IN a remarkable season that has stunned even themselves, it would be no surprise now if Castleford Tigers emerged as victors of the League Leaders’ Shield.
A week ago they were sat in sixth spot but a collaboration of other results plus their own 32-18 success against Bradford Bulls saw them catapult up to third.
Daryl Powell’s side, which finished 12th in 2013 and have never made Super League’s top four, are the only side remaining who can catch leaders St Helens with just two games remaining.
They must defeat visiting Wakefield Trinity Wildcats tomorrow to have any chance of achieving that feat.
Scrum-half Liam Finn probably best epitomises Castleford’s turn in fortunes given he was working as an electrician when Championship club Featherstone Rovers released him a week before Christmas last year.
Told by Featherstone coach John Bastian he was still good enough to get a Championship club but not Super League, the 30-year-old duly proved him wrong, moving to their neighbours and proving one of 2014’s best recruits in the top division.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Finn admits: “It would be outstanding to finish as League Leaders but we’re not getting too carried away by that.
“We’re trying to ensure we finish in the top two and get a home tie in the play-offs. If Saints slip up and we come first it’d be nice and a massive achievement.
“But most people think it doesn’t really stand for a great deal or is that important; it’s what you do in the play-offs.”
First, of course, Castleford have a hugely significant derby against Wakefield to deal with, a side they vanquished 50-12 in their last meeting at Magic Weekend having also prospered 43-20 at Belle Vue on Good Friday.
Finn, though, expects a different proposition tomorrow given Trinity have been revitalised since new coach James Webster took over in June, illustrated again by Sunday’s emphatic 42-6 rout of Salford Red Devils.
“We know it’s going to be difficult especially after Wakey got that really good win,” added Ireland’s captain, who played two Super League games for Trinity in 2004 before moving to Featherstone and spending a decade in the lower leagues with Rovers (twice) and Dewsbury.
“They are playing very well at the moment and they’d love nothing more than coming to The Jungle and turning us over on our own patch. That (Magic defeat) will probably serve as a motivating factor for them. We played pretty well then and we’re hoping to deliver the same on Sunday.
“But even if we do I don’t think it will be a similar result; Wakefield are a different team now.”
Much of that is down to the man who will be in direct opposition to Finn tomorrow, gifted Australian Tim Smith.
He has been a revelation for Trinity since re-joining them on loan from Salford in June, just 10 months after being sold there.
Smith had a hand in five tries as they destroyed his parent club last week and Finn said: “He’s massive for them and how they play the game suits him perfectly.
“He was pigeon-holed at Salford but when he has freedom and the respect of his team-mates, too, I don’t think there’s many better half-backs around.”
Castleford’s destiny is in their own hands; win tomorrow and in Perpignan in a week’s time and they will be certain of at least second spot as they hope to progress and reach a maiden Grand Final.
If St Helens lose at Huddersfield on Friday as well, Powell’s side will lift that shield.
Having played at Wembley for the first time in over 20 years, too, it has been a fine campaign and Finn expects that experience – they lost the Challenge Cup final to Leeds – will hold them in good stead for the play-offs.
“If we go on to a Grand Final we’ll know how to handle that occasion,” he said.
“But it’s a different ball game; you have to perform consistently well and with intensity for three or four weeks consecutively rather than winning a round and then returning to it a month or so later.
“We have to go in and play with the same confidence we have all year and the same mentality.
“It was a good, tough win against Bradford. We knew it’d be difficult – physically and mentally – after Wembley but, as a general performance, it was pretty good and we need to follow that up now versus Wakey.”