Now Playing

Now Playing IconNow Playing:

Evolve Radio

Artist Name

Album Art

From prison officer to pro coach: Cas boss Lingard’s long road to the top

Craig Lingard might be a rookie as far as being a head coach in the Betfred Super League goes, but the new Castleford Tigers boss has a wealth of experience to fall back on from both inside and outside the world of rugby league.

For 18-and-a-half years, the 46-year-old combined his playing and coaching ambitions with his day job working as a prison officer – with 14 of those years spent in various management roles which meant dealing with staff issues as well as inmates.

The lessons learnt from the different situations he came across have served him well during his extensive two-decade rugby league coaching career too, and are not being forgotten as he embarks on his first full-time head coach role.

Live Betfred Super League

Saturday 17th February 5:25pm

Sky Sports Action HD Sky Sports Action HD

“I would have been managing people who worked in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, when prison was a different environment,” Lingard, who joined the prison service in 1999, told Sky Sports.

“Then prison comes to a more modern environment when dealing with prisoners changes, and you’re also dealing with people who have been doing the job for 25 or 30 years the same way and you’re having to manage those individuals.

“That’s difficult, but you learn a lot about yourself and your managing style and how to deal with different people. You’re not only managing your staff, you’re managing individuals and a lot of different personalities, and different things which happen to each individual.

“It takes your focus off the here and now in front of you, and makes you ask questions as to why that person is where they are and what has happened to get them to this position? It opens your mind and gets you to see things with a bit more clarity.”

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Check out the top 10 tries from the 2023 Super League season.

Lingard’s initial move into coaching came with Batley Bulldogs after a 10-year playing career for the part-timers which saw the full-back become the club’s all-time leading try-scorer, scoring 142 in 205 appearances.

Various roles with schools, junior sides, service area teams and a spell in charge of Bramley Buffaloes in the National Conference League followed, and he earned his first professional head coaching role with Keighley Cougars ahead of the 2017 season.

But while on-field results were steady, off-field problems reared their head in 2018 and the club was left teetering on the precipice of financial oblivion, with players and staff going unpaid for eight months. It is an experience which gave Lingard a new outlook.

“When you experience something like that for eight months, it’s not just an overnight thing it’s day in, day out even though you’re part-time with players ringing you asking why they’ve not been paid and you’re almost like a counsellor at times,” Lingard said.

I’m loving life at Castleford at the moment; I’m working full-time in rugby league and I’m doing something I’ve always wanted to do. I don’t see it as a job, I just see it as getting paid to do something I really love doing.

Castleford Tigers head coach Craig Lingard

“There are all sorts of things you have to deal with in those situations that a lot of people have never had to experience, and I hope I never have to deal with again. But having those sort of experiences and having dealt with those certain situations, it makes you appreciate more of the good times.

“I’m loving life at Castleford at the moment; I’m working full-time in rugby league and I’m doing something I’ve always wanted to do. I don’t see it as a job, I just see it as getting paid to do something I really love doing.”

After parting company with Keighley in May 2019, Lingard was confirmed as returning to the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium, where he has a terrace named after him, four months later to take charge of Batley.

After his first year saw little action due to the Covid-19 pandemic forcing the season’s cancellation, he guided the Bulldogs to the Betfred Championship play-off semi-finals in 2021 and then an unexpected Grand Final appearance the following year where they were beaten by Leigh, who earned promotion to Super League.

Batley Bulldogs v Halifax Panthers - AB Sundecks 1895 Cup - Final - Wembley
Batley Bulldogs� Dane Manning (left) Luke Hooley (second left) and Josh Woods tackle Halifax Panthers� Zack McComb during the AB Sundecks 1895 Cup final at Wembley, London. Picture date: Saturday August 12, 2023.
Image: Batley reached the 1895 Cup final at Wembley under Craig Lingard in 2023

A Wembley appearance in the 1895 Cup final, where they were edged out 12-10 by Halifax Panthers, came last year as well, with those performances attracting the attention of Castleford where he was initially brought in as an assistant.

It marked the completion of a long-held ambition for Lingard and some long hours as he combined coaching with his non-sporting life, although he admits it was something of an adjustment at first.

“It’s been weird because I’ve always been part-time rugby but full-time job,” Lingard said. “As a coach, you’re doing your reviews and previews and one or two o’clock in the morning before you get up to go to work at five.

“I’ve got a lot more time on my hands, and you almost feel like you should be doing a bit more. You question why you’re not doing as much as you were before, but you’re probably doing more rugby-wise but less work-wise.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Sky Sports’ Jenna Brooks explains how IMG’s new grading system will affect Super League clubs this year.

“It’s managing that time difference, and it does give you more time to have those conversations with the players you maybe couldn’t have in a part-time environment when you’ve got limited time with the players.”

The sacking of Andy Last in August last year and interim head coach Danny Ward’s decision not to stay on a permanent basis after Cas avoided relegation saw Lingard, who had been combining his assistant role with seeing out his contract at Batley, promoted to the top job last October.

He could hardly have asked for a tougher start to his Super League head coaching career than reigning champions Wigan Warriors at home on Saturday evening. Nevertheless, Lingard is aiming to use those experiences of last year to get the Tigers looking up the table again rather than over their shoulders.

“It’s helped me have that bit of vision about maybe what worked last year, what didn’t, what were the easy fixes and what might be difficult to change,” Lingard said.

“Sometimes it’s a negative as well because you can have a bit of a blinkered view…and it’s difficult to change that perception you’ve got. There are pros and cons, but I certainly think it benefitted me experiencing the negatives of the environment last year.”

Get Sky Sports on WhatsApp!

You can now start receiving messages and alerts for the latest breaking sports news, analysis, in-depth features, and videos from our dedicated WhatsApp channel!

Find out more here…

Watch Castleford Tigers kick off their 2024 Betfred Super League campaign at home to Wigan Warriors live on Sky Sports Action on Saturday, February 17 (5.30pm kick-off). Also stream contract free with NOW.

Sky News
(c) Sky Sports 2024:Source