ON-SONG CASTLEFORD Tigers face their biggest challenge of the season when St Helens visit MAH Jungle tonight.
Tigers are second in the First Utility Super League table with six wins from seven matches, but Saints sit a point clear and have won all their competitive games so far this term.
One slip-up at Salford Red Devils apart, Tigers have stood up to everything thrown at them this year, but boss Daryl Powell accepts Saints will provide the ultimate examination – and he reckons it will prove how far they really have come in 2014.
Powell said: “The Wigan game here was a pretty big game in terms of us justifying ourselves as a team.
“But Saints have clearly been the best side this season, whether they’ve had their full complement of players or not, so it is certainly a massive test for us.
“We have got a really tough period coming up, but after this one we should know a fair bit more about ourselves than we did before the game, so it is a pretty big one for us.”
A win by nine points or more would see Tigers leap above Saints into top spot on the table, but Powell insisted that possibility has not featured in their build-up.
“We just want to compete in every aspect of the game and if we come out with a win that will be enough for us,” he stated.
“Every player is going to get tested and we will learn a lot about ourselves.
“The physical challenge they present is bigger than any other in the competition and it’s going to be interesting to see how our middle unit match-up against St Helens.
“Mose Masoe is the biggest player in the comp so there’s going to be some physical challenges.”
Saints have trailed late on in their last three matches – against Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, Leeds Rhinos and at Huddersfield Giants in the Tetley’s Challenge Cup five days ago, before managing to find a late winning burst.
Inspirational half-back Luke Walsh is now back from injury, but Powell reckons there are aspects of their game Tigers can attack.
“We’ve watched quite a few of their games and there’s a few areas we feel we might be able to exploit in all of those,” he said.
“It is just a matter of us playing well. We need to play as well as we can.
“We’ve obviously got to defend well and Leeds struggled to break them down so that’s obviously a tough job, no question about that.
“But I think we are attacking particularly well this season and if we can apply our game we will cause them some trouble.”
Next Friday’s first game of the Easter period will mark a third of the season gone and Tigers could come out of that as league leaders if they maintain winning form, but Powell insisted their objectives have not changed.
“It’s still the top-eight,” he said. “We have got some tough games coming up so there’s loads of challenges and we are not looking too far ahead.
“We just have to keep doing ourselves justice as a team. We have been consistently doing that and we’ve been consistent in our approach.
“The key is to continue that, but there’s going to be some mental and physical challenges over the coming weeks, particularly with short turnarounds, so we need to stay focused on just one game a time and not get too far ahead of ourselves.
“I know it’s an old cliche, but it is a reality in the business we are in.”
Jake Webster could return tonight after suffering a groin injury in the defeat at Salford last month.
Cas have a doubt over Weller Hauraki, but Craig Huby, Daryl Clark and Grant Millington are all poised to feature after being rested for last week’s Tetley’s Challenge Cup win at Batley Bulldogs. Michael Channing and Dan Fleming drop out.
Saints will welcome back Jon Wilkin following a two-match ban and Anthony Laffranchi and Matt Dawson are also vying for a call-up, but prop Kyle Amor misses out due to injury.
Castleford Tigers: from Shenton, Webster, Carney, Dorn, Sneyd, Lynch, Milner, Huby, Millington, Hauraki, Massey, Clark, Boyle, Holmes, Mariano, Wheeldon, Ellis, Clare, Finn.
St Helens: from Lomax, Makinson, Turner, Jones, Swift, Hohaia, Walsh, Masoe, Roby, Soliola, Wilkin, Manu, Laffranchi, Flanagan, Wellens, Walmsley, Greenwood, Walker, Dawson.
Referee: Ben Thaler (Wakefield).
Kick-off: Tonight, 8pm.