Tigers fail to fire in 2020
Five things we learned from Castleford’s season
1: First half promise can mean nothing. At the beginning of lockdown in March, the Tigers had just beaten St Helens comfortably at home and were sitting joint top of Super League. Things were looking good, with only two defeats on the board. But after lockdown Castleford were able to win only two more games as they slipped right out of the play-off picture.
2: Close games were a problem, particularly in the second half of the season. The Tigers on several occasions were in a position to win but ended up losing, with defeats to Warrington, Huddersfield and Hull FC being obvious examples.
3: The Tigers’ attack needs some work. They struggled to get over the line in 2021, particularly after the restart of the competition, with their top try-scorers Greg Eden and Derrell Olpherts only scoring eight tries each. Luke Gale’s departure was covered by the capture of Danny Richardson and while his pairing with Jake Trueman looked promising at times, a persistent back problem for Trueman meant they weren’t able to fire.
4: Sosaia Feki is a very unlucky player, after joining the Tigers at the start of the season without a history of serious injuries. But after featuring in Michael Shenton’s Testimonial match against Toronto during pre-season, he would only make one more appearance for the Tigers and that only lasted a handful of minutes in the Challenge Cup against Hull FC. He is the only player to make his debut for a Super League club without actually playing in the main competition.
5: Hull FC are Castleford’s Challenge Cup bogy team. In 2020, the Tigers had drawn York City Knights in the sixth round, but because of Covid-19 it was redrawn and they instead faced Hull FC, who have now knocked Castleford out of the Cup on four occasions since the Tigers’ Wembley appearance in 2014.
In League Express on Monday 16 March the Super League table listed Castleford in second place, with ten points from seven games, the same total as leaders Wigan, who had a superior points difference. But by the end of the season the Tigers had slumped to eighth place, and they would have been ninth if Salford hadn’t had three wins taken away from them for off-field reasons. It was a dramatic fall from grace.
Everything was looking rosy for the Tigers when they defeated St Helens 28-14 on 15 March at the Jungle in the last Super League game played in front of a crowd before lockdown. Derrell Olpherts scored two tries after Peter Mata’utia had opened the scoring. Cheyse Blair got on the scoresheet before Jake Trueman finished the game as a contest with six minutes to play.
Castleford had had a poor second half of the season without ever being completely outplayed, but that all changed when they travelled to the KCOM Stadium to play Hull FC on 18 October and, from the outset, they were dismantled by the Airlie Birds, who hammered them 48-6. Only Jacques O’Neill’s consolation spared the Tigers a blank scoresheet but they were behind by 24 points after as many minutes and never recovered.
Paul McShane: It was perhaps a surprise to see Paul McShane named as Man of Steel as the best player in the competition, but he was certainly the Tigers’ best player this season and he kept up Castleford’s love affair with the award. The club has won it five times in its history, despite their mediocre form throughout most of the years of the competition. In fact, a player from the team has won the award every three years since 2011. Rangi Chase (2011), Daryl Clark (2014) and Luke Gale (2017) have all achieved the accolade, as well as Adrian Vowles in 1999.
Best young player
Jacques O’Neill: Castleford haven’t been able to bring through as many players through their Academy as they have in previous years, but in Jacques O’Neill they’ve found a real gem who works incredibly hard in the middle of the field. The Cumbrian may be small in stature, but he doesn’t half pack a punch with his big hits. One in particular that stands out was his pick up and dump of Tevita Satae, a much, much bigger man when the Tigers faced Hull FC at home.
Best overseas player
Peter Mata’utia (pictured): He was in great form for the Tigers when they were flying high at the start of the year, but injury and suspension got in the way during the second half of the season. Daryl Powell utilised him at centre and he performed well in the position, using his good hands to provide tries for Derrell Olpherts on the right.
Try of the Year
Jack Sanderson, who became the 1,000th player to play for the Tigers when he made his debut, scored a sensational try for Castleford against Huddersfield. A poor bomb from Callum Turner was far too shallow, but it was cleaned up by Greg Eden, who broke downfield. The winger found Mike McMeeken in support. The second-row forward gave the ball back to Eden, who fed Sanderson on the right. It was quality off-the-cuff play from Castleford.
Quote of the year
“Today highlighted the spirit and toughness we have and that is going to be important moving forward.” Daryl Powell was in a positive mood after his side’s final game of 2020, a 28-24 defeat to Leeds Rhinos.
Image of the year
The fans at the Jungle on 15 March for the clash with St Helens. It was the last time in 2020 that spectators would be allowed into a Rugby League match in England, although no one at the time probably would have had any idea that the next nine months would be free of fans.
When Matty Ashton broke away to score Warrington’s winning try over Castleford in their 12-10 win over the Tigers later in the season, it summed up the Tigers’ season as they put themselves in a position to succeed but weren’t able to keep it together.
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