19 Oct 2021

Season Review: Castleford Tigers

The Nearly Men

Castleford Tigers came within touching distance of silverware in Daryl Powell’s final season at the helm.

THE 2021 season was a case of ‘what ifs?’ for Castleford.

What if the Tigers could have maintained their excellent first half performance against St Helens in the Betfred Challenge Cup final at Wembley?

What if they had edged a crucial clash with Hull KR in the penultimate game of the season instead of losing 26-19?

And what if they hadn’t left it so late to click in the final match of the season at home to Warrington, when they trailed 0-32 before closing the gap to just eight points against 12 men before falling to defeat?

Those will be questions that Daryl Powell will doubtless have pondered in the aftermath of his final season at his boyhood club, after eight undoubtedly successful years at the Jungle.

While Powell heads for Warrington, Cas fans can reflect on a season when their team looked a match for anyone on its day, but ultimately ended the season empty-handed in terms of silverware.

It started so promisingly for the Tigers….

An opening win over Warrington started a run of four wins from their first five league games, which was interspersed with what became an unforgettable cup run.

Castleford needed golden point extra-time to account for both Hull KR - after almost 100 minutes no less - and then Salford, setting up a semi-final with Warrington that would prove the highlight of the season.

But their league form dipped in the run-up to that game, with defeats to Hull KR and Warrington in the league proceeding a 6-60 hammering at home to Leeds.

“It was tough to watch,” Powell said after the Rhinos game. “I’m a proud man and I've always been a winner and that was so disappointing. It's hard to put into words.

"It's a terrible loss but it's not the end of the world and one thing we have got is an opportunity next week to put that straight.”

Powell stayed true to his word and the following weekend the Tigers were unrecognisable in beating Warrington 35-20, Jordan Turner scoring a hat-trick on the wing as part of a dominant team display.

Again though, the cup would have an impact on their Super League form, with three defeats and a conceded match coming between semi-final and the Wembley showdown with St Helens.

There, tries from Niall Evalds and Jake Trueman helped give the Tigers a 12-6 interval lead, sparking memories of their 1986 triumph at the same famous ground.

But Saints came out a team transformed after break, turning the screw to secure a 26-12 win, although the result was still in the balance right until the closing stages. Evalds was offered some consolation by being handed the Lance Todd Trophy, but it wasn’t the main prize the club and its supporters had hoped for.

“We came here and believed we could do it,” Powell reflected. “We fell short but not as much as the scoreboard shows.

“It's tough to take - it hurts physically when you lose games like these.”

After the disappointment of Wembley, a Covid outbreak post-final and then a 16-34 home defeat to Huddersfield with a weakened team, most people outside of Castleford would be forgiven that was effectively the season over for the Tigers.

But then they stirred again.

Away wins at Leeds, St Helens - a first league triumph there in three decades - and Hull FC were part of a four-match winning run that thrust Powell’s men back into play-off contention.

Even defeat at Wigan didn’t look like ruining their chances, but closing defeats to Hull KR and Warrington did.

“We just gave ourselves too much to do,” Powell admitted after the rollercoaster Wolves defeat.

“We showed so much courage and effort and so much skill in the second half to give ourselves a chance and we nearly had them.”

Asked about his time at the club, Powell added: “I’ve had an absolute ball. I've supported the club as a teenager, the club will always be special to me.”

Now his tenure has finished, incoming former Hull FC boss Lee Radford will inherit a healthy proportion of consistent performers in his squad from 2021.

Ever-prominent hooker Paul McShane tops that list, while full-back Niall Evalds had an excellent first season at the club, topping the assists chart.

Utility Turner proved to be one of the signings of the season whether playing in the unfamiliar position of wing or filling in at half-back, while Peter Mata’utia was a constant threat out wide and in the pack Oliver Holmes, Nathan Massey and Suaia Matagi led from the front.

With Mata’utia and Holmes joining Powell at Warrington, skipper Michael Shenton and long-serving prop Grant Millington retiring, and a handful of other players moving on, this really will be the start of a new era at the Jungle.

They will be hoping that double Challenge Cup winner Radford can help them shake off that nearly men tag.

Star man 

Paul McShane remains one of the most influential players in Super League. When the 2020 Steve Prescott Man of Steel is playing, the Tigers are a constant threat with the ball, with his intelligent distribution also creating space for playmakers around him.

McShane had to deal with speculation surrounding his future when Daryl Powell announced he would be leaving for Warrington, and the hooker’s decision to pen a new three-year deal at the Jungle in July is a major boost both to the club and incoming coach Radford.

Season highlight 

The weekend before their Betfred Challenge Cup semi-final meeting, Castleford were being hammered 6-60 at home to Leeds while Warrington were brushing aside Salford 62-18. At that point you could get long odds on a Tigers win, but come the cup clash at Leigh Sports Village, Daryl Powell’s side were ready.

An accomplished first half performance saw them lead 19-0 at the break before completing a 35-20 win, man of the match Jordan Turner finishing with a hat-trick. It was a masterclass in knock-out rugby and took the Tigers back to Wembley for the first time since 2014.

Rising star 

Young forward Brad Martin built on his 2020 Super League debut with a further eight first team appearances for the Tigers, five of them in the starting line-up. Playing at second row, he also crossed for his maiden top-flight try by touching down out wide in the home game against Salford in July.

An England Youth international and Yorkshire Academy representative, Martin will be hoping to further develop his career next season.