IT MAY be Castleford Tigers’ biggest match for three years, but forward Frankie Mariano says they will treat Sunday’s Tetley’s Challenge Cup semi-final as “just another game”.
Tigers will go into the last-four clash with Widnes Vikings, at Leigh Sports Village, as the form team left in the competition.
Coach Daryl Powell’s side are fourth in First Utility Super League and unbeaten in their last six fixtures and Mariano admits it is a golden opportunity for the club to reach Wembley for the first time since 1991.
But, like Widnes, Tigers have no big-game experience as a team and the former Hull KR and Wakefield Trinity Wildcats back-rower reckons they can’t afford to get too caught up in the importance of the match.
“We have got a youngish squad and not a lot of players have been in this position before,” Mariano acknowledged. The thing that Powelly has drilled into us is that it is just another game. We have got to keep both feet on the floor, try not to get too nervous about it and have a relaxed approached. That’s how we are going to go into it, but we have got some experienced players, like Garreth Carvell, who’ve been there and done it.
“I think those lads will step up through the week and keep us in check. We know we need to be on the ball. We will have to be on our best game to get a win.”
The prize on offer on Sunday is huge, but Mariano stressed: “I don’t think anybody has spoken about Wembley, at all.
“That is not in our heads at the moment. At the moment we are preparing for a semi-final and that is all we have got to focus on. That’s what we have been doing for the last seven weeks.”
It will be the biggest game of Mariano’s career and he stressed he is determined to enjoy the week and the occasion itself.
“I’ve never got to a semi-final of anything before,” he said. “I am looking forward to it. It is a big event. For me it could be my only chance so I want to put everything into it, like we all do. It is going to be a good experience for everyone in the team and we’ll all be better for it.”
Excitement over Tigers’ first semi-final since 2011 has been building since the 16-4 sixth round win at Wigan Warriors on June 7. Of Tigers’ eight games between the Cup ties, they have won four, drawn two and lost two and Mariano said it is a relief the big match is finally next on the agenda.
“It has been a long-time coming,” he said. “We have kept going for the last few weeks, taking one game at a time. We have had a couple of setbacks, but we knew where we went wrong and we corrected them, which is a good thing. We have got back on the horse and we are feeling good for this week. Now we have got the other games out of the way and we have built a good platform to go into this week’s game.”
After successive draws Tigers got back to winning ways with a 64-18 demolition of Super League’s bottom club London Broncos two days ago.
They came through with no major new injuries and Mariano said that game went as well as they could have hoped, for a last fixture before the semi-final.
And he isn’t concerned at having such a one-sided hit-out ahead of what is likely to be a much tougher challenge.
“We just wanted to make sure we got our game right,” said Mariano, who came off the substitutes’ bench to score one of Tigers’ 12 tries. We wanted to make sure we had a platform to build on for this week. We know it is going to be tough on Sunday and last week was all about us.
“That was all we were worried about, getting our game right no matter what they (London) threw at us. There were parts of the game when we dropped off, but we knew that and we corrected it.”
London did put Tigers under pressure in the early stages, leading twice before Justin Carney scored a quick-fire hat-trick.
Mariano said they could be pleased with the way they responded after a sluggish start. “We got a few nerves out of the way, but when we got hold of the game we got our game back to normal and it was good.”
Meanwhile, Tigers coach Daryl Powell reckons recruit Steve Crossley will make an impact in Super League.
Powell coached Crossley – whose two-year deal was confirmed yesterday and will begin next season – at the front-rower’s current club Featherstone Rovers.
The former Dewsbury player said: “I’m really looking forward to joining Cas Tigers next year.
“The chance to go full-time again and play in Super League was always a goal I’ve had since leaving Bradford.”
Two Tigers players will appear before the Rugby Football League (RFL) disciplinary tonight. Wing man Justin Carney is accused of making a Grade B dangerous throw on Broncos’ on-loan Leeds Rhinos centre Thomas Minns in the 69th minute.
Any ban would rule Aussie Carney out of Sunday’s semi-final.
Weller Hauraki will also appear as he appeals against a two-match ban meted out for recklessly striking with the knees in the recent draw at Hull.
He missed the win over London, but a successful appeal would mean he is available to face Widnes.