Castleford Tigers were a class above their rivals in 2017, finishing clear of second-placed Leeds Rhinos in the race for the League Leaders’ Shield.
After the initial 23 games of the campaign, Castleford had lost just three times – racking up 40 points from a possible 46. That record was good enough to see Daryl Powell’s men finish ten points clear of their closest rivals and they maintained that gap throughout the Super 8s.
Unfortunately for Cas, they came unstuck in the playoffs when it mattered most. After Luke Gale’s incredible last-gasp drop goal to beat St Helens in the semi-finals, most fans believed that the Tigers were destined to win the Super League Grand Final, but it wasn’t to be. Leeds were the better side on that fateful day at Old Trafford and the wait for a maiden top-flight crown goes on for Castleford.
Winning Super League’s ultimate prize has to be the number one objective for Castleford after their exploits last season – anything less than Grand Final glory would be viewed as a major disappointment. Over at William Hill, punters can back the Tigers at 9/2 to win the Old Trafford showpiece this year and it would take a brave man to back against Cas if they manage to hit top form.
Everybody will be looking to beat the Tigers this season, and their achievements in 2017 could come back to haunt them. Powell’s men were the pinnacle last year and all 12 Super League clubs will attempt to emulate Castleford this time around. The Tigers ended the regular campaign with the most points scored (769) and fewest conceded (378) whilst ending the Super 8s with 965 points scored and just 536 allowed.
To put their efforts into perspective, Cas finished the Super 8s with a points differential of +429. St Helens had the second best tally with +145; two figures that show how dominant the Tigers were for most of the campaign. With the exception of the Grand Final, it was more or less the perfect season from a Castleford perspective. Powell will be looking for more of the same in 2018; getting off to a fast start is imperative.
With three of their first five games against favourable opponents, there is a real chance for Castleford to pick up where they left off at the end of last season. Hull KR, Widnes Vikings and Salford Red Devils are all there for the taking and the Tigers will be confident of winning all three games. A trip to St Helens isn’t ideal by any means but Powell’s side can come out on top, and they will be confident of beating Hull FC on home soil.
If luck is on their side, Cas could find themselves sitting atop the Super League ladder after round five. Daryl Powell will know that emulating last season’s achievements will be very difficult indeed but the Tigers must be confident in their own ability. With the right mindset, an Old Trafford return could be on the cards.
Coach: Daryl Powell
Assistant: Ryan Sheridan
Captain: Michael Shenton
Key Man: Luke Gale
One to Watch: Jake Trueman
Ins: Joe Wardle (Newcastle), Garry Lo (Sheffield), Jamie Ellis (Huddersfield), Mitch Clark (Hull KR), James Green, James Clare (both Leigh), Cory Aston (Leeds)
Outs: Andy Lynch, Joel Monaghan (both retired), Luke Million (Villeneuve), Tom Holmes (Featherstone), Ben Crooks, Larne Patrick, Kevin Larroyer (all Leigh), Conor Fitzsimmons (Newcastle T), Jamel Goodall (Bradford), Luis Johnson (Warrington).
Squad: 1 Ben Roberts, 2 Greg Minikin, 3 Jake Webster, 4 Michael Shenton, 5 Greg Eden, 6 Jamie Ellis, 7 Luke Gale, 8 Junior Moors, 9 Paul McShane, 10 Grant Millington, 11 Oliver Holmes, 12 Mike McMeeken, 13 Adam Milner, 14 Nathan Massey, 15 Jesse Sene-Lefao, 16 Joe Wardle, 17 Alex Foster, 18 Matt Cook, 19 Gadwin Springer, 20 Garry Lo, 21 Jake Trueman, 22 James Green, 23 Mitch Clark, 24 Jy Hitchcox, 25 Will Maher, 26 James Clare, 27 Cory Aston, 28 Kieran Gill, 29 Tuoyo Egodo, 30 Brandon Douglas, 31 Jacques O’Neill