CASTLEFORD TIGERS are aiming to take a leaf out of champions Wigan Warriors’ book as they aim to shake off their nearly-men tag this year.
Tigers finished third in Betfred Super League 2018, but were beaten at home by St Helens in the Challenge Cup and lost their play-off semi-final at Wigan.
The previous season’s league leaders won only one of eight meetings with Super League’s top-two last year in all competitions and coach Daryl Powell wants his players to be tougher in crunch games.
It is an approach supported by captain Michael Shenton who insists Tigers’ players and staff have identified where they went wrong last season and what needs putting right.
“We know the areas we’ve got to improve on, our fitness and defence,” Shenton confirmed.
“That has been our focus, it is where we fell short last year.
Wigan are a really tough team, tough defensively to break down, so we’ve got to take a leaf out of their book a little bit.Michael Shenton
“We are working on those and it [training] has been good.
“Wigan, who have done well in years past, are a really tough team, tough defensively to break down, so we’ve got to take a leaf out of their book a little bit.
“We want to improve in those areas and we are working on that kind of stuff and hopefully it pays dividends for us moving forward.”
Tigers suffered a hammer blow on Saturday when 2017 Man of Steel Luke Gale, who was recovering from knee surgery, suffered a suspected rupture of an Achilles tendon in training.
He is facing a long lay-off and his loss adds to a couple of early injury concerns. Though Gale is a tough act to follow, stand-off Jacob Trueman is now fully fit after a hand injury suffered at the end of last season and half-back Cory Aston impressed in Tigers’ opening pre-season win over Featherstone Rovers.
Shenton said they can’t dwell on pre-season setbacks.
“There’s been bits in there where things haven’t been as smooth as we’d like,” he admitted.
“We’ve had a few blokes out who’ve had operations and we lost Olly Holmes and Will Maher early [in pre-season].
“We’ve just had to get on with it, but that’s what it’s like during the season. You have times when your squad has got to step up and that’s what we are doing in training.”
Tigers are the only Super League club not to have made any signings since the end of last season, though former Leeds Rhinos forward Chris Clarkson has joined them on trial, but Shenton reckons stability will suit them this year.
“It is a bit of a shorter pre-season than what we are used to, but in the four or five weeks we’ve been in it has been good,” added the captain.
“The basis of our squad has stayed the same and that’s a real benefit for us. Everyone knows where we need to get better and what our standards are and how we play really. There’ll be some tweaks in there, but it pretty much looks the same.”
Of Castleford’s lack of recruitment, Shenton pointed out: “We brought in a couple of really strong players last year in Liam Watts and Peter Mata’utia.
“We are really confident [in the squad]. Full-back was a big issue for us last year and Pete has come in and looks pretty classy at the back.
“I can’t wait to play a full season with him after a full pre-season training with him. That is a big area we will improve on this year, having an established full-back.”
On a personal note, Shenton said he is “feeling great” ahead of what will be his 13th Super League season.
He said: “We had six or seven weeks off so it was great to get away from it and rest the body and do a bit of individual training, but I have enjoyed this bit of a different pre-season Powelly and the coaching staff have thrown at us. It has been challenging, but it has been a good one.
“Everyone has stepped up and there’s a real good feel about the camp at the moment.”
Meanwhile, Clarkson, who has been without a club since leaving Hull KR at the end of last season, is relishing the chance to impress Tigers’ coaching staff. He said: “I was over the moon to get the phone call from Castleford.
“Cas have been doing well for so many years now. It will be good for me to fit in with these lads and just train with them for a few weeks and see what I can do. I’m really looking forward to it.”