DAVE WOODS turns 46 tomorrow and will mark the occasion by returning to Castleford for the first time as a coach since his discordant departure five years ago in a birthday treat he will enjoy whatever the outcome.
York City Knights’ boss was ousted at Cas straight after taking the Tigers back up to Super League in his one season with the club in 2005.
But he has since bolstered a burgeoning CV by leading minnows Gateshead to the Championship One title – an achievement which was also controversially met with the sack – and by taking the Knights to last year’s memorable Championship One Grand Final triumph.
He has also made up with the man who effectively gave him the boot from Wheldon Road, chief executive Richard Wright, and he says he will savour returning to a place for which he still holds fond memories.
“I’ve gone back there to do a commentary but not to coach a team,” Woods told The Press. “They rang us when I was at Gateshead and wanted to set up a friendly, but I then got sacked (by Gateshead) and didn’t get the chance to go back.
“It’s something I’m especially looking forward to. It’s a great place for rugby, with great fans to play in front of.
“I will stress that to the boys. The surface is tremendous and I’ll tell them to enjoy it. It will be a good experience for them. You want to enjoy the fact you’re playing a Super League team and that you’re playing footy again.”
This is also – bizarrely – the first time the ‘man with the Midas touch’ has kept the reins of a club he has guided to promotion, with tomorrow’s friendly kicking off his side’s pre-season fixtures ahead of their campaign in the Championship.
“We won’t worry about the result,” added Woods. “There are some little things we’ve been working on in training and we want to see those worked on.
“We’re not worried about putting plays together as we haven’t had chance to do them on the field yet. For me, it’s just about our performance and working hard for each other.”
As for his departure from Cas, Woods said: “I wasn’t happy for a while but you can’t live with (regrets).
“I know I can coach in Super League and I would have loved to have stayed there, I really enjoyed it there, but you can’t dwell on things. I’m very happy at York doing what I’m doing.
“I didn’t speak to him (Wright) for a while but I have done a couple of times since.
“I know the reasons behind things now.
“At the time they wanted someone with a higher profile for Super League but I’ve since found out there was a third influence going in there and it turned out they had ulterior motives, so to speak.
I know what’s gone on a bit more now, though it’s still disappointing.
“I’ve shaken hands with him and he’s a decent enough bloke.”
He added: “I know the groundsman well and the kitman is a great young fella. I know lots of the staff. It will be good to go back. The fans are great and I’m looking forward to seeing them. They always give you a good reception.”
Cas will start with 13 first-teamers, and Woods, too, will field a strong line-up. Eight of the 17 that played in the Grand Final will start, with the other four retainees from that group set to be on the bench.
Elsewhere, Woods was considering trialling a wing-centre partnership between new recruits Tom Bush and Dave Sutton, while Jon Presley, the signing from Keighley, forms a new half-back partnership with player/assistant-coach Chris Thorman.
Other newcomers set to start are centre Duane Straugheir and Wales international Matt Barron, who gets a run at second-row alongside the club’s longest-serving player, Steve Lewis.
Two other new boys, utility man Mark Barlow and forward Ben Jones, were lined up for substitute roles.
Tigers: Mathers, Youngquest, Arundel, Thompson, Dixon, Chase, Orr, Emmitt, Hudson, Walker, Holmes, Davies, Milner. Subs: Smith, Orange, Eden, Brierley, Blackmore, Picketts, Harris, Clark.
Knights (probable): Haynes, Wilson, Straugheir, Bush, Sutton, Thorman, Presley, Freer, Lee, Benson, Lewis, Barron, Esders. Subs from Stearman, M Mitchell, Stamp, Barlow, Burns, S Woods, Jones, Waterman.