DARYL Powell is not afraid to admit the start to Castleford Tigers’ season is best described as a “slow-burner.”
There are ample reasons for that, according to the beaten Grand Finalists, who were so fluent, prolific and dynamic in 2017.
There’s the weather for starters. Their game at Hull KR last week was called off due to the adverse conditions and, like most clubs, training has been truncated by a lack of decent surfaces.
Powell joked ahead of tomorrow’s visit from Salford Red Devils, they have “had a couple of good snowball fights” in amid all the stopping and starting,
Nevertheless, as they get back in action for the first time since a 28-18 victory over Hull FC two weeks ago, last season’s League Leaders’ Shield winners are certainly seeking improvements.
If we were gradually getting worse it would be a worry, but we’ve won our last two games and that’s a big help. If we can win three from four that would be an excellent start.Castleford Tigers’ head coach, Daryl Powell
“We’ve done all right and we’re gradually getting better,” said the coach. “If we were gradually getting worse it would be a worry, but we’ve won our last two games and that’s a big help.
“If we can win three from four that would be an excellent start. I think we are just a slow-burner at the moment.
“You can see we are getting our combinations fixed up. We’ve got different half-backs – Jamie Ellis has come in and played really well against Hull – and we’ve got a different full-back.
“When you have a different half-back and full-back it always takes time to fit it all together. We’ve had to play a little bit different with Benny (Roberts) in there and we’ve had to adjust to that.
“But we just want to play. We’re ready and just want to get some consistent games under our belt. You get to the point where you just want to play – we’ve played one game in three weeks.
“It’s a bit stop-start for us and we want to get some fluency into what we’re doing.
“But we’ve trained all right. Our attitude’s been great and we’re just looking forward to being at home for the next couple of weeks. It gives us a chance to build some consistency.”
Castleford started the campaign with a sobering 46-6 defeat at St Helens and then only just managed to scrape a 13-12 victory over Widnes Vikings.
The West Yorkshire club then had a blank weekend due to Leeds Rhinos, Hull and Wigan being in action over in Australia before resuming against FC.
Powell, meanwhile, has named the same squad who were due to take on the Robins.
He is still without Greg Eden and Joe Wardle, both sustaining hamstring injuries during the win over Hull, while Jy Hitchcox also misses out. Instead, Matt Cook, Jake Trueman – the teenage half-back named in the England Knights squad this week –and James Clare are the ones in and looking to make a mark.
Salford have won just once in their opening four games and were vanquished 34-2 by St Helens on Sunday but Powell is not fooled by that record.
He is expecting a battle up front and said: “Physically they come after you. They’ve got a big pack and they have some clever bits in what they do round that.
“A lot has been made of different bits and pieces with Salford, but they’ve got a really competitive team.
“They’re bringing (Craig) Kopczak and (Luke) Burgess off the bench so they are a big side.
“Josh Jones is playing awesome rugby league at the moment, (Gareth) O’Brien is dangerous at the back and (Junior) Sa’u is playing well. Weller Hauraki is a strong back-rower and I really like Josh Wood at nine.
“Their starting pack is big and aggressive and they bring some big players off the bench.
“They’re a big threat all over the field. I think they’ve started all right. They obviously lost to St Helens last week – but everybody’s losing to Saints at the moment.”
If Castleford do prosper, all of a sudden it will be three successive wins so would that loss at Saints seem like a distant memory?
“Definitely. We always target specific blocks of games and this is our last game,” said Powell.
“If we won three out of four we’d be pretty happy with that.
“We’ve got a good opportunity at home in the next couple of weeks (Wigan next Sunday) – but this week first – to get some consistency and get that flow, accuracy and detail in the way we play.
“There were signs against Widnes and we were about two or three inches closer to being really cutting edge against Hull.
“If we get that bit closer again we’ll be really difficult to deal with.”
That sounds ominous for the rest of Super League but Salford, of course, might have something to say first. It should be an intriguing battle at Wheldon Road.