IF CASTLEFORD Tigers fulfil their coach Daryl Powell’s wishes, they could be playing Warrington Wolves again at the end of the campaign – making it important they beat them tomorrow for more reasons than one.
He has set his side the target of winning all seven of their remaining games of the regular season, a tall order perhaps given their inconsistencies so far but one that is certainly not implausible.
Powell’s thinking is that they will need such a run of form to not only secure their place in the top five but also have any chance of then challenging their rivals in the play-offs.
Second-placed Warrington, who arrive at Wheldon Road tomorrow, are already almost certain of qualification being eight points clear of Castleford in sixth.
They need to hold off the challenge of third-placed Hull FC, though, who they also face in the Challenge Cup semi-finals next Saturday. Winger James Clare, whose hat-trick helped Tigers win 36-16 at Wakefield Trinity last Friday, conceded: “Warrington are the kind of team we need to be beating.
“It’s all good beating the likes of London every now and then, but Warrington are a team we might face come the business end.
“Hopefully we can get a win against them now and it can give us a bit of confidence going into some more of the games and for if we might face them again.
“Daryl has put a bit of a challenge to us as players to be winning every single game from now until the end of the year and that will hopefully get us in a great position come the final game.”
It has been a strange season for Castleford who seem to threaten to put some form together only to then fall away disappointingly.
They have not been helped by a raft of injuries, the obvious ones being long-term issues for captain Michael Shenton and England scrum-half Luke Gale, but there remains a belief in some they could cause a shock if they do secure that top-five placing.
Just as Castleford eased to the League Leaders’ Shield in 2017, only to bomb in the Grand Final against Leeds Rhinos, conversely perhaps they could fly under the radar two years later and upset the likes of runaway frontrunners St Helens and Warrington.
If that is going to happen, they must find some sort of consistency urgently; they have not mustered back-to-back victories since winning their opening four games of the year.
That run was ended by a 24-10 loss at Warrington although they were admittedly already encountering some of their myriad injury problems by then.
Clare had a difficult evening that night, being replaced at half-time following some defensive mistakes, but he has bounced back strongly and improved as the campaign has gone on.
The 28-year-old conceded he has had a “difficult” season but the treble against Wakefield was a reward for his efforts.
“When everyone’s not playing as well as they can it makes it difficult to try and stand out,” he conceded.
“It’s just a matter of doing your job and doing it well. I have had a bit of a rollercoaster, up and down at times, but a few good performances lately and hopefully I can continue them into the business end of the year.”
On that second-half treble, which helped Castleford pull away from Wakefield, he added: “Sometimes as a winger it’s just a case of catching the ball and putting it down over the line.
“It’s all that effort the middle men did that tires out the middle men on the opposition team.
“Eventually when they get tired there ends up being a little bit of extra space out wide. Jacob Trueman ran the show and I just got the ball and put it down.”
Young half-back Trueman did excel on his return from injury and he will no doubt be a key influence tomorrow.
Castleford are two points behind fifth-placed Catalans Dragons, who visit Salford Red Devils tomorrow, and also Wigan Warriors who beat Wakefield Trinity convincingly on Thursday.
Tigers’ remaining fixtures then read Hull KR (away), London Broncos (home), Huddersfield Giants (away), St Helens (away), Hull (home) and Wigan (away).
Clare added: “Every game is a must-win if we want to do anything at all. But I feel every time we perform and do what we are good at we can challenge every team. St Helens and Warrington are the two stand-out teams and they set the benchmark, but I do think it is realistic and it’s what we need to do to take some confidence into the end of the year.”
Powell has named an unchanged 19-man squad while Warrington have named a 21-man squad. Chris Hill is available after a ban and Harvey Livett and Luis Johnson have been recalled from loan at Hull KR, but Sitaleki Akauola is suspended.