THERE is no sense of jest when Andy Lynch says his Castleford Tigers side should be top of Super League rather than tomorrow night’s opponents Leeds Rhinos.
The experienced prop is deadly serious.
Admittedly, Castleford are not far off the pace given they sit third and could close the gap to just a solitary point if their West Yorkshire rivals become the latest illustrious name to fall at Wheldon Road.
Furthermore, it is a sign of how far they have come this season that Daryl Powell’s side were furious with themselves on Sunday when losing by the narrowest of margins – Danny Brough’s drop goal – at Huddersfield Giants, an opponent that actually topped Super League in 2013.
They also fell by just two points at home to four-times Grand Final winners St Helens, proving headline wins over champions Wigan Warriors and last season’s Old Trafford runners-up Warrington Wolves were not any sort of fluke.
But Lynch told The Yorkshire Post: “I don’t want to sound big-headed but really we should be undefeated now. It’s down to our own doing that we’ve lost games – errors and penalties have put teams back in with the chance to win.
“If we’d have cut out a few of those we wouldn’t have lost a single game.
“It was true again at Huddersfield. We’ve played well enough this year but we’ve just turned too much ball over through ill-discipline.
“Hopefully, we can get that right this week against Leeds.”
For the record, their only other defeat was a similarly tight 23-16 reverse at Salford Red Devils, though the visitors tomorrow have lost just once in 13 games.
There was a time when Castleford – who have never won the league title in their 88-year history – would accept the role of gallant losers, underdogs often punching above their weight but not quite having the wherewithal to prove a consistent force.
That is not true any more; the professionalism instilled in them by Powell demands victories and they will fully expect to be able to ruin Leeds’ impressive campaign tomorrow.
On a personal level, it is a fixture Lynch relishes. The last time he played for Castleford against Leeds at Wheldon Road was in 2003 when the front-row scored for his depleted side in a rousing 28-20 success against the title-chasers.
Sir Ian Botham’s son Liam debuted for Leeds that night and Kevin Sinfield and Danny McGuire will be their only survivors from that encounter.
Lynch left Castleford after they were relegated at the end of the following campaign, moving to Bradford Bulls where he spent seven years prior to a two-season spell at Hull FC.
He returned ‘home’ last winter, though, and the 34-year-old’s work ethic has been one of the cornerstones of their advancement so far.
“Leeds down here is definitely my favourite game for Cas,” he said, having also scored in a 15-14 defeat at the beaten-up old ground in 2003.
“Going back to 2003, the games then had around 11,000 watching and it was still on Sky. The atmosphere was great. With the way we’ve been going this year, hopefully we can carry that on and get everyone down for a massive occasion again.
“It’s great for the players as the fans do get behind us when times are hard but it can be so intimidating for the other team as well.”
Castleford may require their famously vocal supporters to inject some energy in their legs tomorrow, with Powell’s side having had two days less recovery time compared to Leeds, who beat Wigan last Friday.
Castleford were 12-0 up at Huddersfield and then almost fought back after trailing 28-16 heading into the final quarter.
Lynch said: “The amount of field position we had and the errors we made to let them back in was very disappointing. We just have to bounce back.
“Leeds have got great players across the park. From one to 17 they’re excellent so we know we have to defend better than we did at Huddersfield and, when we have got the ball, to keep hold of it, start winning field position and winning the battle there.
“It should be a great game and it’s one we’re looking forward to.”
Likewise, he is excited by the prospect of facing old Bradford colleague Jamie Peacock.
“You want to test yourself against the best every week don’t you?” asked Lynch. “I love playing against JP because he is one of the best props in the world. You have to mark and gauge yourself on how you go against people like him.”