Castleford Tigers v St Helens - Cas inspired by Challenge Cup legends
THIRTY FIVE years of hurt could come to an end for Castleford Tigers this afternoon.
Tigers will be aiming to get their hands on the Betfred Challenge Cup for the first time since 1986 when they square up to St Helens in the Wembley heat.
One of Tigers’ finest sides battled to a dramatic 15-14 win over Hull KR that afternoon, in front of a crowd of 82,134.
It was an unforgettable day in the club’s history and some of the players involved have thrown their weight behind the modern generation’s bid to create history.
“Yesterday John Joyner and Tony Marchant came down and gave us some good stories from that time,” Tigers coach Daryl Powell revealed.
Speaking after his side’s final training run, on the hallowed turf yesterday afternoon, the coach said: “That was an unbelievable era in Castleford’s history, with Malcolm Reilly coaching the team and some unbelievable players.
“I think John Joyner was right at the top, so to hear from him was good and then Tony Marchant brought us a couple of letters from Castleford Academy, where he works, with messages of goodwill.
“It was absolutely awesome to see those guys come in and speak to the current players and give them some added motivation.”
Today is Powell’s third final as Tigers coach, after defeats by Leeds Rhinos at Wembley in 2014 and Old Trafford three years later.
Powell feels lessons have been learned from those disappointments and revealed preparations this time have been “a little bit more relaxed”.
He reflected: “We’ve got through the week looking to enjoy it and I think we have enjoyed it.
“We’ve had a really good build-up, we are raring to go and now it’s about putting a performance out there.”
Today’s game could come down to which team can do the better job of coping with Wembley’s unique atmosphere, plus the baking hot conditions.
Liam Watts, who played in back-to-back final triumphs for Hull, is the only previous Cup winner in Tigers’ squad, while James Roby is in a similar situation for Saints.
“There’s not a massive amount of Challenge Cup experience in either team, certainly not Cup final winning experience,” Powell noted.
“There’s one from each team, so it will be interesting.”
Conditions could also be a major factor, with the pitchside temperature set to reach around 30 degrees during the game.
It was close to that when Tigers trained yesterday and Powell said: “It’s warm just walking about, so the boys are going to have to be outstanding.
“But it’s the reason they do all the training, to be able to stand up to weather like this.
“It’s going to be challenging for both teams and the team that comes up with the best control in the game and manages the conditions the best will have a real good chance of winning the game.”
Powell will select from virtually a full-strength squad and yesterday afternoon had yet to announce his team to the players, though he confirmed Danny Richardson and Cheyse Blair will miss out.
“I’ve got a couple of calls to make so I’m going to go a bit football this week and make the decision a little bit late,” he said.
Stand-off Jake Trueman, who has not played since the semi-final win over Warrington Wolves last month, is expected to feature.
“He has trained well, he’s ready to go,” Powell insisted.
“It hasn’t been the ideal prep’ for him, but he is a quality player and a tough player as well so he’ll handle it okay.”
Theo Fages has been drafted into Saints’ squad in place of Sione Mata’utia – brother of Tigers’ Peter – who was suspended for one match following an incident in last week’s win at Wakefield Trinity.
Castleford Tigers: from Evalds, Olpherts, Mata’utia, Shenton, Trueman, Richardson, Watts, McShane, Millington, Holmes, Blair, Milner, Massey, Griffin, Foster, Clare, Sene-Lefao, D Smith, Matagi, Turner, O’Brien.
St Helens: Coote, Makinson, Naiqama, Percival, Grace, Lomax, Fages, Walmsley, Roby, Lees, Thompson, Knowles, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Amor, Paasi, Welsby, A Smith, Batchelor, Dodd, Simm, Norman.
Referee: Liam Moore (Wigan).
Kick-off: Today, 3pm, at Wembley.