League Express editor MARTYN SADLER wonders whether the Tigers will be able to maintain their momentum into the final part of the Betfred Super League season.
Castleford Tigers have rightly been the subject of much praise for their performances so far this season.
In our preview edition of League Express, published in early February, we predicted that they would come third in Super League.
As we wrote at the time: “The Tigers continue to make highly impressive progress under Daryl Powell’s astute guidance and their close-season recruitment drive has encouraged hopes of an even brighter future. The departures of Luke Dorn and Denny Solomona are a blow, but Zak Hardaker was adjudged to be the best player in Super League two years ago when he won the Steve Prescott Man of Steel award and if he can be so again it would mean the Tigers would have a great season.”
The only thing we got wrong was actually to under-estimate the Tigers. The following week they began their Super League campaign with a 44-16 home win against Leigh Centurions, but it was two weeks later that they really made us all sit up and take notice, with a brilliant performance against Warrington Wolves at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, triumphing 22-30 against a team that had beaten Brisbane Broncos 27-18 a week earlier.
As I wrote at the time: “On Friday night Castleford Tigers served us up nine minutes of almost perfect Rugby League, during which time they scored four scintillating tries.
“It was almost certainly the most astonishing nine minutes of action that I can recall watching. It actually took me back to the brilliance of the 1982 Australian tourists, who were also capable of unleashing a barrage of tries against unsuspecting opponents in a very short space of time.
“It was a privilege to see it, and there’s no doubt in my mind that if the Tigers could sustain rugby like that for long periods throughout a game, then they would be almost unbeatable.”
The following week, Leeds Rhinos ran into a firestorm at the Jungle, going down to a 66-10 defeat that created shockwaves all around Super League.
No team could play so well forever, but the Tigers have managed to come quite near to achieving it, and they come into tonight’s game against St Helens with a 12-game winning run.
Like St Helens, they have the luxury of coming off a free weekend, and they bring back Larne Patrick, Oliver Holmes and Adam Milner into their side, although they will still be lacking Jake Webster, while Saints have Matty Smith back in their squad, and we will have to wait and see whether their coach Justin Holbrook gives him a starting spot over rookie Danny Richardson.
I suspect that he will, and that’s because the points are more vital to St Helens than they are to Castleford. Saints currently lie in sixth place, one point outside the top four. They come into the game on the back of a three-game winning sequence, but they need to keep up that momentum. They can’t afford to lose more than two games in the Super 8s if they want to finish in the top four.
The Tigers, on the other hand, know that they will figure in the semi-finals and that knowledge may lure them into a sense of complacency, which would be the biggest danger facing them.
They defeated the Tigers 26-22 on Easter Monday at the Totally Wicked Stadium, and on 5 June the Tigers had to come from behind to secure a late 16-12 victory at the Jungle, although in May the Tigers humiliated Saints in the Challenge Cup, winning 53-10 and causing Saints captain Jon Wilkin to describe the game as one of the lowest points in his distinguished career.
I can’t imagine that we’ll see such a one-sided game tonight, but the Tigers will need to be on guard against a Saints team that looks to me as though it’s the coming team in Super League.
Tonight’s 19-man squads:
Castleford: Zak Hardaker, Greg Minikin, Michael Shenton, Luke Gale, Andy Lynch, Paul McShane, Grant Millington, Oliver Holmes, Mike McMeekan, Adam Milner, Nathan Massey, Jesse Sene-Lefao, Ben Roberts, Matt Cook, Larne Patrick, Joel Monaghan, Tom Holmes, Jy Hitchcox, Alex Foster.
St Helens: Jonny Lomax, Tommy Makinson, Ryan Morgan, Mark Percival, Theo Fages, Matty Smith, Alex Walmsley, James Roby, Kyle Amor, Jon Wilkin, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Luke Thompson, Tommy Lee, Dominique Peyroux, Morgan Knowles, Danny Richardson, Regan Grace, Matty Lees, Zeb Taia.
A full report, photographs and analysis from this game will feature in Monday’s League Express, in all good newsagents and digitally online on Sunday evening.