DARYL POWELL admits tonight’s game at Leeds Rhinos is an ideal chance for his high-flying Castleford Tigers to “justify” their position among the elite.
If the visitors can win at Headingley they will rise above second-placed Leeds and also usurp leaders St Helens with just six regular rounds remaining.
It would be a major fillip in their bid to secure a first-ever Super League top-four finish while reminding everyone they have the mentality, too, to go on and compete in the play-offs.
“It is a big game for us to justify what we are about as a team,” said Powell, who won the Challenge Cup as a player at Leeds in 1999 before going on to coach them in 2001 and 2002.
“Leeds are pretty strong and they have got everybody back by the looks of it, so it is certainly going to be a tough challenge for us. It is a bit of a statement game, to show we can hack it at this time of year. It is pretty significant for us.”
Leeds lost just once in their opening dozen fixtures this season but have been reined in of late, succumbing in three of their last six as the jostling for positions heats up towards the final run-in of the campaign.
“They have had a lot of injuries,” insisted Powell, whose own side have been similarly scratchy at times of late.
“I think that’s been significant for them and you can’t really judge them compared to the start of the season, when they had everybody available and they were on a roll.
“Every team has had a dip at some point and that’s just the nature of professional sport.
“We aren’t reading too much into that; it is going to take our best effort to win and that’s what we need to come up with.”
Castleford fell 22-14 against Leeds at Wheldon Road in May, Ben Jones-Bishop scoring twice as Powell’s side lost consecutive games for the first time this year.
Many thought that would signal a downturn in form but, instead, Castleford rallied and maintained their general consistency with a series of eye-catching performances which now sees them viewed by many as genuine title contenders.
Clearly, tonight will be an acid test of that against a club that has won six Grand Finals.