WHILE all the Olympic action continues, centre Ben Crooks admits in-form Castleford Tigers have their very own gold, silver and bronze in sight.
They head to Warrington Wolves today looking to complete a fine one, two, three all of their own.
The West Yorkshire club, who finished the regular season in sixth spot, won at leaders Hull FC in their opening Super 8s game, followed up with a fine victory over second-placed Wigan Warriors last Friday and now contemplate completing the hat-trick at Warrington, who sit in third.
Crooks, who has enjoyed a productive first season with his hometown club since joining from Parramatta Eels, says Daryl Powell’s side have targeted winning all seven of their games.
“It’s a goal we set for ourselves, to try and knock off everyone a week at a time,” explained the 23-year-old. “We knew to be in even with a slight chance of qualifying for the top-four we’d have to beat everybody.
“To get the top three teams in the first three weeks we knew it’d be a hard task
“But it’s a great achievement from the lads to get the first two. Now we want to go for number three.
“The benefit for us is no one else really thinks we can do it so the pressure’s off and we’re just enjoying ourselves.
“Mathematically we’re dependent on some people falling off but we can only control what we can and so far we’ve done alright.”
Warrington, of course, have the small matter of the Challenge Cup final against Hull in a week’s time.
Crooks, who played at Wembley himself with Hull in their 2013 loss to Wigan, admitted: “A lot of people will be saying they’ll be looking at Wembley for the week after but they’re a quality side and have been all year.
“They are not that sort of team to take their foot off the gas.
“They’re still aiming for that top-two finish or League Leaders’ Shield and that’s something they’re really going to be looking to go after so by no means will it be a walk in the park.
“Saturday will be more like the week before against Wigan.”
Castleford, though, are finding their feet after an injury-plagued campaign left them badly lacking for consistency.
“The things we struggled with before was defence but these first two weeks against Hull and Wigan – the two strongest attacking teams and biggest teams in the league – we’ve gone out there and done a job on them,” continued Crooks.
“We’re just focused on getting the parts we haven’t done so well throughout the season right.
“We know we can attack – everyone knows that – but we wanted to make emphasis on our attitude in defence.”
It has been a crucial campaign for Crooks, too, who is trying to re-establish himself after a couple of difficult years.
Having won the 2013 Super League Young Player of the Year while at Hull, and making the Dream Team, he fell out of favour the following season and eventually moved to Australia ahead of the last campaign. Although enjoying the experience, Crooks failed to make an NRL appearance for Parramatta and was keen to head home and try his luck here once more.
He has played 24 games for Castleford so far and admitted: “It’s been good. “I’ve enjoyed it this year.
“Obviously we’ve been a bit up and down and that’s something I struggle with in my own personal game – consistency.
“But for both sides – myself and the team – it hasn’t helped with the injuries we’ve had.
“People tend to talk about the likes of Leeds and Huddersfield who have had massive injuries but because we’ve managed to maintain a certain level people forget about those we have had.
“We lost Shenny in the first game, Benny Roberts – our other dominant half – early on and some really massive players miss big parts of the season.
“That didn’t help with us but we knew whatever team we put out could do a job and that’s shown throughout the year.
“For me, probably one of the only positive sides of those injuries, is that you get an extra chance to prove yourself the week after if you’ve had a bad game.
“It’s been great for me that I’ve managed to get in as many games as I have.
“That was one thing I was focusing on at the start – to play every game.
“Luckily for me, I’ve only missed three through injury, just looking at going out on this season on a high now.”
Tigers will be without Lee Jewitt, who was among the substitutes last week, due to a knee injury. He will leave the club at the end of the season and could have played his final game for Castleford.
Paddy Flynn comes back into contention, along with Frankie Mariano and Will Maher, who were 18th and 19th man last week. Warrington could be unchanged from last week’s win at Wakefield.