TOMORROW’S TRIP to Hull is Castleford Tigers’ toughest challenge of the season so far and will test their title credentials, coach Daryl Powell says.
Hull have won their opening two matches, scoring 50 points in the process and conceding only 30.
They are a point ahead of Tigers, who drew at Hull KR before a 40-6 thrashing of Wakefield Trinity Wildcats almost two weeks ago.
The East Yorkshire outfit, boosted by the addition of New Zealand Test forward Frank Pritchard and captain Gareth Ellis’ return to fitness, look like contending for honours this year – after finishing eighth in 2015 – and Powell sees them as a real danger.
“I thought they would go well,” he said. “If you look at their recruitment you have got to say that has been pretty good.
“They have signed some high-profile players and look really strong.
“They were really good against Catalans and they put Salford away pretty easily – and they have been good since.
“The competition as a whole is really interesting at the moment and this is our biggest test so far.
“We have talked a lot about top-four and these are the defining moments when you play against teams like this, even though it is still early days.
“When you play against the better teams you find out a lot about yourselves in games like this.
“I am pretty sure Hull will be saying the same things, though they will feel they have answered a lot of questions with the win against Catalans away.”
This is a big year for Hull’s coach Lee Radford, who has endured some tough times since taking over in 2013.
Powell added: “They look strong across the board.
“They look a good team, they look like they are together.
“Lee Radford has done a pretty good job in terms of that.
“He copped a fair bit of stick, but he has held firm and he has got to be applauded for the way he has pulled this team together.
“They are going to be a threat to everyone this year. They look like they have got the players [to be title contenders].
“Obviously it depends on injuries and durability as you go through the season, but they certainly look like they are going to be a threat.
“We are hoping we are going to be a challenge this year as well, so these games become important.
“Even though they are early in the season, they are crucial games.”
Powell will select from the same initial squad as the game against Wakefield in round two, when Ryan Hampshire and Will Maher were 18th and 19th man.
Michael Shenton and Frankie Mariano are on the casualty list, but Powell said: “We are looking okay. We looked pretty good last time out and the squad is the same.
“Whether I tweak a few things in it we will see, but I am not going to change too much.”
That means on-loan Wigan Warriors back Ryan Hampshire could have to wait longer for his Cas debut.
Powell said: “The half-backs have been pretty good so far.
“Obviously Ryan is keen to get himself in there and, at the moment, he just needs to be patient and keep working hard.
“He will get an opportunity and then he has just got to take it.”