SECOND SPOT in the table is theirs to lose, but forward Frankie Mariano insists Castleford Tigers are taking nothing for granted.
Wins in their final two games would complete one of British rugby league’s great turnarounds, from 12th in 2013 to First Utility Super League runners-up this term.
But having climbed three places last weekend, when results went for them, Mariano is aware things could go downhill just as quickly.
“We are in a good position, but there are other teams chasing us,” he warned.
“It’s very close and we have got to be on our game, because everybody else will be.”
Mariano joined Tigers in the off-season, after making his final appearance for Sunday’s visitors Wakefield Trinity Wildcats in last September’s round 27 derby at Rapid Solicitors Stadium.
He admitted when he signed on for Cas – who were beaten in the final seconds of that game a year ago – he didn’t think he was joining a team who would be pushing for top spot in the table 12 months later.
“It has been unbelievable,” he conceded. “I feel quite privileged to be in this position.
“I knew we would do well, because we had such a good pre-season, but I think our work-rate has been immense and that’s what has won us a lot of games.
“There’s been so many times when our defence has won us the game.
“We are willing to work hard for each other and we’ve got each other’s backs.
“Powelly and Orry (coach Daryl Powell and assistant Danny Orr) have brought our skill up to scratch and they’ve come up with a good game plan against teams, so everything has worked together perfectly and we’ve got some good results.”
Despite their elevated position at the start of round 26, Tigers could still slump as low as sixth if they lose their remaining fixtures – on Sunday and in their tricky regular season finale at Catalan Dragons six days later – and other results go against them.
“We have got two tough games coming up,” Mariano warned.
“Sunday is a big game, they always are these derby games.
“Wakefield have still got a chance for eighth place so it is a big game for both sides, but we have just got to go focus on ourselves and play our game.
“We are in good shape and we are confident and we are going for a win ourselves.”
Wildcats have improved dramatically under new boss James Webster, winning seven of their 10 games since he took charge in June.
Tim Smith’s return, on loan from Salford Red Devils, has also made a huge difference and Mariano said: “They look like they are enjoying their rugby more and that always helps.
“They are going well. It will be a tough game.”
Even if Cas get past Sunday’s hurdle, Mariano predicted they will need to be at their best to get anything from the trip to Perpignan.
“Catalan away is always a tough game,” he said. “Especially in the heat, they are used to it and we are not, but we will be confident we can go over there and get a result.
“It is in our hands, which is a good position to be in. We have just got to focus on these last two games.”
Tigers bounced back from their Tetley’s Challenge Cup final disappointment in impressive style with a 32-18 home win over improving Bradford Bulls last weekend and Mariano said that illustrated the mental toughness and spirit in the Cas camp.
“Losing the Cup final hit us hard,” he acknowledged. “But we learned from it as well.
“Training-wise we dug in and got on with it. The win last week helped us, it brought us down to earth a bit.
“We didn’t play as well as we can in the final, but we just need to get back to what we do best. That’s all we need and it’s what we didn’t do against Leeds.
“We had a good response last week and we have got to back it up in the next two games.”