Castleford Tigers: Dixon: We’re in it to win it

Kirk Dixon.

Kirk Dixon.

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VICTORIES at the Mend-a-Hose Jungle this season have been celebrated by the playing of Neil Diamond’s 1960s soft rock hit Sweet Caroline over the public address.

It has quickly become a tradition, with Tigers supporters staying behind after the final hooter to join in a mass singalong.

The main attraction of the song is the chorus, which includes the lines: “Good times never seemed so good. I’ve been inclined, to believe they never would.”

How better to sum up what it is like to be associated with Castleford Tigers this season?

In the decade since Wembley opponents Leeds Rhinos’ first Grand Final victory, Tigers have been relegated twice and beaten by lower division opposition in the Challenge Cup on three occasions.

Last week’s inevitable pre-Cup final loss at Warrington Wolves probably ended Tigers’ hopes of finishing top of Super League, but they are genuine title challengers and in two days’ time the Challenge Cup could be heading back to Wheldon Road for the first time since 1986.

No wonder good times never seemed so good. Winger Kirk Dixon was with the club through the dark days, joining them when they were in what is now the Championship and he admitted that makes the current success seem extra sweet.

“It showed at the end of the semi-final how much it means to us all,” Dixon said. “We have had six or seven years of heartache and now we are going to a Wembley final. It is great for the players and the club.

“It has been a long time coming, but the feeling after the semi-final, when the whistle went at the end of the game, there was a lot of relief there.

“We have worked hard to try and get there, but we are there now and we are a bit greedy. We want to come away with the trophy.”

Regular Tigers watchers and his teammates rate Dixon as one of the most underrated players in the game.

After toiling away without a sniff of representative selection or major silverware he insisted he is determined to enjoy the spotlight while it is shining on Cas.

“It is massive for us,” he added. “When we got beaten by Leeds in the 2011 semi-final I think we maybe thought that was our chance gone.

“But fortunately we’ve been able to have a good season this year and we’ve put ourselves in the frame to get back there.

“For the semi-final the full squad was fantastic. We were really focused on what we needed to do and we went out there and did a professional job, in not so good conditions.

“We are there on merit. It doesn’t get much bigger than a Leeds-Cas derby final at Wembley so it should be a great occasion, but we aren’t just going there to enjoy the day, we want to come away with the trophy.”

Tigers boss Daryl Powell did make some significant additions to his squad last autumn, bringing in the likes of Luke Dorn, Marc Sneyd, Andy Lynch and Liam Finn, who have contributed so much to this year’s upturn in fortunes.

But for Dixon the special thing about Tigers’ revival is the fact it has been achieved with many of the players who were at the club 18 months or so ago, when they were at such a low ebb.

“You could see after the semi-final what it meant to those players,” Dixon said. “We spoke afterwards and said we’ve been through the tough times and seen the club in uncertain circumstances and it is fantastic to be going to Wembley with these players – who are some of your best friends as well.

“It is fantastic to be able to do something successful and to have your best friends next to you. But also to be able to do it for the fans, who have stood by us through some very tough times.

“They have always been there and they’ve always come along to support us and thankfully we’ve rewarded them with a nice little trip to Wembley.”

In the past clubs emerging from the wilderness have been satisfied just to get to the big occasion, but Dixon stressed Tigers are very much in it to win it.

“We’ve worked that hard to get there,” he said. “You don’t want to go there and not perform and not give yourself a chance of winning the Cup.

“These chances don’t come around every year. There’s only two teams who can get there and fortunately we are there this year.

“We have got a chance to win the Cup and emulate some fantastic players from years gone by, who have worn the shirt and won that Cup.

“It was 1986 last time Cas won it and the players who were in that squad were unbelievable.

“They have gone down in folklore here and they are legends of the club.

“If we can take some inspiration from what they have done and try and emulate them, it will be fantastic.

“We’re not going to rest on our laurels. It is great we’ve got to Wembley, but you don’t want to go to Wembley and lose.

“Daryl has told us ‘Don’t think your job’s done. You’ve given yourselves a great opportunity to do something special and something you’ll remember for the rest of your life’.

“It is going to take a full 17-man effort, playing to the best of their ability, because we know Leeds are a champion side, but we are going there to win the Cup, definitely.”

Leeds are coming at Wembley from a different angle, having lost the last six finals they’ve been in – including three in succession from 2010-2012.

“They’ve felt the heartache of going to Wembley and watching someone else lift that Cup,” Dixon said.

“We haven’t and we don’t want to feel it. They have been there and been in these big games before. They have got their own agenda and so have we.

“We’ll be trying to make it four [Wembley defeats] for them, but it’s more about us winning it than them losing – we are focusing on ourselves and what we need to do to win the Cup.

“Their record won’t come into our psyche. It is about us, about us enjoying the week – because we deserve to enjoy it and everything that goes with it – and going there and not being happy with playing at Wembley, but also wanting to lift that Cup.

“The club deserves it, the players deserve it and the town deserves it. Leeds will be thinking the same thing, but we are going there to do the same job.”

Despite a relative lack of Wembley experience – compared with Leeds – Dixon is confident Cas will handle the occasion.

“It’s massive,” he said. “I remember going a few years ago with my dad. I sat down and looked around and said ‘It must be unbelievable to play here’.

“I’ve spoken to Gaz Carvell and a few of the boys who’ve played there and it’s about playing the game, not the occasion.

“We’ve a lot of players who’ve a lot of experience in the big games. The semi-final was a massive game and when we got off the bus there was a lot of noise.

“But we managed to focus and channel our energy into the game and that’s what we’re going to have to do, albeit on a bit bigger stage.”