Evalds ambitious for 2021

Posted: Monday 22nd March 2021 - 6:00 PM

This article is taken from the March 2021 edition of ROAR which you can read in full, for free, by visiting castlefordtigers.com/roar.

Castleford Tigers’ fans far and wide must have rejoiced when it was announced that one of Super League’s brightest talents was heading to Wheldon Road in the form of Niall Evalds. The capture of Salford’s superstar fullback is one of this offseason’s biggest moves across all of Super League, but despite this, the 27-year old isn’t fazed by the weight of expectations that come with his move across the Pennines.

I don’t feel any extra pressure, there’s pressure to play Super League games every day. I’ve grown up putting pressure on myself to always be the best, to always perform and I don’t really feel the pressure too much, I just go out and enjoy myself. I think that’s when I play the best. I just try to put in all the hard work early: Train well, I do everything off the pitch well, and what happens on the pitch follows that. I think people probably expect a lot of me, and I expect a lot of myself.”

Niall is proudly sponsored by Ergo Real Estate, a sponsor who knows the Castleford community well, and one who specifically wanted to support some of the club’s top talent after hearing of his move to the club. 

“It’s always nice to hear things like that and for people like that to back me and the club and especially with everything going on with Covid, it means everything to the players, and we don’t take that for granted, and like I said before, hopefully, we can repay their faith on the pitch when we get playing."

Having had time to bed-in since he first talked to ROAR at the start of January, Evalds has had time to bed in and gauge the mood in and around the ground after having over two months to get to work with his new teammates and Daryl Powell:

“In a word it’s good! Everyone has been really positive, we make a real emphasis on being positive. I think the coaching staff are a key part of that, they’re bringing that energy every day, and as players, we’re just following that really!

“We’re all excited which is strange really, we’ve done probably the bulk of our hard work now in pre-season, so it’s more about sharpening up and getting our game plans refined and things like that, so there’s a lot more skill in play.”

As the start of the season draws closer with Cas due to play Warrington on the 28th of March in Round one of the Betfred Super League, the Tigers’ new signing is embracing being able to run through patterns of play and the shift away from conditioning which forms the early part of preseason.

“This is probably the time of year that as players, we enjoy a bit more, you can get your hands on the ball a bit more. It’s not so much running round, you can express yourself with the ball. It’s come around quick to be honest and now we’re just a few weeks away from a massive game against Warrington. I think we finish the weekend, we’re the last game and everyone’s just extra excited about that.”

There’s a great deal of excitement and expectation for his move, however, whenever discussions begin to circulate about Super League’s top fullback, Evalds is characteristically humble and insists that simply being able to compete and challenge himself every day at a Super League level is the biggest indictment of his achievements so far.

“It takes a lot to play in Super League in general really - I don’t consider myself to be a top fullback, I just have the mindset that I want to improve every day. I don’t ever feel like I’ve ‘made it’ or anything like that, and yeah there are a lot of good fullbacks in the league, a lot of competition and I’ve always had the mentality around improving and being the best that I can be.

"It’s been a gradual progression for me, it’s not come quickly. It still takes a lot of hard work from the coaching staff and everyone else to put the whole package together, and I’m happy with where I am at, but there’s always room to improve!”

Playing fullback in a special challenge with its own unique pressures, and not least at Castleford, with their recent history of the position having seen both Zak Hardaker and Luke Dorn impressing there as a key aspect of the Tiger’ style of play in the past few years, and as an integral part of the Ford’s all-English spine together with Paul McShane, Danny Richardson, and Jake Trueman, Castleford’s newest #1 is keen to show what he can bring to the position.

“Obviously my pace is a key aspect of my game, I’ve always been a natural runner of the ball and I’ve always enjoyed that side of the game, but at fullback there’s always a lot of technical stuff, so it’s taken me a lot of time to get to grips with that and work at that. There’s a lot of things in defence and attack where you have to be quite vocal, so it’s taken me a while to understand the game in that regard: When to pick sides, when to come into the line and all that. But no overall, I’m very confident in my ability and I’m just looking forward to playing.

“Off the pitch, I’m very quiet, but on the pitch, I like to consider myself vocal – at fullback you have to be! It’s not something that’s probably come naturally to me, but coaching staff throughout the years have drilled it into me since I was young. You’ve got to be a talker at fullback, you can’t be quiet, you have to organise the defence.”

Like so many players, Evalds can’t wait for fans to return to the stadium, and it’s unfortunate that such a dazzling player won’t be able to make his debut in front of the crowds at Wheldon Road but he reassures us that once that whistle blows, it’s all business and as a player, your natural instinct takes over:

“It’s a lot different [Not having fans in the stadium], just the atmosphere that fans create, especially at The Jungle, so I’d been looking forward, in my mind, to making my debut in front of fans, so I’m a little disappointed that that’s not looking likely. It’s strange, but once you’re on the pitch, you concentrate on your job and you’re in the flow of the game, but we’ll all be excited to have fans back and to play at our own ground in front of them all, I’m really looking forward to that, and having my family down and things like that. The sooner it’s safe to do so, we’re all excited for that.

Niall is set to revisit his old side in Round five when the Tigers travel to the AJ Bell, before hosting Salford on their return to The Mend-A-Hose Jungle in Round fifteen. However, it’s a different date that the former Red Devil has on his mind after it was announced early last month that Castleford and Salford will face one another at September’s Dacia Magic Weekend. It’s set to be a big occasion with potentially fans in attendance at St James Park and it’s one that’s sparked a bit of conversation with a few ex-teammates:

“Of course, I keep in touch with a few of the boys [at Salford], I was there a while and I’m still close with a few of them: Ryan Lannon, I speak to him quite a lot…I’ve not spoken to him about Magic Weekend yet but I’m sure we’ll have a few texts back and forth before that game, a bit of banter etc. But all joking aside, I think it’ll be a great occasion, I’m sure the fans are excited!"

Finally, it’s not just the start of the season that the flying fullback will have to prepare for in the coming weeks as he is due to become a father for the first time before the Fords line up to face Warrington on 28th March. It will be a different kind of pressure he admits, but nonetheless something both he and his partner are looking forward to:

“We’re expecting a little boy around the middle of March, so we’re just getting things in place now, decorating his room and getting all the stuff in. I’m a little bit nervous but me and my missus are really excited. It seems like a long time waiting but there’s a lot of things to prepare and everyone’s already telling us to get used to no sleep, but we are really excited for it! A few of the lads with kids have already said things like “Enjoy the quiet while you can” etc. but he’s due just before the season starts, so hopefully we’ll have a couple of weeks at home before the games start!”

The club would like to congratulate Niall and his partner as they get ready for their new arrival whilst Niall preps for the small matter of the 2021 Betfred Super League Season! So with the stage set, the sight of him running out at Emerald Headingley in the Black and Amber on the 28th March will be something to look forward to for Cas and rugby league fans alike!

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