Danny Richardson: Castleford Tigers half-back ready for 'fresh start' after St Helens exit

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Richardson's 'miraculous' winning penalty for St Helens
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Dates: 30 January-10 October Coverage: Listen to live commentary across BBC Radio 5 live, BBC Radio 5 live sports extra and BBC local radio, watch highlights on the Super League show, live text commentary on selected games and reports on the BBC Sport website and app

There was plenty of emotion poured onto the Old Trafford turf in the aftermath of St Helens' Grand Final win over Salford in October.

Joy, relief, jubilation from the Saints, the fulfilment of promise and tears of happiness as departing head coach Justin Holbrook went out on a high.

Mixed in among all of that was a tinge of disappointment, of unfulfilled promise.

Only a year previously, it was Danny Richardson who had guided Saints to within a heartbeat of success, earning the honour of Dream Team half-back. The future was bright.

However, as the red and white ribbons rippled from the gleaming silverware, Richardson had been reduced to spectator after a 2019 season to forget.

"I couldn't be happier for the lads that won it," the 23-year-old told BBC Sport. "Some are my best friends and every lad in the squad deserved that win.

"But from a personal point of view I was gutted not to be playing, especially after the year before where we got beat in two semi-finals and were so close to getting through.

"I really felt we would click as a team, and we did. But it's unfortunate that I wasn't involved in the plans for that."

From gun goal-kicker to bit-part player

How did the young gun with the radar-guided boot fall out of favour, after such a totemic season?

Having racked up a league-best 296 points in 2018, 55 more than nearest rival Sam Tomkins, Richardson was expected to pick up the baton again in 2019.

He missed the start of pre-season because of injury and, once back to fitness, he could not shift the impressive Theo Fages from the number seven jersey.

Saints sent him to Championship side Leigh for game-time, but on his return to the Totally Wicked Stadium he was limited to just 13 appearances, scoring two tries and kicking 28 goals.

It was a departure from the headlines and landmarks he enjoyed during that breakout 2018 campaign.

"I struggled at times," Richardson said. "I was still a young kid, 22 at the time. I would turn up, train the house down and it felt like nothing was ever good enough.

"But I had good family and friends around me, they kept on at me, saying 'keep working hard and something will come up'."

Danny Richardson consoled by his family after Saints lost their play-off game against Warrington
Danny Richardson was consoled by family after Saints lost in their play-off semi in 2018

Leaving home for pastures new

The opportunity which did come up was a move across the Pennines to Castleford Tigers.

It meant leaving his close-knit family environment in Widnes. It also meant leaving the lifelong friends he had made coming through the ranks at Saints.

Most importantly, though, it was the opportunity he had been craving.

"After the year I had last year it wasn't a difficult decision because I just want to play," Richardson continued.

"I knew I had to do something. I felt like I needed something new, something fresh. I moved out of my comfort zone."

Richardson still piles home to Cheshire when training allows, "mostly to see my pugs", he laughs, but is now focusing on life in West Yorkshire having settled on a place in Leeds.

The move to Castleford has brought him under the guidance of head coach Daryl Powell and assistants Ryan Sheridan and Danny Orr.

"One of the driving points of making the decision to come here was that Cas had been doing well for the past few years, building a really good squad," he said.

"The chance to learn under Powelly, who's a really good coach, and then you've got Shez and Danny as the assistants, I love coming into training and picking little things up off them.

"I feel like my game has improved already and I'm looking forward to seeing where I can take it over the next few years."

Big shoes to fill

Luke Gale
Luke Gale guided Castleford to the 2017 Grand Final after a stellar season

There was no greater vote of confidence in Richardson than the award of the number seven shirt when the Tigers announced their squad line-up for the 2020 season, taking the number worn by his predecessor Luke Gale, who left for Leeds.

Gale's final two seasons at Castleford were injury-plagued - notably last term when an Achilles problem ended his campaign before it had begun - but his game management and cool head had been major components of their near-perfect 2017, which ended in defeat by Leeds at the final hurdle.

"When Galey was fit and they had that year in 2017, he was carving it up and he had an outstanding year," Richardson said.

"Replacing anyone like that will bring its own pressures. You're always going to be compared.

"If I have a good start to the season and I have a good few weeks, that will all be forgotten about."

Having almost been forgotten about himself, 2020 is a big campaign for England Knights half-back Richardson.

A new club, new surroundings and a fresh start mean any thoughts of his own reputation have been cast to one side.

"It feels like so far in the past," Richardson said. "I'm a little bit nervous, for some reason, to get back out there for good.

"I'm looking to just start the season, trying to do my job as best I can, making no errors and lead the team to win and hopefully we'll just kick on from there."