CASTLEFORD TIGERS prop Andy Lynch has labelled tonight’s game with Huddersfield Giants as a “massive” factor as the battle for top four spots – and perhaps more – heats up.
His side are currently just two points adrift of Super League’s pole position having seen those around them surprisingly slip up last week.
Leaders St Helens crumbled in alarming style at Hull KR while Leeds Rhinos, in second, also lost at struggling Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.
Castleford – who vanquished Widnes Vikings 40-20 last Thursday – are one of three sides all locked in joint-third, champions Wigan Warriors and Warrington Wolves being the others.
Huddersfield, however, will draw level with them too if they prosper in tonight’s televised game at Wheldon Road.
Lynch, who knows all about title run-ins after helping set the platform for Bradford Bulls’ Super League success in 2005, said: “Last week worked in our favour really well as all the teams around us, who should have been winning, lost.
“That puts us just two points off top spot and, if we can win this weekend, who knows.
“It’s a massive game as there’s only two points between us and Huddersfield as well. We need to win to get a four-point gap and put us in good stead for the rest of the league games.”
Lynch says it has been “quite easy” ignoring the looming presence of a Challenge Cup semi-final with Widnes Vikings next month to instead continue their remarkable assault on Super League.
“There’s eight weeks between the quarter-finals and semi-finals so that’s eight big games to concentrate on,” he said.
“We need to cement a decent position in Super League to present a challenge in the play-offs.”
Castleford will be encouraged that Huddersfield are without reigning Man of Steel, the in-form Danny Brough whose drop goal helped seal a 29-28 victory and decide an epic contest in Giants’ favour in May.
The Scotland captain, who played at Wheldon Road in 2006 and 2007, misses his first game of the season with ankle and jaw injuries suffered when Salford’s Lama Tasi hit him high and late last week.
But Lynch, who has been a revelation in his second spell at the club after joining from Hull FC last winter, is not fooled.
“He is a big miss for them but they have got some young quality kids as well as some people who can step in at half,” he said.
“Chris Bailey could play there or Robbo (ex-England scrum-half Luke Robinson) and whatever team they put out will be competitive.
“A Salford result had been coming. I didn’t expect it to be against Huddersfield and I think they might have been shocked by that result, too.
“Salford bombed a few chances as well so it could have been worse. But Huddersfield are a good team and I’m sure they’ll be hurting and wanting to put things right.”
That said, Castleford will be confident they have enough class in their ranks to overcome the 2013 League Leaders’ Shield winners.
With livewire hooker Daryl Clark in the form of his life, they have a constant menace about their game.
Lynch, 34, actually thinks the thrilling rake could go on and become the best No9 in the world, some prediction but one which is base don plenty of evidence.
Clark, 20, was promoted to the full England training squad last month and underlined his growing stature with a man-of-the-match performance at Widnes under-lined by a brilliant hat-trick of tries.
“He’s unbelievable,” said Lynch. “He’s massive for us and probably won the game for us last weekend single-handedly.
“For me he’s the form hooker in Super League and I think he’s got a great shot of playing for England at the end of the year.
“He’s a great talent and he’s still young so he’s got plenty of time to learn and he’ll get even better as he gets older. He can be the world’s leading hooker if he keeps on going the way he is. Nobody will be able to touch him.”