ANALYSIS: How Castleford’s defence is reaching title-winning form at last

The 7th of May 2013 may not immediately strike a chord with too many Castleford fans on first glance, but it really should do – as that was the day the club’s present and long-term future took a significant turn for the better.

That was the Daryl Powell walked into the Mend-A-Hose Jungle for the very first time as head coach – and since then, things seem to have got better and better. The ‘Classy Cas’ mantra has returned good and proper and, at the time of writing, Castleford are top of Super League.

But despite being one of the most eye-catching sides in rugby league with ball in hand, it’s in defence where Castleford’s real improvements have been made.

In 2013, prior to Powell’s arrival as head coach, the Tigers were shipping points for fun. They were beaten 52-0 at Hull, 48-18 by St Helens, 37-16 by Wakefield.. the list goes on. Even after he stepped into the role, Cas were being beaten badly – conceding 40 points or more in another four or five games that season. That season, they finished third-bottom, shipping 881 points in 27 games.

In 2014, as everyone will remember, the tide began to really turn in Castleford. Powell transformed Castleford from cellar dwellers to Classy Cas, guiding them to a fourth-placed finish and a Challenge Cup Final, which they ultimately lost to Leeds Rhinos. But in conceding 583 points in the same 27 rounds as last season – almost 300 less! – it was obvious Powell’s work was paying dividends.

2015 felt like a step back – although only a minor one; finishing fifth in the inaugural Super 8s, but conceding almost 750 points and finishing in a negative points difference. Even though Cas could pile on the points, it was obvious what was holding them back from reaching the upper echelons of Super League.

Then in 2016, the Tigers shipped over 800 points, the worst in the top eight with the exception of Wakefield, who took some bad beatings in the Super 8s with their seasons effectively over. So Powell went public in pre-season this year about how he wanted defensive improvements as a priority – and he certainly has been getting it this season.

Castleford hadn’t nilled a team for almost a decade in Super League – yet last weekend, they showed the latest enhancement of their defensive structures by beating Widnes 34-0 to cement their position at the top of Super League following the opening month of the season.

The Tigers can attack, everyone knows that. But this year (so far), they’ve conceded just 48 points in four games – an average of 12, and only bettered by Hull FC’s total of 46. If it is to be Castleford’s year, Powell will probably be the first to admit that it’s their defensive efforts which have got them there, rather than their attack.

It’s taken a good few years, but Classy Cas appear to have the other side of the game wrapped up as well as attack.

Castleford defensive averages under Daryl Powell

2013 (Powell started in May): 27 games, 881 points conceded – average of 32.6 PPG
2014: 27 games, 583 points conceded – average of 21.6 PPG
2015: 30 games, 746 points conceded – average of 24.9 PPG
2016: 30 games, 808 points conceded – average of 27.0 PPG
2017 (after four games): 4 games, 48 points conceded – average of 12.0 PPG