CASTLEFORD TIGERS set Super League alight in 2014, but coach Daryl Powell is predicting a tougher season this time around.
“The challenges are going to be slightly different this year,” said Powell, who has transformed Tigers since taking charge in May, 2013.
“With two teams having dropped out it is going to be a tough competition, which is what we want. We don’t want to have any easy games. Last year Bradford and London, especially early on, weren’t handling things well and you were picking points up against them and you might potentially be able to leave a couple of players out.
“You won’t get that this year. The competition is narrowed down, so it will be tough, but I think we can do it. I think we can be competitive and tough and play in a way that is pretty good to watch and is effective as well.”
After last year’s progress, Powell knows Tigers have lost the element of surprise.
He added: “Obviously teams look at you a fair bit, they’re not going to be coming in under-cooked against us this year – though I don’t think that happened too much last year, to be honest.
“Teams are going to be looking at us thinking ‘these are going to have a fair bit about them’, so we have to make sure we’re where we need to be, no doubt about that.”
Tigers have lost some quality players since the end of last season, including the reigning Man of Steel Daryl Clark (to Warrington Wolves), their longest-serving player Craig Huby (Huddersfield Giants) and last season’s top points scorer Marc Sneyd (Hull). On the flip side, play-maker Ben Roberts and powerhouse prop Junior Moors have arrived from Melbourne Storm and other key recruits include ex-Bradford Bulls half-back Luke Gale and much-travelled former England hooker Scott Moore.
Powell said: “I think the squad is potentially stronger this year, but you never really know until you get out there. The game’s not played on paper, is it? I think on paper we’ve got a deep, strong squad, but it’s going to depend on how the players come together and how they handle it when they get put under pressure. They’re some of the questions that will get answered over the course of the next few weeks.”
Improving on last year, when Tigers finished fourth in the table and reached the Challenge Cup final, will take some doing.
Powell said his team’s first target is to qualify for the top-eight and banish any threat of relegation. He recalled: “We could have finished first last year.
“We were two points off the top. Flip the St Helens game down here – when we played them off the park – and we’d finish top. I think we did a great job last year, but that’s gone. For me top-eight is a massive target, which it was last year.
“It means being a good, consistent team and delivering consistently on the qualities and standards you set yourself. I thought we were superb in doing that last year and it is a big challenge to do it again.”