2017 was the year that saw Castleford Tigers continue their remarkable upward trajectory of the past few years and, while they didn’t quite reach the pinnacle at Old Trafford, it is fair to say that the seeds of future success have been sewn by a manager whose career in the hotseat started over fifteen years ago.
After retiring from playing in 2001, Daryl Powell took over as coach of Leeds Rhinos after ending his playing career at Headingley. The former stand off took the West Yorkshire giants into the play offs in both of his two years in charge before Australian Tony Smith took over but no further and, after a stint as Director of Rugby at the Rhinos and involvement in the early years of the York City Knights, Powell switched codes and became offensive coach and matchday manager of Leeds Tykes.
His next foray in the world of rugby league saw the Wakefield born coach head to Featherstone Rovers. From 2008 to 2013, Powell moulded Featherstone into perennial title challengers for the title in British rugby league’s second tier. During his time with The Flatcappers, they were the Championship League Leaders in 2010, 2011 and 2012 as well as winning the Grand Final in 2011. Other near misses came as well, as did a 23-16 win over the Tigers in the Challenge Cup was one of his most memorable wins. Less than a year later, Powell headed to Wheldon Road after Castleford cut ties with Ian Millward.
During his time with the Tigers, he has won Coach of the Year in both 2014 and 2017 as well as giving the club their first Wembley appearance in twenty years and taking them to the League Leaders’ Shield in the respective years. This season saw the Tigers playing the best brand of rugby league 2017 saw and one of the best ever seen in this country as the Tigers swept all before them, beating every team at least once over the season. They finished a record ten points clear at the top and had the top try scorer (Greg Eden), Man of Steel (Luke Gale) and, of course, the Coach of the Year – an admirable trio of awards. The only thing that they will kick themselves about is their Grand Final performance and that, while conditions played a part, they simply had no answer to Leeds’ gameplan and big game experience, but that will come in time.
Will he be at Castleford to continue this development? Well, yes, but it wouldn’t be a shock to get the position of England coach after this winter’s World Cup. Australian Wayne Bennett isn’t exactly a favourite of the fans and, after some strange picks in his squad this winter, he (or the RFL) may decide that this tournament is the last time he will be calling the shots. Powell has had a spell as assistant with England before and, if he can get the England team playing in a similar manner to Castleford, it may well provide them with their best chance of international success in recent times.