This season’s opening night saw 2017 thrillers Castleford Tigers head to off season competition favourites St Helens and what followed shocked the scene of UK rugby league. While many had the hosts as likely victors, the manner in which they dispatched with the Tigers was sensational, ultimately breezing to a 46-6 win and leaving many questioning whether last season’s League Leaders’ Shield winners could build on their promising 2017 campaign; were they a one season wonder?
What has followed has duly rubbished those suggestions. That loss to the Saints has been Castleford’s sole defeat so far, having won every other match of the campaign and, having narrowly beaten Widnes in the second game, they are again looking like the real deal. In fact, they have so far beaten the teams who finished second, third and fifth in last season’s table. Included in that was a victory over Hull FC where they showed glimpses of their 2017 quality, something they also did in the Super League classic recently at Elland Road against Leeds. For the first twenty minutes – when they built up a sensational 24-0 lead – they were irresistible and the fact that the Rhinos didn’t really make mistakes to assist them just shows the quality of their play.
Luke Gale’s game management seems to have improved on that he showed last season – which wasn’t exactly bad – with his boot ensuring that the Tigers beat both the Rhinos (25-24) and Wakefield (6-11). Furthermore, he is really starting to dictate games again after failing to get a grasp of the match on opening night. The problem full back position seems to have settled down somewhat with Ben Roberts getting to grips with the position and his performance against Leeds was admirable considering he seemed to be carrying a knock for the majority of the match. Youngster Jake Trueman stepped into the role for Thursday’s tight victory over Wakefield and the general consensus is that he has given coach Daryl Powell something of a selection dilemma going forward, providing serious competition for places alongside Roberts and, in turn, Jamie Ellis and Gale in the halves.
With all that in mind, it would be a brave person who discounted the Tigers in the discussions about silverware this season. The old adage of ‘you have to lose one before you win one’ could well fit the Tigers; they reached the 2014 Challenge Cup final along with last season’s Grand Final and, while they lost both to local rivals Leeds, the experience gained from such occasions could benefit them going forward.
Could that be this season?