Powell’s goodbye ended in disappointment
When we previewed Castleford Tigers’ 2021 season at the beginning of the year, we suggested that an improvement on the previous term’s eighth-placed finish was the minimum aim.
“The Tigers will be aiming to get back into the play-off picture this year,” we wrote.
“On the face of it they appear to have improved their squad, although the loss of Mike McMeeken is the club’s biggest setback, while some members of the squad are getting on the wrong side of 30.
“The key will be how the spine performs and whether, in particular, Jake Trueman has overcome his injury problems and can combine effectively with Danny Richardson, which was a combination that looked so promising before the March lockdown last year.”
In the end they were in the battle for the play-offs, not to mention reaching a Challenge Cup Final, but fell just short on both counts in what turned out to be Daryl Powell’s final season before heading to Warrington Wolves. That the aforementioned Trueman was able to play just seven league games points to a possible reason why.
Five things we learned from Castleford’s season
1. There is no room for sentiment in Rugby League, with Daryl Powell unable to enjoy a golden end to what has overall been a hugely successful period in charge of the Tigers. The one obvious blot on his record has been the inability to secure one of the two biggest trophies on offer, having lost the Grand Final in 2017 after lifting the League Leaders’ Shield, and there was the chance to put that right with a dramatic run to his second Challenge Cup final. But like in 2014 they fell at the final hurdle, St Helens’ ruthless winning machine ensuring Powell’s final season ended in disappointment. Missing out on the play-offs through defeat to his future club Warrington Wolves only rubbed it in.
2. That being said, their Challenge Cup run illustrated which competition currently holds their best chance of silverware. On their day they can beat anyone – including Saints – but in the past few years they have lost the consistency that put them in league contention previously. While the play-offs will continue to be a minimum target, the appointment of Lee Radford – a winner in 2016 and 2017 with Hull FC – points towards the Challenge Cup as their best bet for now.
3. Castleford need to rediscover home comforts. Their fans were given very little to cheer at the Jungle – indeed, once they were able to return they had to wait seven matches to finally see a Tigers’ success on home soil, by which time their play-off chances were looking marginal. Their overall record stood at just four home league wins across the campaign, which is simply not enough for a genuine play-off challenge.
4. Paul McShane is a cut above, and only seems to stand out more in a struggling side. This season might not have quite hit the heights that brought the Steve Prescott Man of Steel award his way in 2020 but the hooker was immense once more, and he finally got the international recognition he deserves this year as he featured in both of England’s matches.
5. Also now firmly on the England radar is Niall Evalds, who debuted at the end of the season in France after a good campaign. If Castleford are to put together another vintage side the fullback should literally be the first name on the teamsheet. A contract extension to 2023, with the option for a further year, showed that the club value this season’s Lance Todd Trophy winner highly.
The Tigers finished in seventh place, with 11 wins and 12 defeats across their 23 matches and a winning record of 47.83%. They scored 437 points and conceded 552, for an average scoreline of 19-24 against them.
Castleford produced their performance of the season to win at eventual champions St Helens on Thursday 12th August. It would have been an impressive enough result in its own right, but it took on far greater significance as their first league win at Saints since October 1990. That staggering 31-year wait was brought to an end by two Greg Eden tries, including a late intercept that sealed the points, and an Oliver Holmes score, with Danny Richardson kicking four goals.
Castleford twice lost by a margin greater than 50 points in 2021, but while it was a youthful team that were pummelled by Salford ahead of their cup final, the 60-6 trouncing from Leeds on Friday 28th May was far more humiliating. Jordan Turner scored first but it would be the only thing the home crowd had to smile about all night, as the Rhinos then ran in no fewer than eleven tries at the Jungle.
Oliver Holmes was named as Castleford’s player of the year and players’ player of the year after an excellent season in their back row. His twelfth and final season at the club was fittingly among his best, and he will surely be missed as he joins coach Powell in making the move to Warrington.
Best young player
Supporters only got a glimpse of winger Jason Qareqare in 2021, but what a glimpse it was. His brilliant try in the first minute of his debut against Hull FC in June got everyone talking about the 17-year-old Fijian, and hopefully more first-team opportunities come his way after three appearances this term.
Best overseas player
Peter Mata’utia is another player heading across to the Halliwell Jones Stadium, bowing out at Castleford with another excellent season. His explosive running from the backline has been a potent weapon across more than three years in a Tigers’ shirt and will be valued at Warrington.
Try of the year
Niall Evalds’ try in the Challenge Cup final was a special score on the biggest stage, but this can only go to Jason Qareqare. With his first touch, 45 seconds into his first professional match, he emphatically beat Hull FC’s Jake Connor for a stunning try.
Quote of the year
“Castleford has been my club; I supported the team as a young fella and for me to be able to coach the team has been a dream come true. I almost achieved the very pinnacle by winning the Grand Final, but I think we have been super consistent, and I think we have played in the true Cas style, in a Classy Cas way. It means a lot to me when I speak to the past players of the club and they talk about us upholding the history and standards of past playing days.
“The fans have been absolutely unbelievable; I walk across the pitch at every home game and the reception I get is always special so I hold that dear and I always will. Castleford Tigers is a special club and I have had a really special time being a part of it.”
The words of head coach Daryl Powell in March as he announced that he would be leaving the club at the end of the season.
Image of the year
Castleford Tigers’ players were almost too exhausted to celebrate after their golden-point extra-time win at Hull KR in the third round of the Challenge Cup. Four periods were required with the score tied at 32-32, with Gareth O’Brien finally dropping a winning field-goal in the 99th minute of an extraordinary contest to great relief.
This season will ultimately be remembered for more disappointment in a major final, when Castleford up just short despite a fantastic effort against St Helens in a high-quality contest at Wembley. With their league fortunes already slipping, the Challenge Cup looked like Castleford’s only route to success, and they came from behind to lead 12-6 at the break. However, a poor start to the second half saw Saints turn it around with two tries and they could never recover the match or their season from there.
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