Time of the Tiger: Cas chief exec’ Steve Gill is proud of the way the town has shown its true colours in support of the Tigers. Peter Smith reports.
SOMETIMES IT’S not getting to the top that’s the problem, it’s staying there.
Castleford Tigers didn’t quite reach First Utility Super League’s summit this year, but they went remarkably close.
Widely expected to be involved in a relegation battle, Tigers were within 80 minutes of claiming a first league leaders’ shield.
Had they won at Catalan Dragons in their final game of the regular season, Tigers would have topped the table.
They couldn’t manage it, but fourth was still their highest placing in Super League and they secured a home tie in the play-offs for the first time.
On top of that, Castleford ended a 22-year wait for a Challenge Cup final appearance when they faced Leeds Rhinos at Wembley two months ago.
For a club who teetered on the financial brink in 2013 and finished third from bottom in Super League, it was a year of remarkable progress.
On the field Tigers’ improvement has been masterminded by coach Daryl Powell, but lifelong fan and former youth boss Steve Gill has proved a unifying figure behind the scenes.
Gill, who took over from Steve Ferres last year, reckons the past season put pride back in the club and the town and he is convinced their improvement will continue next year.
Assessing the campaign which ended with a home play-offs defeat by Warrington Wolves, Gill said: “As a club and a town, everybody associated is proud of what we have created.
“We have gone away from the norm slightly and changed how we do things and that has paid off.
“That is the difference. We have re-energised the club as a group and it seems to have worked for us.”
Gill is keen for the club to be more than a place for staff and players to work and fans to attend once every fortnight.
“The atmosphere at games is second to none now and everybody talks about it,” he reflected.
“I was there in the dark days, when we seemed to be getting hammered every week. There didn’t seem to be any passion behind the shirt, but that is back now.
“Everyone knows about our heritage and the great players who have played here. When people come into this club it is not just to earn a wage.
“It is about being part of the club, it is about being a family. I heard something the other day that I think is true: It doesn’t take a few people to run Castleford Tigers, it takes a whole town.
“Everybody has got to get behind us and they have done.”
Gill is reluctant to discuss the financial problems which have dogged Tigers in the recent past. He said: “That’s history now.
“As a club we have got to look forward to a bright future and we have got to be optimistic about what we can achieve.
“If you believe in the future, it will happen – if you want something badly enough it will happen for you.
“We won’t stop working until we get it.
“The players have bought into that and I believe Castleford Tigers can become a big club, especially when we move into the new stadium.”
Gill said that is much closer to becoming reality now than it was 12 months ago.
Plans for the Five Towns Park have been submitted and a council decision on approval is expected later this month or early in November.
The project includes a community stadium, country park and retail development and is expected to create 2,000 jobs.
After years of broken dreams the sceptics remain to be convinced, but Gill points to the success of the nearby Xscape leisure complex.
“People said that wouldn’t happen, but people come to it from all over,” he said.
Other positive moves off the field include a raft of new sponsors, to be announced over the coming weeks and the installation of a new “state-of-the-art” gym at MAH Jungle, which Gill said will give the players facilities they have lacked in the past.
The players using the new gym will not include some of this year’s most influential figures.
Marc Sneyd, Craig Huby, Weller Hauraki, Man of Steel Daryl Clark and Jamie Ellis have all left the club, but Gill insisted next year’s squad will be stronger.
“Sometimes decisions have to be made,” he said. “We had to make a decision about Daryl Clark (who was sold to Warrington last year to ease Tigers’ financial problems) and that has been well documented.
“Craig Huby made his own decision, as the others did. We were close to re-signing some of them, but they moved on at the last minute. But I think we have signed some quality.
“We will have the same work ethic and we have strengthened in a couple of key positions.
“I think we will be a more solid side next year.
“I think Ben Roberts will be massive for us and Luke Gale is going to give us a lot.
“We will have some continuity at half-back, which we’ve not had for a lot of years and we’ll be able to play the brand of football Daryl likes.
“I think Matt Cook will be a crowd favourite, he is a similar type of player to Oliver Holmes and Junior Moors can open up defences.
“We needed to shake things up a bit on the field and I think it will be exciting times.”