Inside Rugby League: Leaving Jungle can take Cas to next level – Smith

Justin Carney.
Justin Carney.
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IT MAY not be totally accurate to say good times never seemed so good, but these are heady days for Castleford Tigers.

Not only have Tigers won their opening five First Utility Super League fixtures, but also the prospect of a new stadium – which won’t cost the club a penny to build – is back on the agenda.

Anybody who attended the last two games at Mend-A-Hose Jungle might wonder why the possibility of a move is being greeted with such enthusiasm and excitement – so much so that a representative of the prospective developers was cheered when he appeared on the pitch at Tigers’ most recent match.

Earlier this month Wigan Warriors were beaten 36-31 in what must surely have been one of the most remarkable games ever seen in Super League.

The contest see-sawed back and forth and an incredible finalé saw Wigan equalise with four minutes left – with a try in the corner and touchline conversion – and then go ahead almost instantly, only for Luke Dorn to grab a winning touchdown for Cas with 12 seconds remaining.

That was memorable enough, but the celebrations afterwards – with thousands of ecstatic fans singing along to Neil Diamond’s hit Sweet Caroline played over the public address – will live long in the memory. Last Sunday Hull were the visitors and almost 10,000 packed into the ground, creating another terrific atmosphere. They witnessed another tense finalé, another Cas win – and yet more Sweet Caroline after the final hooter.

The old ground was, quite literally, rocking.

So why do Cas need a new stadium?

The Jungle – with fans so close to the action and standing on three sides – is one of the best places to watch rugby league in this country, but unfortunately, the stadium – which is quite a grand term for it – is rooted in the 20th century and that’s being kind.

Twenty nine years after the Valley Parade tragedy, it still has a wooden stand. Quite how that has survived so long is a mystery.

Getting in and out isn’t easy and the facilities, though they have been spruced up a bit and the pitch is one of the best in the competition – simply aren’t up to scratch.

The place is packed with 10,000 in – which is what Cas should be aiming for as an average, at least – and costs Cas money, due its inability to cater for corporate fans. Compare that to what, for example, Warrington now have to offer at HJ Stadium, where more supporters and corporates can be catered for in greater comfort and safety.

It is no coincidence that Warrington’s fortunes have risen since their move from Wilderspool a decade ago. HJ Stadium regularly hosts internationals and acts as a neutral venue for lower division finals and Challenge Cup semi-finals, which is a lucrative sideline.

Warrington have – by including plenty of standing – created a modern venue, which still creates a vibrant atmosphere and that is the challenge now facing Cas.

Speaking after the Hull game, Tigers coach Daryl Powell admitted the Jungle is a “special place” and the club will have to find a way of taking what makes it special with them. To a large extent, that’s the fans themselves.

It will be ironic if – having survived two licence processes – the Jungle meets its end after promotion and relegation is re-introduced, but, sad though it will be on a nostalgic level, if the new ground happens it will be a major step forward for the club and possibly what lifts them to the next level.

Castleford Tigers coach, Daryl Powell. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe

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