Good times never seemed so good at Castleford, the Tigers sitting top of the Betfred Super League more than a third of the way through their regular-season fixtures.
The latest scalp claimed by Daryl Powell’s men was Wigan, dispatched 27-10 at the DW Stadium. This impressive and entertaining Castleford performance was their seventh win of the season and, despite Wigan missing some key players, the one that has caused some to think of them as genuine title contenders.
Impressive and entertaining is a phrase which sums up Castleford’s season so far. The Tigers are playing with incredible attacking style and prowess, proving both that rugby league is the greatest sport and that – in Super League at present – Castleford are its greatest exponents.
Yet success is being built on more than just attack. This season Castleford have demonstrated a solid defence, difficult to break down. They are now a side which can score with ease, but won’t allow their opponents to do the same.
Earlier this season I cited Castleford as an example of how sides which defend poorly will struggle for success – last year the Tigers had Super League’s second-worst defensive record, which may have contributed to their failure to break into the top four.
One Castleford fan was unimpressed with this analysis, however, arguing on Love Rugby League’s Facebook page that in fact he was glad that his club didn’t play “boring” rugby.
Fortunately, Daryl Powell hasn’t taken the same attitude, understanding that no team can afford to choose between good attack or good defence, and that a solid defence doesn’t mean you can’t play some entertaining, attacking rugby.
Jake Webster’s opening try on Thursday was well worked, and followed immediately by a magnificent Luke Gale score, replete with the hallmarks of Castleford’s style this season – an attack from their own half, offloads, a blistering run from Zak Hardaker and excellent support from Gale.
Yet the Tigers defended impressively against early Wigan pressure – some of it admittedly self-inflicted through unforced handling errors – with Ryan Sutton and Sam Powell held up in the in-goal area.
The same has been true for much of Castleford’s season so far. The famous win over Warrington in Round 2 featured highly impressive attacking play, such as their four tries in eight first-half minutes – including a Hardaker score set up by some dazzling footwork from Mike McKeeken and a memorable length-of-the-field team effort finished by Gale.
Yet without, at times, some strong defence, Cas might instead have been on the wrong-end of a high-scoring defeat. The Tigers’ attacking play against, an admittedly poor, Widnes in Round 4 was breath-taking, yet I imagine Powell and his players were just as pleased to keep the Vikings to zero.
In a way Greg Eden’s interception try which sealed the win on Thursday sums up Castleford in 2017 – it was at once a great bit of attack and a great bit of defence.
The result of this is that Castleford have both the league’s best attacking record – 308 points, an average of 39 per game – and the best defensive record – 113 points, an average of fewer than 15 per game.
The Tigers have been a joy to watch because they play the best attack and the best defence – in short, the best rugby league – and if they can keep that up it’s hard to imagine who can stop them this season.
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