Real Deal: Cas forward Oliver Holmes believes it’s time for the doubters to start taking the Tigers a little more seriously. Peter Smith reports.
CASTLEFORD TIGERS’ Tetley’s Challenge Cup quarter-final win at Wigan Warriors proves they are the real deal, forward Oliver Holmes reckons.
Tigers, who finished third from bottom in Super League last year, have been the surprise package so far this season, but Holmes feels they have now shown they are more than a flash in the pan.
The 16-4 victory three days ago was Tigers’ second of the season against Wigan and they have beaten the current Challenge Cup and Super League champions in their last three meetings.
Going into Saturday’s tie Wigan had not been beaten at home in the Challenge Cup since 1986 – when Castleford won at Central Park – and they threw a huge amount of pressure at Tigers in the second half, only for the visitors to finish the stronger side, clinching a famous win with two late tries.
Holmes said: “I think a lot of people would have written us off in that game and probably in the majority of games this year, but the way we are playing, we have proved a few people wrong.
“It’s tough going to Wigan in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup. They are the holders, so to come away with a win like that, it’s phenomenal. We have been going well this year. Confidence is a big part of that and there’s a lot of it running through the team.
“We are getting good results consistently and that’s what we play for.”
Coach Daryl Powell described Tigers’ second half defensive effort as one of the best he has seen, as his team repelled wave after wave of Wigan attacks.
Holmes, who was in the thick of it and made a remarkable try-saving tackle on George Williams, said: “It was intense, but at times in a game like that you have got to dig deep and work hard. You have to work for each other out on the pitch and that’s something we talk about every week. I think we did that.”
Tigers have been paired with Widnes Vikings in the semi-finals, to be played on the weekend of August 9/10. It will be Castleford’s first appearance in the last-four since their sudden-death extra-time defeat by Leeds Rhinos three years ago.
They are bidding to return to Wembley for the first time since 1992, while Widnes’ most recent Cup final appearance came a year later. The draw means there will be a new and unexpected team in this year’s decider and Holmes said: “It’s exciting to be in the semi-final.
“The Challenge Cup is a big thing and at the start of the year it is something you always aim to do well in. To get through to a semi-final is amazing. I didn’t play the last time we got that far, I was 18th man unfortunately, so it would be good to play this time.
“I didn’t even play in the quarter-final that year, so last Saturday was a big thing for me and for us to get through to a semi-final is even bigger.”
Holmes reckons Tigers are capable of going all the way and lifting the Cup. He added: “I believe so. If we stay confident and we stay fit, I don’t see why not.”
There is now a two-month break before the Cup resumes and with Tigers third in First Utility Super League they need to refocus on the bread and butter weekly rounds.
By coincidence, they are back at DW Stadium in three days’ time for a Super League showdown with fourth-placed Wigan. “We will take it week by week,” Holmes stressed. “We are not getting too far ahead of ourselves. We are back at Wigan on Friday so we are looking at them again and we will be looking to repeat it, but it’ll be no easy challenge.
“Coming back against a team you played in the previous game is going to be hard. You are going to know how each other plays, so we might have to change a few things about, but we will see about that when it comes to Friday.”
On a personal level, Holmes has been one of Tigers’ stand-out players this year and is being talked about as a possible Dream Team candidate
“I am happy with the way I am playing,” he said. “I am just concentrating on playing well for Cas and if things like that come on the back of it, then fair enough – I am happy about that.
“I would say it’s my most consistent season, but there’s a lot of games to go yet. I have started all but one game, but there are people in the squad who could easily slot into my position so I have got to keep playing at my peak.
“And if that doesn’t happen there’ll be somebody else to come in and play well, so the pressure’s on.”
Competition for places is something Tigers haven’t had in the past.
Holmes added: “We have struggled with depth in the squad in previous years.
“That has shown coming to the back end of the season, but this year the depth we have got is pushing people on to play at their best, or they will be out of the team.”
Holmes said Powell deserves huge credit for what Tigers have achieved so far this term.
“He is a great coach and that has shown in our results so far,” he said. “The lads love him and you can see that from the way we are playing.
“I think we can keep it going. We have played every team once in the league, we are starting to play them again now and they know they will be in for a good game. We have got to be back on our game again each week now.”