Orr back to give Tigers some added bite
After Castleford's unsuccessful 2003 Super League season, half-back Danny Orr made the hard decision to quit his hometown club for the good of his career.
Eight years on, the effervescent 32-year-old is enjoying an unlikely second coming at the Tigers, playing a key role in establishing the team as shock Super League leaders.
"Coming back was not something I'd really thought about, although me and my wife had started to discuss possibly moving back up north," says Orr of the months leading up to his surprise return to west Yorkshire following four seasons in London with Harlequins.
"To where we weren't sure. A couple of clubs showed an interest. Then so did Cas and that just felt right."
Orr gave me a call after training on Wednesday as he headed home to do a bit of DIY around his house. I couldn't get a word in edgeways as I spoke to a man who lives and breathes Castleford rugby league. His pride in their stunning start to the season is as obvious as the Tigers heart he wears on his sleeve. Orr's former employers Harlequins have also been flying at the start of the season, so is the Orr magic rubbing off?
"I don't think so!" he laughs. "I'm perhaps a bit surprised at the way we have started but I'm not surprised by Quins at all. I always felt they were a good team. They've just had horrendous injuries to key players over the past few years. With all their players now fit, you can see what a good side they are. As for Cas, we have a good, healthy squad, too. As long we can keep competition for places, I think we can stay up there."
Orr (right) tackles Wakefield's Glenn Morrison. Photo: PA
Cas began the season with a victory over Wakefield in Cardiff followed by impressive home wins over Huddersfield and Hull KR. This from a team whose worryingly thin squad last season was dealt what looked like a hammer blow by the sale of homegrown duo Joe Westerman and Michael Shenton to Hull FC and St Helens respectively.
"It has been important to respond strongly to the loss of Shenny and Westy, to show the club can survive without them," says Orr, who also coaches Castleford's under-18 team. "Players come and go all the time. I'm a Cas lad, I came through the youth team and then I left. The club moved on and is always bigger than any one player. Shenny and Westy left but Joe Arundel and Olly Holmes have stepped in and are doing fantastic."
A couple of Tigers players have also told me that they felt in a comfort zone last season. The squad was so small there was little competition for places. They knew they would be playing each week regardless of how they performed.
Orr believes the investment in youth at Castleford, which Huddersfield Giants have also attributed to their recent successes, has given the club a really strong shot at securing a new Super League licence.
"There's a real element of talented youngsters coming through now which wasn't necessarily the case when I was last here," he says. "The club has clearly put a lot of effort into developing the youth teams. If you look at our squad now, it is full of young Cas lads. These kids will do anything for the club when they put on the Tigers shirt."
Cas coach Terry Matterson has also benefited from a far smoother pre-season than 12 months ago, when one of his fingers was severed in an accident during a training camp in France, and has blended youth with experience to good effect, as Orr acknowledges.
"Dean Widders and Nick Fozzard are key to us," says Orr. "They both train really hard, have a great attitude around the place and love a laugh and a joke. They rub off on the youngsters, who see the careers they have had. Fozzard is a complete lunatic. He's a bit mad but a great guy. He'll do a top job for us."
This week, the injured Fozzard turned his hand to TV presenting, although the big prop must hope he has a few years left in his playing legs yet judging by his attempts at interviewing Widders for the official Castleford website.
With things clicking on the pitch, the Tigers have had a massive lift off it following the financial input of Feisal Nahaboo. The club had courted the businessman's interest for some time - and his cash and enthusiasm have given the place a huge boost.
"He's been really positive," says Orr. "He came into the changing room before a match the other week and gave a little speech. He's enthusiastic and wants the club to do well. He is enjoying his experience of rugby league."
I understand that enthusiasm earned Nahaboo a ticking-off from the Rugby Football League when he and his associate presented the World Club Challenge trophy to St George Illawarra wearing a Castleford scarf.
Nevertheless, as the club looks to confirm its plans for a new stadium at Glasshoughton for 2012 at the same time as bidding for a successful licence renewal this summer, the presence of a man with money is as vital as the team's performances on the pitch.
"The licence is the goal but that is for [Castleford chief executive] Richard Wright and his board to worry about," says Orr. "I know he is doing a brilliant job, while we are doing our bit by winning games. It is out of our hands but it feels like things are going along nicely.
"I don't know how the licensing all works and who has the final say on who gets in and who doesn't but a Super League without Castleford is definitely a weaker one. We have great support, are steeped in history and, at the moment, we are OK. Super League is better with Tigers in it, although I'm obviously biased, aren't I ?"
A final word this week for Sheffield Eagles, who will make history against Widnes on Sunday by becoming the first sports team to wear a kit bearing an anti-homophobia slogan - Homophobia: Tackle It! A first not only for rugby league but for British sport.