Sunday’s trip to neighbours Featherstone Rovers will be a major test for Castleford Tigers, coach Daryl Powell says.
Rovers topped the Kingstone Press Championship for three successive years under Powell’s coaching and maintained that run after he left mid-way through last season.
Highlight of his time in charge there was a Challenge Cup win over Super League Tigers in 2012 and Rovers will be out to repeat that and underline their own top-flight credentials tomorrow.
They have won all their three pre-season games so far – including a 24-8 victory over Wakefield Trinity Wildcats a fortnight ago – and have yet to concede a second-half point.
“They are playing really well,” accepted Powell. “I was at the Wakefield game and I’ve watched it back and they were easily the better team.
“They have some good players, who I know pretty well, they are playing at home and they will be confident, so it is a great challenge for us.
“It is one we have got to get stuck into and we’ve got to go there and play well.
“We are building our combinations and our physicality is going to need to be good, because they are a big pack.”
It will be Powell’s first return to Big Fellas Stadium as opposition coach and former Rovers hero Liam Finn is in Tigers’ squad. “I had a great time there and it’s a great club,” Powell said.
“I don’t know what reception I’ll get, but the reception when I left was good and I had a great relationship with the fans.
“It is not about that, I am just looking forward to the challenge the team faces.”
Michael Shenton and Weller Hauraki are both set to make their first appearance of pre-season and Adam Milner (ankle) and Ashley Gibson (knee) will feature after recovering from injury.
Powell said: “They have both had off-season surgery, but they are looking good in training.
“Adam’s been back a couple of weeks, but he had two operations.
“They are looking forward to it and it will be good to see them in action.”
Rovers boss John Bastian regards tomorrow as his team’s toughest test so far, after the wins over Hunslet Hawks, Wakefield and Halifax.
“We’ve had three good run-outs and done particularly well,” he said.
“Again this is a big local derby and Daryl Powell will be preparing for their first Super League game.
“I expect them to be pretty intense and we are expecting a really tough game.
“Conditions on the field will be heavy. It is going to be sticky, but it is a game we are really looking forward to.
“We are excited about challenging ourselves again against Super League opposition and the players have prepared well this week.”
Despite the three wins so far, Bastian said Rovers will be “looking to get better”.
He said: “We’ve done really well in defence and we want to maintain that standard.
“Offensively it’s difficult to play expansive rugby in these conditions, but we want to continue to promote the ball and move teams around.”
Featherstone Rovers: Sunley, Sharp, Worthington, Hellewell, Saxton, Moore, Bussey, Crossley, Ellis, Hirst, Lockwood, Spears, Bennion, Flanagan, Dale, Bostock, Ormondroyd, Cording, Pick, Mendeika, Teesdale.
Castleford Tigers from: Dixon, Shenton, Carney, Dorn, Sneyd, Lynch, Milner, Huby, Millington, Hauraki, Clark, Holmes, Mariano, Wheeldon, Gibson, Owen, Channing, Clare, Fleming, Finn, Seymour.
Referee: Ben Thaler (Wakefield).
Kick-off: Sunday, 3pm.