STAR HOOKER Daryl Clark says a priority for Castleford Tigers this week will be not thinking about their Tetley’s Challenge Cup semi-final.
Tigers take on Widnes Vikings a week on Sunday with a place at Wembley at stake, but have a home First Utility Super League clash with London Broncos to take care of beforehand.
With a top-four finish on the league table well within their grasp, Clark stressed Tigers can’t afford to slip-up against already-relegated London – but admits that is a danger if they don’t keep their eye on the ball.
“Powelly (coach Daryl Powell) has tried to take our minds off that and told us not to think too much about it,” Clark said of the looming Cup showdown.
“We know it’s just around the corner and hopefully we can play some of our best rugby then and hopefully get a trip to Wembley, but we will try and put it to one side this week. Powelly will try and get it out of our heads.
“We know we have got a job to do on Sunday against London, to keep ticking over in the league. We want to finish in the top-four or five, so the last few games are crucial. We can’t afford to slip up against London. It is two points we must get.”
Results last weekend went Tigers’ way in the battle for a high finish in the table.
Though St Helens, who began round 22 as league leaders, and third-placed Leeds Rhinos both won, Wigan Warriors, who started in second spot, suffered a shock loss at doomed Bradford Bulls and fifth-placed Warrington Wolves went down at home to Wakefield Trinity Wildcats. So despite only gaining one point, Tigers remain fourth on the ladder and they are just two points off top spot.
“We are still in a good position,” Clark stated. “We are really happy with where we are in the league.
“If you had asked us at the beginning of the year if we’d like to be fourth in the league, 22 rounds in, we would have snatched your hand off.
“We are pleased with how far we’ve come this year, but we have still got room for improvement.”
That was highlighted in the 18-18 stalemate at Hull last Thursday.
Out-of-sorts Castleford Tigers were 18-4 behind as late as the 68th minute, but a three-try rally saw them snatch an unlikely point.
Clarke said: “We were pretty poor, apart from the last 10-15 minutes. Then we played like we know we can, but the first 60-65 minutes were poor.
“It wasn’t meant to be, we had a lot of poor play and we were far from our best, but to go there and get a draw after playing as poor as we did, we have to be happy with that.”
The late blitz showed what Tigers can do when they get their game together.
“At half-time Powelly said to us we are the top team for scoring tries in the last 20 minutes,” Clark said. “He said if we just hold it on the scoreboard, we could get them at the back end. But we will take a draw. In previous years if we had gone 14 points down, we’d have lost and probably got 30 put on us. To turn it round like that is pretty good for us.”
Clark admitted some of Tigers’ team may have been guilty of looking too far ahead, to the semi-final.
“Maybe some people had the thought that that’s coming up in the back of their mind,” he said. “I don’t know what it was, but for some reason we just didn’t turn up. There’s a lot still to work on. We were far from our best and we know we have got a lot more to give. Hopefully in the coming games we will show it.”
Clark accepts Tigers need to step up if they are to feature in a final or get their hands on silverware this year.
“I think we were playing some of our best rugby earlier on in the year,” he said. “I think we have slipped off a bit in the last few games. But if we can get back to how we were playing earlier in the year, we will go all right towards the back end of the season. We have played everyone now and most teams twice and we have competed in pretty much every game we’ve played in. We know if we turn up and play as well as we can we will be in with a chance in every game we play.”
While Tigers have been arguably the team of the year, based on their improvement from last season, Clark is being tipped as a candidate for both the young player and Man of Steel awards.
“I am happy with how this season has gone,” he said. “I am happy with the people I am playing with and pretty happy with my performances, but I am not looking too much into things like that (possible award nominations). Obviously if it comes at the end of the year it will be nice to be a part of. It is nice to have your name in and around that sort of stuff, but I don’t think too much about it and then if it comes at the end of the year I will enjoy it.”
Meanwhile, Tigers could be without forward Weller Hauraki for the Challenge Cup semi-final.
He will appear before the RFL disciplinary committee tonight after being charged with the Grade C offence of recklessly striking with his knees in the draw at Hull.
Hauraki, who does not have the option of submitting an early guilty plea, was charged after the 77th-minute incident – involving Hull’s Jordan Abdull – was viewed by the RFL match review panel. He faces a ban of two or three matches if found guilty.