St Helens head coach Paul Wellens is wary of a Castleford Tigers side who go into Friday night’s clash at the Jungle brimming with confidence, and has earmarked three stars his team must watch out for.
The Tigers picked up a huge win last time out in the ‘Battle of Belle Vue 2.0’ against relegation rivals Wakefield Trinity, in what was Danny Ward’s first game in charge.
They now sit two competition points above Wakefield, and that 28-12 success has also bolstered Cas’ points difference. Accordingly, another win on home soil against the Saints would see a huge step taken in the challenge of securing Super League survival mathematically.
Ward isn’t the only new face at the club, with his former international teammate Wellens picking out three Tigers aces that the Saints need to tame to come away with a much-needed victory of their own in the race at the top of the table.
Paul Wellens discusses challenge of preparing to face ‘new look’ Cas side
When the sides met back in February, also at the Jungle, Saints cruised to a 24-6 win in their first Super League outing of the year having been over in Australia for the World Club Challenge during Round 1 of the competition back home.
It was also a routine 22-0 win for Wellens’ side at the Totally Wicked Stadium in June when the Tigers came to town. He doesn’t expect this third meeting to be a stroll in the park though, with changes aplenty in the opposing camp.
The Red Vee’s chief said: “They’re certainly a much different team than the one that we faced in Round 2 when we returned from Australia at the start of the year.
“You look at some of the jerseys on their backs, I think Blake Austin is wearing number 46. That shows the turnaround of players they’ve had this year, so it presents a different challenge, but I certainly don’t think it’s an easier challenge.
“Blake Austin is a wonderful player, he’s shown for many years now over here and in the NRL how dangerous he can be. Jacob Miller is a seasoned pro and Gareth Widdop a seasoned pro too, so they’ve got a lot of people within their ranks who know what it’s like to be at the highest level.
“Around that now they have a lot of hard working and enthusiastic players, so I think it’s going to be difficult for us.”
St Helens need to be more consistent as run-in to play-offs heats up
It’s no secret that Saints haven’t hit the heights of the years previous so far in 2023, but the Merseyside outfit still occupy the third spot on the ladder, level on competition points with Wigan Warriors in 2nd.
Last weekend, courtesy of a big home win against Hull KR, Wellens saw his side open up a two-point advantage over Leigh Leopards in 4th.
And with just five games remaining before the Super League play-offs, he wants the team to continue building nicely towards a big finish, starting at Cas.
The 43-year-old added: “We’re going to have to go there, perform and play well. A big challenge for us now is to build some consistency within our performances, regardless of who is in the team.
“I think we’ve done that in recent weeks, we’ve shown a real competitiveness and won some tight games. We got some points on the board last week and we’d like to build on that, but we’ve got to understand that came on the back of us playing the game tough and that’s going to be the challenge for us again this weekend.
“Obviously they are coming in on the back of a good win last week in what was a really high pressure game for them. I suppose on the back of victories like that the team builds confidence, so it’s another difficult challenge for us.
“Going to Castleford is always a difficult challenge, but it probably is even more so now because of the fact that they are a team playing with confidence again.”
Wellens and Ward face off
While the main storyline of Friday’s game of course lies in what’s at stake for both teams, the two men trying to mastermind a win are no strangers to one another.
Wellens confirmed: “I played against him [Ward] a fair bit growing up, and I played with him for Great Britain academy back in ’98, so I’ve known Danny a long time. It’s great to see him back in.
“Obviously I’m very close with Andy Last as well, so I was really disappointed with that decision for Andy who is a great person and a great coach, but obviously on the flip side, Danny has been waiting patiently in the wings and has got himself another opportunity.
“He is a great guy and I wish him well in that position, but just obviously not this weekend.”