Exclusive - Victory for Castleford Tigers in Challenge Cup final is a victory for all rugby league, says chairman Ian Fulton

CASTLEFORD Tigers chairman Ian Fulton says lifting the Betfred Challenge Cup today would be a fitting send-off for their “transformative” head coach Daryl Powell but also offer a timely lift for a sport that has “fallen flat” in recent times.

Castleford huddle up after their captain's run session at Wembley (Picture: SWPix.com)

The West Yorkshire club are sizeable underdogs against back-to-back Super League champions St Helens given many bookmakers have them at as long odds as 11/4 to prevail in London.

However, given the calibre of some of their performances cultivated by Powell – who will leave for Warrington Wolves at the end of the season – it would not be a great surprise if they did claim the trophy for the first time since 1986.

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Fulton’s late father Jack handed the reins to the former Great Britain centre in 2013 when Tigers were in fear of relegation.

Daryl Powell, manager of Castleford Tigers (Picture: George Wood/Getty Images)

Powell, who grew up as a Castleford fan, helped them rally and in the following season they reached the Cup final where they lost out to Leeds Rhinos.

Developing an attractive style of rugby and markedly improving the culture of the club, he inspired them to the League Leaders’ Shield in 2017 – the only time in Castleford’s 95-year history they have finished top and reached a maiden Grand Final only to again lose out to Leeds.

Fulton hopes Powell, who turns 56 on Wednesday, can now secure the major trophy his efforts deserve.

In a rare interview, he exclusively told The Yorkshire Post: “In his time at the club, Daryl has transformed it.

“We are a different club to what we were eight years ago, on and off the field.

“We’ve redeveloped a totally different club – a different way of doing things – and Daryl has done that on the playing side.

“I know he wants to go out on a high – it was one of the things he mentioned to me when he said he thought he’d done his time at Cas and it was time to move on.

“He’d love to get us some silverware before he goes. It means a lot to him to pull this off. I genuinely hope he does it.”

Fulton, though, knows how much a shock win would mean to the club, who have prospered in the sport’s most prestigious knockout competition on just four previous occasions – 1935, 1969, 1970 and the famous win over Hull KR 35 years ago.

The majority of Castleford’s squad have not played for three weeks with their two games called off due to the pandemic and many players rested for Sunday’s defeat against Salford Red Devils.

“At the moment, it would give the club a massive lift,” said Fulton, as Tigers look to savour a different result to England’s football side at the same venue six days ago.

“It’s not with all sport but rugby league, at the moment, has definitely fallen flat.

“I’m not sure if it’s a combination of Covid or people finding different ways of viewing rugby sitting at home which you can’t blame people for.

“But it’s definitely just gone a bit flat and, for us, this would just give it that boost for the rest of the season.

“It would give us a lift and I do think people need that as well – to re-energise them, reinvigorate them with coming to a game, watching sport.

“For that reason, it’d be a huge achievement for us. Hopefully it will reinvigorate people.”

With up to 45,000 fans allowed to attend Wembley – such a contrast to when Leeds defeated Salford behind closed doors last season – there is certainly scope for rugby league to rediscover its joie de vivre.

Meanwhile, it will be the second time Fulton has led Castleford out at Wembley having done so with his wheelchair-bound father in 2014 – barely 12 months before the club’s long-serving benevolent chairman died at the age of 83.

“It was surreal, to be perfectly honest,” he recalled.

“There’s not many of us who get to do that – lead your team out at Wembley, our national stadium.

“It is a fantastic occasion and to take my dad out there, it’s unrepeatable. I’ll never be able to recreate that in any way, shape or form.But to get to lead the team out again, it will be quite emotional.

“It’s a fantastic competition. It’s one that all clubs still want to win.

“It is probably the competition rugby league clubs want to win and it is brilliant to get there.

“I know it means so much to people in Castleford – and the club itself. It’s a big occasion for us all and – as long as we get it right on the day – we should win.”

Cup previews: Page 5