CASTLEFORD TIGERS half-back Liam Finn is expecting Leeds Rhinos to be a different animal in Thursday’s huge derby at Headingley Carnegie.
Rhinos are second in First Utility Super League – a point and three places clear of Tigers – and with both teams having a better points difference than leaders St Helens, top spot in the table will be the prize for the victors.
Leeds have lost four of their last eight league matches, but key players are beginning to return from injury and Finn reckons that makes Tigers’ task a tough one.
“They have been quite similar to us in the sense that by their own standards they have dipped a little bit,” Finn said of Thursday’s hosts. “Obviously they are still a world-class team, but for them their standards have dipped.
“They are starting to get players back though, like Rob Burrow and Kevin Sinfield. They’ll start ticking over and they are the types of players that bring the rest of the team up and give them that little bit of a boost and confidence.
“The Cas v Leeds games are the ones everyone looks forward to and personally I think Headingley is one of the best rugby league grounds in the world so it’s always exciting to go there.”
Tigers will need to improve on the form they showed in last Friday’s 44-30 win over Huddersfield Giants, Finn believes.
“We were pretty poor,” he reflected. “They (Huddersfield) will probably think that about themselves too. It was a poor standard game considering what both clubs pride themselves on.”
Finn was recalled against Giants after being dropped for the previous weeks’ trip to Widnes Vikings. He is hoping his performance was good enough for him to keep his place this week.
“It’s always disappointing to be left out of the team, for whatever reason,” he admitted. “Daryl (Powell, Tigers’ coach) was pretty honest with me and said I wasn’t good enough the week before and we’d got players good enough to to step in. I managed to get a go against Giants and hopefully I did enough to be in there again this Thursday.”
Finn was a surprise star during the early part of the season, after returning to the top-flight following a decade in the lower divisions. He admitted he has found the second half of the season tougher as opposing sides have studied the way he plays
He said: “The longer a season goes on the more you get to see every team playing and teams don’t change a massive amount of what they do; they have a basic structure and just tweak things here and there. I started well and did all right, but then dropped off a fair bit and it cost my spot a few times.”
Finn returned at scrum-half against Huddersfield, with Jamie Ellis switching to stand-off and Marc Sneyd playing at full-back.
That illustrates the depth in Tigers’ squad this year and Finn reckons Sneyd’s move from the No 6 role gave the team a new dimension.
“Full-back is like a modern-day stand-off, as long as you can organise the defensive stuff they are probably the freest moving players on the pitch,” he said. “It probably suited Sneydy down to the ground being able to just go wherever he wants, but he’s just got that touch of class where he can slot in anywhere and do what he does – which is little piece of genius and organising whatever area he’s in.”
Another of Tigers’ in-form players is captain Michael Shenton, who Finn reckons could regain his Test place in England’s Four Nations squad at the end of the year.
“He’s a world-class centre and probably been unfortunate not to be in the international team for the last couple of years,” Finn observed.
“I suppose a lot of it boils down to how the team’s been playing and the last few years they haven’t been up there, but this year he’s been absolutely outstanding and I’m pretty sure there’s a few in our team who will be hoping to go on that tour at the end of the year – and deservedly so.”
Meanwhile, London Broncos winger Denny Solomona has become Tigers’ third confirmed recruit for 2015, after signing a two-year deal. Auckland-born Solomona, 20, joined London from Melbourne Storm last January and has scored seven tries in 16 games this season.
He will will link up with Tigers over the winter along with Junior Moors and Ben Roberts, who have both been signed from Melbourne. Solomona said: “The move came about through Daryl Powell.
“He asked me what my plans were for next year and thought it would be a good opportunity to bring me in alongside Junior Moors. The way the club is run attracted me.
“Castleford have a good fan base and they are regarded as the loudest in the competition by some, so it is good to get fans behind you when you play. I spoke to (Cas’ ex-London player) Luke Dorn and he said the club was run well, so that attracted me there too. Everyone is professional and does their job, which is what you want.”
Powell said: “Denny has really impressed me this season in what has been a difficult year for the Broncos. His speed and strength alongside his ability to play in a number of back line positions will make him an invaluable member of our squad over the coming seasons.”