THE DISAPPOINTMENT of their final round defeat at Catalan Dragons should not mask what Castleford Tigers have achieved this year, coach Daryl Powell says.
Tigers went into their round 27 fixture in Perpignan knowing victory would hand them the league leaders’ shield on points difference from St Helens.
But Cas, who began the final round of the regular season in second spot, slipped to fourth after a 28-6 defeat, which means they will travel to table-topping Saints in the first round of the play-offs on Friday night.
Tigers’ top-four finish means they will have another bite of the cherry if they lose this weekend and are guaranteed a home tie - for the first time - in their second play-offs match.
Reflecting on Saturday’s setback at Stade Gilbert Brutus, Powell said: “We are disappointed because there was a special prize there, which we weren’t able to get.
“We have finished fourth and it is easy to lose sight of that and what a great achievement it is in terms of the first 27 rounds. Getting into the play-offs in the top-four is outstanding and I said that to the players straight after the game. We need to build from that. We have got an opportunity now, it is a tough opportunity, but that’s what play-offs are all about.”
Powell said his players were “down” after the defeat, but he stressed: “It’s about responding and finding the energy to go and really challenge Saints. Play-offs football is very tough and high-energy and teams have got to raise their levels.”
Of the loss two days ago, Powell added: “If you look across the season, Catalan have been very difficult to beat over there and when teams have beaten them, it has been close.
“In the first half 50-50 calls and some incorrect decisions went against us and the four sets they had on our line took a big chunk out of us. We had a go in the second half and tried to play our game, but we gave an interception away and made too many errors. It was a poor performance, but that should not take away from what an outstanding regular season it has been. If we’d said at the start of the year we’d get fourth spot and play at Wembley, people would have said we were crazy. Now we’ve got to move on to a big game on Friday.”
Craig Huby (elbow) and Grant Millington (knee) both returned from injury and emerged from the game unscathed, which Powell described as a “big plus”.
Millington said: “ The knee felt really good and I came through fine. To be honest, I was a little bit worried as you are coming in on your return from injury a couple of weeks early, but once I got out there I didn’t feel the knee or think about it at all. I was more worried about my lungs as I played 60-odd minutes.
“It’s credit to (conditioner) Ben Cooper, though, and our medical team. When I saw the specialist the first time he said it was 10 weeks, but they got me back in seven and I am really grateful for all their help in doing that.”