THEY are the unrivalled success story of the season, shaking up the status quo with their vibrant rugby league, redoubtable spirit and general joie de vivre.
All of which makes it all the more remarkable that Castleford Tigers – as they prepare for the Challenge Cup final against Leeds Rhinos – were “just half-an-hour” away from going bust last year.
Steve Gill, the chief executive whose long association with the club started as scoreboard operator when a schoolboy, has revealed the true extent of the financial problems that were strangling the Wheldon Roaders.
Talking exclusively to The Yorkshire Post, he said: “It’s terrific that we’re at Wembley and fighting for Super League, too.
“When you think of the cold, dark day in February last year when we were just half-an-hour away from administration, it adds to it all. We had to make some business decisions back then.
“(Chairman) Jack (Fulton) had put more than £800,000 in over the space of four to five months, which is testament to just how much he loves this club.
“But we had to decide to stand on our own two feet financially.
“We brought in some people but even until July last year we didn’t realise how bad a state we were in. We were paying bills from yesterday and every time we felt we were moving forward, we were hit with another.
“We had to find £150,000 to pay for health and safety issues at the ground just to be able to play games. But we’ve come through all of that and now we are where we are – in our first Challenge Cup final in more than 20 years and challenging at the top end of the league as well.
“And we haven’t had to go to Jack since July, 2013.”
Castleford, for all its rich history in producing stellar rugby league players, has traditionally struggled to compete financially compared to more illustrious neighbours like Leeds.
Their ongoing quest to secure and build a new purpose-built stadium is seen as something which will aid their chances of doing so but, ultimately, success on the field has an obvious correlation with improving fiscal matters.
Gill, who had been Castleford’s head of youth performance before taking over as CEO when Steve Ferres resigned 18 months ago, knows much of that is down to the appointment of Daryl Powell as head coach.
Australian Ian Millward was sacked after winning just one of their opening 11 games in 2013, leaving Castleford rooted to the bottom, morale among the squad at worryingly low levels and supporters increasingly disillusioned.
But Powell, who had excelled in the Championship with Featherstone Rovers after an earlier spell at Leeds, was a more obvious fit.
A Castlefordian, he knows how important the club is to its people and, also, the least they expect from their team.
Powell has brought new levels of professionalism, reminding his players of the club’s heritage and the sacrifices they have to make to be successful while, at the same time, engendering real belief and spirit.
“Daryl was always the one I wanted, especially having spoken to him,” said Gill, with the former Great Britain centre odds-on to win Super League Coach of the Year.
“It was more than the fact there was a good coach there; I thought he could bring the ethos we wanted back to Cas.
“It’s all right saying you want that sort of ethos, though. You have to be able to deliver that, too, and that’s what Daryl has done.
“We’re fortunate we managed to get him here. Daryl, along with (assistants) Danny (Orr) and Shez (Ryan Sheridan), has done marvellously to instil that spirit and we’re really proud of the players.
“We have been all year from the first game against Bradford.
“They really have the club close to their hearts and it means a lot to them to be able to produce this sort of (Wembley) occasion for Castleford.”
Castleford, who have never won the league title, are just two points behind leaders St Helens ahead of Friday’s trip to fellow high-fliers Warrington Wolves.
They have never finished in the top four during the Super League era and have been relegated twice since their last trip to Wembley in 1992.
Yet now, they could conceivably take the League Leaders’ Shield and reach Old Trafford.
“We might end up winning nothing or everything but we’ll have entertained them and given our all,” said Gill.
“After what had happened previously, with some really heavy losses, we owed our fans that and we’ve wanted to make every game mean something this year.
“We’d sold them short but we really feel we’ve rewarded them this time around and the football’s been a breath of fresh air.”