back of a stellar 15-try 2019 campaign, again made a very strong start to the season, racking up four scores in his first five appearances before lockdown. But a stuttering resumption to the season for an injury-riddled Fords’ side saw Clare demonstrate his versatility as he filled in at both fullback and centre as the season drew to a close. Going forward, he was keen to stress that he’s happy to explore any role which will allow him to help the team succeed and play the game he loves:

“I love playing rugby league and I love representing the Tigers as well! If Powelly rang me up on one Saturday and said ‘Look, Sticks, I’m going to have to put you in at prop next week…’ then I’d happily play there and give it my best for the team! I enjoy being on the wing, it’s where I feel most at home, but we’ve got some outstanding fullback and centre options for next season too, so if I can get in the team ahead of them or filling in for injuries or suspensions, I’ll be happy to take every opportunity as it comes and do my job for the team.

“There’s that many players who have been here for such a long time and we’ve been building for a couple of years, that I think this team deserves some silverware and can definitely get to a final somewhere. However big or however small a part I play in getting the team to a Grand Final, or a Challenge Cup Final, that’s just what I want to achieve and I want to see this team do well and ultimately contribute to their history by lifting a piece of silverware at the end of the year!”

The 29-year old finds himself among the veterans of this Tigers side, alongside long-time club stalwarts and some familiar faces from his academy days. With this “old guard” sounding stronger than ever, there’s close ties in the squad for Clare:

“There’s a bit of a bond, and obviously the people that you spend every single day with, they’ve become your best friend. I think I probably see some of these lads more than I see my wife and Arthur at the moment! You have to have a special bond and to have true professionals like Adam Milner who has his testimonial year, and Shenny who’s just come off the back of one, they’re two professionals who will get the best out of you; not just as a person off the field, but also out there on the field. Their standards are so high, they’ve been there and done it, they’ve won the t-shirt, they’re driving every single person in the squad.

“Even Shenny, who is coming towards the end of his career, when we’re doing fitness, he still wants to win everything, he’s still pushing everyone, he’ll have a laugh and a joke with you saying ‘Come on! You’re a couple of years younger than me, you should be beating me!’ It’s incredible to have good friends like that in the squad.”

Alongside older faces, a testing season for the Tigers also saw a number of debutants and younger players in the squad gain more game time. It’s something Sticks knows all too well having made his debut for the club out of the Club’s youth setup himself and he’s confident it’ll stand them in good stead for the rest of their careers.

“I remember in my debut game, you’re obviously training every single day and you’re looking up to all these people that are your idols, and you feel like you’re a million miles away at times, because you’re just an academy kid who’s come off the back of an academy season and then all of a sudden you’re full-time and you’re thinking ‘Well, I might make my Super League debut next year or the year after that’ but then it comes round very quickly, so I know the sacrifices and hard work that those individuals and their families have put in. It’s very special and it makes you nostalgic for your own debut and it’s nice to see them with a smile on their face.”

There’s only so much time to reminisce of course, with plenty of prep to be done for the next campaign, so shortly before Christmas, he joined the rest of the squad in December’s Christmas camp and the infamous “pit shift” which saw the players pushed to their limits while working a gruelling 12-hour day designed to help them better identify with Castleford’s community.

“It was really exciting! Obviously, we’ve spent a little bit of time going around the Castleford area and learning just a little bit about the history. I think that’s what important for the club. Obviously, there are some local Cas lads that play and know what it’s all about, but for those who are from out the area and from overseas, it’s important to understand the people in this area and how much they love their rugby league and how much it’s been a big part of the history. A really tough challenge to end the year with and start preseason on, it’ll kick us on now into 2021.

But for Sticks, the sacrifice was well worth it since it meant being able to spend the Christmas period with his young family and have the perfect stepping stone to a brighter 2021.

“We’ve always had a Boxing Day game or a New Year’s Day game etc. for the last ten years, so for Arthur’s first Christmas, to get to spend it at home with Kimberley and my family was amazing. But I’m ready to rip in now after having a little bit of a break, everyone’s come in fresh-faced: Some people are in the best nick I’ve ever seen them in, they look like they’ve been looking after themselves in the offseason so it’s an exciting year ahead.”

A challenge hardly unique to the Fords, nor rugby league, in general, is that posed by the ongoing Covid-19 Pandemic. Social distancing and bubbling have certainly made for a unique start to the offseason by all accounts!

“It’s really difficult because that team bonding is one of the things we can be missing out on: We’ve just had lunch, but you can only sit with the same table of four every single day, you’re kind of stuck with some partners but at the same time, we’re all rugby league professionals and it’s our full-time job, so if it’s a box-ticker that we’ve got to do or wear our masks for certain things, we know that’s expected of us. We’re all true professionals that want to be successful and if we do have a Covid outbreak, it massively affects the team: You could lose five or ten players and it affects the performances so we’ve had a good chat about it and we agreed we get all these things done that need to be done and be as safe as possible and hopefully that can show in the performances on the field!”

Speaking on the re-signing, Head Coach Daryl Powell was pleased to welcome a familiar face back for another year: “Sticks has been our most improved player I think, he has slotted in and been as consistent as ever. He just works so hard on his game, he is so committed to what he does and one of the players who works the hardest and is reaping the rewards. I’m delighted to see him sign this extension, I’m looking forward to working with him and seeing how far he can improve and grow as a player.”

Meanwhile, Director of Rugby at Castleford Tigers Jon Wells was happy to see a player’s hard work over a number of years rewarded: “Sticks is one of the most valued members of our squad. He has earned this deal the hard way; he’s been asked to play in a number of different positions, has not had the luxury of certainty that some players enjoy and every step of the way he’s applied himself, made the best of himself and I know he’s working now to better himself further. I’m genuinely delighted for him.”

With the 2021 season fast approaching, Clare spoke directly to the Cas fans after a tumultuous 2020, but was hoping to see people back in the stadium soon.

“I’d like to say a massive thank you for the support that you did show us during 2020, it was a very difficult year for everybody on and off the field, so we’re thankful for every bit of support from you. I’d hopefully like to go one step further in 2021, we know we’ve got your backing off the field in 2021, and to get you back down at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle would be absolutely amazing!”

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