Castleford Tigers have platform to build sustained Super League top-four assault, says Daryl Powell
DARYL POWELL is unconcerned that the play-off spots in Super League have been reduced from five to four and insists his Castleford Tigers side are looking up rather than over their shoulders.
The Tigers sat second when the season was suspended in March, level on points with league leaders Wigan Warriors, with both clubs winning five games from a possible seven.
Only five of the 12 top-flight clubs have played seven league fixtures in 2020 but Powell is grateful to have the points on the board ahead of rugby league’s restart next month.
Super League altered their play-off system ahead of the 2019 season, allowing five teams to compete for a place in the Grand Final at the conclusion of the regular season, compared to four the previous year.
Castleford finished fifth last term and knocked Warrington Wolves out of the play-offs before their hopes of reaching Old Trafford were ended at Salford Red Devils.
The play-offs this season have been cut back to four teams once again, with the campaign delayed for over four months by the Covid-19 pandemic, and will see first play fourth and second face third in a one-off shoot-out to reach the Grand Final.
“There is one spot less but I don’t think it really matters,” insisted Powell, with the Tigers only league defeats this year coming at Warrington and Catalans Dragons.
“We are in a good position as it stands on the competition ladder and we have got points in the bag.
“It is better having it that way compared to playing games that you have got to win.
“We will just get into it and aim for those top four places, we will be aiming as high up the table as we can.”
Finishing fifth last season meant that Castleford were tasked with winning three away matches on the bounce to reach Old Trafford.
However, a fourth-placed finish this term means they will be only one victory away from the Grand Final, which is due to be staged in November.
“If we get there, then we are only one game away from a Grand Final,” added Powell, with the venue for the showpiece yet to be confirmed.
“We certainly looked capable before we finished up and it is about getting back and achieving that standard again and then maintaining it.”
Castleford are set to return to training next Monday having beaten reigning Super League champions St Helens in their final game before the shutdown.
Players were forced to train on their own initially but have been meeting together to train, after lockdown restrictions were eased.
However, with the majority of the Tigers’ staff on furlough leave the coaching staff have not been able to get involved in the sessions but Powell trusts that his players will have kept themselves in good shape for the restart.
“We have left the training to the players and they have been getting together in groups, within the current guidelines,” added Powell.
“We can’t get involved because they are still furloughed.
“They have shown a fair bit of leadership in terms of that and that looks like it is working well so far.
“We will find out when we get back to training where everybody is. They are a pretty good group of professionals so I expect them to be in pretty good shape.”
Powell has no real injury concerns ahead of their first fixture back, which is due to be played on August 8 or 9.
Six clubs will restart the campaign on August 2 at a venue yet to be decided with Castleford set to return the following week.
The revised fixture list, which will involve each side playing each other once, is expected to be released this week.
Powell said: “There are a couple of injuries that have flared up during the lockdown because players have still been training on their own. There is nothing major.”
Meanwhile, Matt Cook is keen to remain at Castleford Tigers for another season with his current deal set to expire at the end of this year. The 33-year-old has been at Wheldon Road since 2015 and spent time on loan at Castleford in 2008.
Getting back on the field this campaign is the Warrington-born player’s prime focus but he is hoping to prove his worth when the season restarts.
“It would be great to play for another season and the priority for me now is just to get back on the field this season,” said Cook.
“Back end of last year I felt great. I still felt like I was doing a good job still and able to play at the top level and right at the start of pre-season, I felt great coming back in for the hard slog that pre-season is.
“Hopefully, I can prove to the coaches and myself that I have another year in me at the top-flight with Castleford Tigers.
“I think the last couple of years we’ve done really well to make sure we are still up and around that top end of the table.”
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