Without a doubt, the biggest story of this year’s Super League has been Castleford Tigers. Having lost their best player, Rangi Chase, at the end of last season, they were picked for relegation by many pundits. Darryl Powell pulled the group together, got everyone on the same page and has overseen a remarkable turnaround in form – they got to the Challenge Cup Final and finished 4th in the league but could’ve finished top when they kicked off for the last game of the season. It’s been an amazing season.
However, such a promising season could be unravelling. They had stage fright at Wembley and finished a long way behind a clinical Leeds side that day. Last week in France, they fluffed their lines against Catalans and finished 4th, missing out on a home playoff and another much needed payday for the club.
That’s left them with a really, really tricky run in to get to the Grand Final – St Helens away first up, probably Leeds after that followed by (I’m guessing/predicting here) Saints (again) or Wigan to get to Old Trafford. In short, they’d have to produce a run of form that is unprecedented in the club’s recent history.
So this year they will go home with nothing to show for being the team of the year (unless Leeds win the Grand Final). That’s no big drama. Huddersfield did the same last year and are still in the end of season mix up a year on. But the big difference between the Giants and Tigers is recruitment.
Last year Huddersfield lost in the playoffs and added more pace out wide and more bulk up front. This year Castleford will lose not just their best player, but probably their best three players.
Darryl Clark, a Cas lad and Man of Steel contender, has signed a 4 year deal with Warrington. Craig Huby, another local lad and one of the best props in this year’s Super League, is off to Huddersfield. Marc Sneyd, so often the spark for Cas this year, spent 2014 on loan from Salford Red Devils and his parent club have sold him to Hull FC for next year.
Let’s face it, Clark and Huby have gone for the money. No complaints from me. They do a bloody hard job for a very short time and if they’ve been offered big money deals (my sources tell me Clark certainly has) then good luck to them.
Cas are almost everyone’s second favourite club (stop laughing Wakefield fans) and there’s a certain romance about the club – small town, league hotbed, always punching above their weight. But money talks. With only 40,000 people in the town, a ramshackle (if charming) ground and limited sponsorship income, they just can’t compete with the big boys.
Darryl Powell has shown himself to be a brilliant coach this year. But can he work miracles? On a budget that is likely to be one of the smallest in the Super League (only Wakefield and Hull KR will be in a similar pond), it’s a tough job that I sonly going to get tougher.
Next year’s structure means anyone not in the top 8 will be in a relegation battle. I’ve written Cas off several times already this year and been wrong on almost all of them (I got the Challenge Cup Final right!) and hope I’ve got this wrong for next year. However I can’t see anything but a relegation play off when the leagues split next year.
It’s not all doom and gloom down Wheldon Road though and the Chief Exec, Steve Gill, is optimistic about the future. He said this week “Standing shoulder to shoulder with our special group of players, staff, and fans gives me an amazing feeling of pride and strength, with excitement for what’s to come from us as the future looks bright.”
I hope he’s right.