IT WOULD be foolish to pay too much attention to the Super League table this early in the season, but nevertheless it makes encouraging reading for Castleford Tigers fans.
Heading into Friday’s fourth game of the campaign – a home fixture against Hull KR – they sit top with a 100 per cent win record.
Considering they have been without a raft of top-class players already due to injury, the manner in which Daryl Powell’s side have tackled the opening few weeks has been edifying, to say the least.
When it was announced Luke Gale, their England scrum-half, had suffered a torn Achilles in January that would rule him out for the entire campaign many people feared the West Yorkshire club’s season was over before it had even begun.
They had not added any major new players during the winter, prompting concerns that they would fare no better than last year’s finish when they fell out at the Super League semi-final stage with a meek loss at eventual champions Wigan Warriors.
Reports of in-fighting between players on their pre-season trip to Lanzarote raised further alarms, but so far it seems all of the worry has been rendered pointless.
Saturday’s impressive 40-6 victory at newly-promoted London Broncos – on an artificial surface that had already trapped Wakefield Trinity – was the latest evidence Castleford are progressing nicely after previous wins over Catalans Dragons and Hull FC.
Granted, three other teams share top spot with them, Warrington Wolves and St Helens both having also won three from three and then Salford Red Devils having amassed six points via one extra match.
However, Castleford are officially No 1 due to a superior points difference, largely down to their resolute defence; they have conceded just 28 points from three outings so far.
“We really focused on being tougher to beat this season and that has shown,” said Jake Trueman, the talented half-back who is reigning Super League Young Player of the Year.
“We wanted to make it harder for teams to get over us and we’re managing to do that.
“We’re averaging about just nine points per match when it comes to conceding.
“If we can keep that going – and that is the aim – we’ll win more games than we’ll lose.
“We’ve started out strongly, we’ve been playing well, had a good start and now we want to keep building to make sure we can go a step further this time.
“But I do think we’re a better team now; we’re more rounded.”
Trueman, who only turned 20 last week, has been a revelation for the club since joining from hometown club Bradford Bulls two years ago.
Despite still being a teenager he steered the side around brilliantly last year when former Man of Steel Gale was out for four months following knee surgery.
It will have been one of the reasons why Powell was not overly perplexed by the England star’s latest unfortunate injury.
Arguably Castleford seemed to miss Trueman more when he was absent from that Wigan semi-final due to a broken hand, an injury that also cruelly prevented him from touring with England Knights to Brisbane and Papua New Guinea.
This time around the youngster has taken up the baton positively again as Tigers’ main playmaker, aided by Jordan Rankin, the Australian who was a late recruit from Huddersfield Giants after Gale’s injury.
“I am gutted for Galey,” said Trueman.
“He’s such a great player and so knowledgeable on the game; he’s one of the main reasons I came here. I wanted to work with Galey and he’s been really good for me.
“But nothing’s going to change for me, though. I’ve just got to keep performing.
“I wanted one of the half-back spots last year and got one and Galey missed a lot of games then.
“I won’t change anything I do.
“Last year was massive for me; it was a breakthrough year and I wasn’t expecting it to happen then. But it was great for my development and I’ve come back from my injury fine. I’m not too worried about that.”
Former Hull FC utility Rankin has settled quickly, too, helping smooth out Castleford’s fine start.
“He’s really smart, which is good as he’s quickly got into all the structures,” said Trueman about the 27-year-old, who came in a swap deal that saw Joe Wardle move back to Huddersfield.
“He really is quite easy to play alongside. Jordan’s a very good player and we’ve a good fit going.”
Trueman goes up against 36-year-old Danny McGuire on Friday, the former Leeds Rhinos and Great Britain star who remains Super League’s greatest-ever tryscorer.
“I was a massive Bradford fan as a lad so I really didn’t like Danny McGuire, him being Leeds Rhinos,” he recalled.
“But it’ll be great to go up against him. He’s been one of Super League’s best-ever half-backs.
“KR have made a decent start and made some good signings with people like Josh Drinkwater and Mitch Garbutt going there.
“I’m expecting a tough game from them, but we think we can do a job.”
Catalans’ luckless former Huddersfield winger Jodie Broughton, 31, has been ruled out with a ‘long-term’ biceps injury suffered in a reserves game as he came back from a ruptured ACL.