Heading into a maiden Grand Final as runaway League Leaders Shield winners, playing with such supreme confidence, brio and elan, it was understandable why even serial champions Leeds Rhinos were relegated to the role of underdogs.
Then that thing with Zak Hardaker happened. Granted, no one will ever know if Castleford would have won at Old Trafford if their brilliant full-back had not been dropped two days before due to a failed drugs test. But, whatever the reasons, Daryl Powell’s side looked confused, befuddled and bombed spectacularly under the bright lights in Manchester.
When they lost so poorly in the semi-final stage at Wigan last year, it only reinforced the belief that the opportune moment had probably passed them by.
Indeed, you could have forgiven people for thinking Powell – appointed in 2013 when Tigers were bottom and on the brink of financial ruin – had taken them as far as he possibly could, that first-ever top spot being the zenith.
Afterall, Powell is now in his seventh campaign at Wheldon Road. This year, too, has not been easy with England scrum-half Luke Gale suffering a long-term injury for the second successive season and captain Michael Shenton sidelined again.
However, Castleford are up there. They are always up there. That’s what Powell has helped forge in his time at the club, changing its culture and ethos so they are always able to be in the mix. He takes players and improves them and allows his sides to play with a freedom many other coaches would simply not entertain.
Clearly, it does not always go right. And there are obvious question marks about Castleford’s ability to perform when the pressure is ratcheted up to almost unbearable.
But I remain firm in the belief that if anyone can lead Castleford to a first-ever league championship in their 93-year history, Powell will be the man.
It shows how much they have grown that I am writing about league titles; they have only won the Challenge Cup four times, the last coming as long ago as 1986.
Of course, prospering at Wembley again would be huge – they lost to Leeds in 2014 – but there is the potential for so much more now.
That is why it is so pleasing to see 53-year-old Powell – out of contract at the end of next season – extend his stay further with yesterday’s announcement he will be in charge until 2022.
Already Super League’s longest-serving coach, that will take Powell – described by director of rugby Jon Wells as an “extremely talented, hard-working and honest leader of men” – to 10 years at the helm. Crucially, it also ends rumours about him rejoining Leeds next season, where he had served both as a player and coach.
But Powell has said he has “unfinished business” with Tigers; if he does finish it off, the feat would be greater than anything he could ever achieve at Headingley.
With Liam Watts signing long-term, too, and the capture of Canterbury Bulldogs winger Sosaia Feki for 2020, building blocks are in place and they will be in that mix again this term.
Maybe soon the words ‘Old Trafford’ will be uttered again but for all the right reasons.