Wakefield Wildcats hooker Tommy Lee aims to draw on experience for Cardiff opener

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WAKEFIELD Wildcats hooker Tommy Lee may be in the early years of his professional rugby league career, but the 23-year-old can still draw on plenty of experience of being involved in the big matches, writes Nick Rigg.

Lee, who arrived at the Rapid Solicitors Stadium on a two-year deal from Crusaders in the close season, is part of Wakefield’s 19-man squad to take on derby rivals Castleford Tigers in the opening round of Super League XVI at Millennium Magic on Saturday.

He’s set to make his debut for the Wildcats at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium in front of what’s set to be the biggest crowd that Wakefield will play in front of all season in the regular Super League campaign.

The former Hull FC man is one of a number of players who “fits the Wildcats 2011 recruitment policy of young British players with something to prove”, according to Wildcats head coach John Kear.

But, unlike other young players that have arrived at the club in the close season, Lee has the advantage of having been involved in ‘Magic’ events before, both at Cardiff and Edinburgh.

And he’s hoping that experience helps him enjoy an impressive performance, and a winning result, in the Welsh capital this weekend.

“I played in a couple with Hull, and missed a couple through injury,” he said.

“I played in Cardiff and in Edinburgh too but probably enjoyed Cardiff more because I was there with the Hull squad in 2005 for the Challenge Cup final and it brings back some good memories, even just being a squad member, so hopefully we can get another win.

“Pre-season started in October so it’s been a long wait and it’s a good venue to start at I think so everyone’s excited.”

The new-look Wakefield squad has a mixture of youth and experience for 2011, with Hull-born Lee having both qualities in his locker.

And he’ll look to pass on his experience to Wakefield’s other young players, including Josh Veivers, Russ Spiers, Kieran Hyde, Paul Johnson and Stuart Howarth, who’ve all been selected for the 19-man squad.

“I’ll try and pass on any experience I have but they’re all confident young lads who will stand up well,” said Lee.

“It doesn’t phase me, it’s a good occasion. We’ve got some good young players in our team who are looking forward to it so it gives it a bit of an extra edge for them too so it should be good.”

The Belle Vue club have been tipped by many doubters to struggle in Super League XVI, a tag which Wakefield have often gone on to prove wrong in recent campaigns.

But with a points deduction looming following the club’s decision to go into administration, the Cats are set for one of their toughest Super League seasons so far.

And Lee, who like Wakefield looks to prove some doubters wrong this term, insists a good start is vital for the Cats.

“I think it’s a good way to start the season with a good derby game, not that you need any other incentives to start the season, everyone’s eager,” he said.

“To get a good start for us would be massive. I think the pre-season friendlies haven’t really gone in our favour on the scoreboard but we’ve got a lot of positives out of those games and hopefully this weekend we can put everything right and get a good result.

“Hopefully I’ll be starting this week. It’s a big game and especially because it’s on Sky. There are a lot of people at the club with a point to prove and hopefully that will come across in our performances.”

Lee insists Wakefield’s off-the-pitch problems have failed to distract the players from their performances and hard work rate in training.

And, if anything, they’ve helped to bring a squad who “turn up to training with a smile on their face every day” together ahead of the new season.

“Obviously all we can do is play well on the pitch and other people are in place to sort the off field things out,” he said.

“Hopefully we can get a good start to the season and everything will come on the back of that.

“Training has been really tough but also enjoyable. I think there are a lot of new faces at the club and they turn up to training with a smile on their face every day, everyone enjoys each others company.

“We’re quite a young squad with a couple of senior players too but we all mix really well and it was really easy to gel. It was easier than going down to Wales (with Crusaders) last year and it helps that I only live 40 minutes away.”

Wakefield will have to be at the top of their game for a Castleford side that have strengthened their squad over the winter months.

Danny Orr has marked a return to his former club by being handed the captain’s arm band, while Nick Youngquest, a former team-mate of Lee at Crusaders, has joined Terry Matterson’s squad.

And Lee knows acknowledges the tough test that lies in wait for the Wildcats.

“They’re a really good team,” he said.

“Obviously Rangi Chase is a quality and they’ve brought in Nick Youngquest from Crusaders, who I thought had a great season last season.

“I’ve watched a couple of Academy games and some of the young kids there are good too so I think they’ll have a good season, they have plenty of strength in the depth.”

As well as valuable points being at stake, Lee is also playing for a regular starting role for the Wildcats in 2011.

He knows a below-par showing could see him out of the starting line-up for the next match and is keen for an impressive debut.

“Everyone says competition is good because you can’t get comfortable so every time I get picked I want to play the best I can and carry on training the best I can to stay in that squad,” he continued.

“In the positions I play there’s a lot of competition so I need to get my head down and have a good season.”

See this week’s Wakefield Express Sport for all the latest sports news from around the district.