EMBATTLED Castleford Tigers will seek to keep their Grand Final dream alive tonight amid a backdrop of infighting leading to Justin Carney’s suspension.
Last week, the Australian winger became embroiled in a major disagreement with a team-mate over a personal matter that has left the shocked club in turmoil.
Carney has been suspended pending an internal investigation – and furious Tigers players have told chief executive Steve Gill they want the 27-year-old out of Wheldon Road.
It seems the in-form winger – he averages more than a try per game having scored 63 in 62 matches since debuting in 2013 – is set for the exit door despite having signed a new five-year deal in April last season.
Castleford face a dilemma given he is perhaps their most saleable asset and would command a sizeable fee on the open market.
However, if found guilty of any wrongdoing, rival clubs thinking about taking him on know he should, in reality, be sacked.
The furore is a major blow for Powell who has worked so hard, largely successfully, in changing the culture at Castleford after Ian Millward’s disastrous reign at the West Yorkshire club.
He guided them to a first-ever Super League top-four finish last season as well as the Challenge Cup final and is hoping to finish in the top-four again to set-up a semi-final for a maiden Grand Final appearance at Old Trafford.
To do that, Castleford could do with winning this evening, given victory would see them draw level with Huddersfield in third as well as fourth-placed St Helens with just three Super 8s games then remaining.
Champions Saints, who lost at home to Huddersfield in their last outing and have suffered defeat in four successive matches, head to leaders Leeds Rhinos tomorrow night before visiting Castleford for a crucial contest in a week’s time.
They round off with home games against Wigan and Warrington, with Castleford left facing more arduous tests at Challenge Cup champions Leeds and Wigan.
Huddersfield, meanwhile, host Warrington, head to Hull FC and entertain Leeds but realise victory tonight would all but see their semi-finals spot booked especially given their superior points difference.
Head coach Daryl Powell is also without captain Michael Shenton tonight, the England centre who has formed such a devastating left-side partnership with 18-try Carney but is absent with a dislocated shoulder suffered in the loss at Catalans.
He could return against Saints, though, and in the meantime, Mike McMeeken or Luke Dorn may switch to centre with Denny Solomona returning from injury for the suspended winger.
Huddersfield have won both matches against Castleford this year but Powell – who, along with the club, will not comment on the Carney situation – said: “It is a chance to focus on the game in front of us and play well.
“We will give ourselves a chance by performing at the top of our game. Obviously it’s tough losing your captain and left winger when they’ve been so good for us this year but it’s a challenge we’ve got to face.
“There’s no point worrying about what’s happened; we’ve got to just get on with it.
“One thing we’ve got is a pretty strong spirit and durability about us and we’ll be hoping to use that in our favour.
“Huddersfield is a significant game as it would put them four points in front if they win.
“They will be huge favourites but this is a great opportunity for us to front up and come up with an outstanding performance.”