NOT for the first time, Castleford Tigers have suffered a significant setback ahead of a major fixture.
Granted, losing Jake Trueman, the gifted half-back shortlisted for Super League Young Player of the Year, ahead of tomorrow’s semi-final at Wigan Warriors should not be as catastrophic as the one endured 12 months ago.
Then, coach Daryl Powell was as stunned as anyone when England full-back Zak Hardaker was suspended for failing a drugs test barely 48 hours before their maiden Grand Final appearance.
Still, it says plenty about Trueman’s rapid progress that the teenager’s absence, due to a hand injury suffered at St Helens last Friday, is a real blow for the West Yorkshire club as they bid to reach Old Trafford again.
Despite being just 19, he has helped lead the team for much of this year while England scrum-half Luke Gale recovered from knee surgery, showing a maturity and control in his performance that leaves everyone believing he will soon be an international.
However, Castleford are not short of options; the experienced Benny Roberts, who played at six in that Grand Final loss against Leeds Rhinos, is set to switch there, having played mainly off the bench since he made his own return from injury with Gale at the start of this month.
It is a sign of Tigers’ depth, too, that Jamie Ellis, the former Huddersfield Giants and Hull KR half-back, is not even in Powell’s 19-man squad and neither is Quentin Laulu-Togaga’e , the Samoan who made a man-of-the-match debut at stand-off in the win at Warrington in June.
As Powell said earlier this week before Trueman’s injury was confirmed, “we’ll train with different combinations to make sure we’ve got what we need.”
Furthermore, he has named captain Michael Shenton and England Knights second-row Oli Holmes after injuries, recalled the rested Greg Eden and Mike McMeeken while Matt Cook – the prop who thought his season was over when tearing a biceps in July – is a surprise name in the 19.
We’re third aren’t we? It’s interesting that we haven’t had any stand-out players but ended up third in the table.Daryl Powell
Powell, meanwhile, admits his side will be easily “motivated” by a number of other factors, not least the fact they failed to get any players in the Super League Dream Team earlier this week.
He said: “We’re third aren’t we? It’s interesting that we haven’t had any stand-out players but ended up third in the table.
“It’s disappointing for individual players but then again it’s another motivation for me; you use everything you’ve got.
“We’ve had Jake Trueman nominated as Young Player of the Year but nothing else. (Hooker) Paul McShane in particular can really look at that and be pretty disappointed but we’ve other top performers. It’s disappointing but you use everything you have got at your disposal.”
Equally so, a lot of people seem to feel Wigan – who finished second and are on an eight-game winning run – are all but guaranteed to make it to the Grand Final in head coach Shaun Wane’s final year.
“I’m not really interested about that,” continued Powell, with Saints hosting Warrington in the other semi-final this evening.
“Again, everyone is talking about people leaving at Wigan and that sort of stuff but for us it doesn’t really matter does it?
“There’ll be a fair bit of emotion flying about and it’s more about cool heads for me.
“If we can keep ourselves nice and calm and play our game then we have every chance. We’re confident. We know it’ll be tough – they have won pretty much every game there – but it doesn’t matter. None of what’s happened matters. It’s who delivers now.”