THE RETURN of two key players has given coach Daryl Powell a welcome headache as Castleford Tigers step up their attempt to make a second successive appearance at Old Trafford.
Man of Steel Luke Gale and fellow playmaker Ben Roberts have both been given the all-clear to resume playing when Challenge Cup winners Catalans Dragons visit Wheldon Road this evening.
Gale, the England scrum-half, has been sidelined since suffering a fractured kneecap at the end of April. Knee and hamstring issues have kept Roberts out for a week longer.
Though Jamie Ellis, who has been in impressive form as Tigers’ stand-in half-back, is unavailable today due to a back problem, Castleford’s options in pivotal positions are increasing at the most vital time of the season.
“I’ve got some decisions to make and I’ll be pretty happy to be making them,” said Powell, whose team are fourth in the table.
”It has been a tough year in terms of injuries.
“Quite a few of our high quality players have been missing for parts of the season so it’s a great time to have some selection headaches.
“That always drives players’ standards and team performance standards as a result of that.”
Though Warrington Wolves’ huge win over Hull two days ago nudged Castleford down into the final play-offs position, on points difference, Powell’s focus for the final five games of the Super-8s is on maintaining the pressure on second-placed Wigan and ensuring they go into the semi-finals in good form.
“We are just after some momentum,” stressed the Castleford coach. “We want to be playing well building up towards the end of the season.
“We still want to get second; it will be tough, but we want to get some momentum whoever we are playing, so we are feeling good about ourselves.”
Castleford are Catalans’ first opponents since last Saturday’s Wembley triumph when they became the first team from outside England to win the Challenge Cup.
Catalans are out of play-off contention and although he has named 13 of the Cup final lineup in his initial squad for this evening, coach Steve McNamara has admitted he is not sure how he will get his side back up for five effectively meaningless fixtures in the Super-8s.
Powell, however, insisted Castleford cannot spend time wondering what the visitors will do.
He stressed: “We have to focus on being at our best and also try and focus on them being at their best.
“We don’t know what they are going to come up with, but they have been a really good team over the back half of the season. They are a dangerous team and you don’t want to go into any game thinking you are going to get a poor effort from the opposition.
“They have got a really aggressive way of playing and we have got to be ready for that. We are looking forward to a tough game and we want to be right on top of our standards.”