A LOT can happen in a year and the past 12 months has seen the balance of power swing back from the new pretenders to an old, established force.
On May 13, 2017, Castleford Tigers impressed BBC viewers with a sparkling 53-10 thrashing of St Helens in the sixth round of the Challenge Cup to underline their status as the best and most exciting team in the European game.
One day short of a year later the teams met again at the same stage of the competition, also at Castleford in front of the live terrestrial television cameras.
This time it was Tigers who were taught a lesson.
Saints’s 36-18 victory was not quite as emphatic as their defeat had been last May, but, like Castleford then, they look a cut above all their rivals.
They will bear in mind the fact Castleford ended last season with only the consolation prize of the Super League leaders’ shield in their trophy cabinet, but it will take a very good team to prevent them winning both major prizes this term.
Castleford are without both their best players from 2017, full-back Zak Hardaker, who was sacked after a positive drugs test, and injured Man of Steel Luke Gale.
Tellingly, it was a full-back and scrum-half who shone for Saints.
Their coach Justin Holbrook, who had been appointed but not yet arrived this time last year, referenced the 2017 Cup defeat in his post-match press conference, saying they are a different team now.
In personnel, the only real change has been the arrival of Ben Barba, the Australian full-back who left the NRL after testing positive for cocaine.
He scored a brilliant hat-trick and provided the final pass for two of Saints’s other three tries.
The exception was a lovely individual effort by half-back Danny Richardson. He also kicked five conversions and a penalty in what would have been a man-of-the-match performance on most other days.
Castleford, also without last year’s leading try-scorer Greg Eden and forward Nathan Massey, weren’t beaten on effort and defended well for much of the game, but with ball in hand they lacked the pace and guile Hardaker and Gale provided last term.
Coach Daryl Powell was pleased with his team’s first-half effort, after seeing them go in 12-0 behind at the break, but admitted Saints were too good over the final 40 minutes.
I don’t think we are durable enough. We weren’t durable enough over 80 minutes. You can’t do 40, or 50 or 60 against the better teams because they are going to beat you. That’s happening to us at the moment.Daryl Powell
“We are lacking a little bit of a cutting edge, with the way our injuries have gone, in attacking positions,” conceded Powell.
“They are a good side and if you’re not outstanding defensively for pretty much the whole game they find something on you.”
Saints’s first-half tries, scored by Regan Grace and Barba, were both full-length efforts from kicks by Jamie Ellis to Castleford’s right flank.
Barba crossed at the start of the second half, but Tigers dug in and clawed a try back through a fine finish by Jake Trueman, who had come off the bench into the halves.
Ryan Morgan and Greg Minikin, the latter from a wonderful pass from Castleford captain Michael Shenton, who was playing out of position at full-back, exchanged touchdowns, but brilliantly-taken tries by Richardson and Barba made the game safe for Saints.
There was some consolation for Castleford when Mike McMeeken scored an interception try on the final play and Ellis landed his third conversion, but they were well beaten.
“I thought in the first half there wasn’t much in it,” reflected Powell. “Two breakaway tries were the difference at half-time.
“I don’t think we really got a cutting edge in attacking positions, but I thought we defended really well. We shut Barba down on pretty much everything.
“He got some little bits down the middle that we covered up, but we started the second half really poor. I don’t think we are durable enough.
“We weren’t durable enough over 80 minutes. You can’t do 40, or 50 or 60 against the better teams because they are going to beat you. That’s happening to us at the moment.”
Castleford Tigers: Shenton, Minikin, Webster, Wardle, Hitchcox, Ellis, McShane, Watts, Milner, Sene-Lefao, Holmes, McMeeken, Foster. Substitutes: Moors, Millington, Cook, Trueman.
St Helens: Barba, Makinson, Morgan, Percival, Grace, Lomax, Richardson, Amor, Roby, Thompson, Peyroux, Taia, Wilkin. Substitutes: Fages, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Douglas, Knowles.
Referee: J Child (Dewsbury)