Castleford Tigers’ new head coach Danny Ward insists they head to Wakefield Trinity for their relegation crunch clash tomorrow night as ‘underdogs’, despite sitting above their opponents on the Super League ladder.
By the time kick-off comes around at Belle Vue live in front of the Sky Sports cameras, Ward will have had just nine days to rally the troops since being appointed at the helm of a side he once upon a time pulled on a shirt for.
Having won just four games all season, the same as opponents Wakefield, the pair are separated on points difference alone. Accordingly, tomorrow night is one of Super League’s biggest ever games, probably the biggest ever not to involve those at the top.
The former London Broncos boss isn’t downplaying its magnitude, and expects his team to embrace that underdog tagline going up against a Trinity team that have won all of their points to date on home turf.
Danny Ward gives Castleford ‘underdogs’ tag ahead of trip to Wakefield
Ward said: “I don’t want to put any pressure on the lads, but the boys know the size of the game. Everybody on the outside and in the media, it’s your job to pump it up as it is.
“We can only focus on ourselves as a team and our individual performances. We’ve worked hard this week to tinker a few bits. The boys will prep like they do every week for a Super League game.
“I definitely think we go in as underdogs when you look at the form and how Wakefield have been playing at home, being there in front of their crowd.
“They’ll be confident at home, they’ve played some really good rugby and picked up some wins in recent months too. They’ll definitely be favourites and will be feeling that way going into it as well.”
A flashback moment for Ward and the Tigers
In his playing days, Ward’s one season with Cas came in 2006, ultimately ending in disappointment in a coincidentally similar manner.
With Catalans Dragons exempt from relegation, the Tigers and Wakefield were the two left battling it out to avoid the drop, just as they are this season oncemore. It came down to the very last game of that season, and the two clubs faced off at Belle Vue in a relegation decider.
Ward and co. would lose 29-17, and go down to the Championship as a result. Now in charge of the outfit from the Jungle, he admitted that game had been discussed in camp this week.
He added: “It was brilliant, there has been a lot of talk about that game, it was a huge one. A couple of the lads had seen it, I think it had been on Sky as a repeat, I gave it a miss because I don’t think I’d want to re-live it.
“Especially being a local derby though, the Cas v Wakey games are always huge, never mind when something’s on the line like it was back in ’06, and I’m sure there will be a similar atmosphere this time around.
“It’s always a tough place to go, and Wakefield have been playing very well at home, but it was one to forget for me personally that game, certainly.”
New Tigers chief ‘buzzing’ for first game in charge
Wakefield are also the club who relegated Ward in his previous rugby league managerial position with London Broncos back in 2019.
Newly promoted and under his stewardship, the team from the capital were set to avoid relegation until John Kear took over at Belle Vue and carried out a great escape.
Again on the last day of the campaign, Ward saw his team beaten at Trinity, and the Broncos went down in heartbreaking fashion on points difference, not returning since.
17 years on though, now-Cas boss Ward is relishing the opportunity to go and avenge those two defeats in a game which could again decide who beats the drop from Super League.
The former prop said: “I’m just seeing it as a positive, I’m absolutely buzzing to go to Wakefield on a Friday night with Castleford.
“It’s a local derby, a big game for where we both are in the league table, and we’re on Sky, so absolutely it’s the best game for me to just steam straight into.
“There is a little bit of ‘why are they where they are?’ [for Castleford this year], but then I think you’ve got to pay credit to other teams and pay strength to Super League in general at the minute.
“The table’s not a usual picture of how things are, that’s a credit to the competition. Everyone can beat each other on the day, and I think Castleford have found that this year so far. All credit to what’s out there and those playing well.”