CASTLEFORD TIGERS are battle-hardened and ready to go.
After a positive closed-season, coach Daryl Powell’s men are looking to hit the ground running in their Betfred Super League round-one clash with visitors Leigh Centurions tonight.
Tigers underlined their top-four credentials with a 22-6 win at St Helens in their final warm-up game, but Powell reckons promoted Leigh will present a major challenge.
“Pre-season has been awesome, but this is for points, this is the start of Super League and I think there’s only one game that would be tougher than this to start the season – and that would be Leigh away,” Powell said.
“Nobody wants to play the promoted team, so we have got to be aware of what they will come at us with. They have got good players in every position and some ex-Cas players. Ryan Hampshire and Ben Crooks both know a fair bit about us.
“They will have been looking at every single bit of our play – and have inside knowledge – for the past month probably.
“We are going to need to be good. Everything we are good at we are going to need to be exceptional at.
“We have got to be able to quell the fire they are going to be coming at us with.”
But if Tigers are serious about breaking into the top-four this year, tonight is just the sort of test they have to pass.
“Without a doubt,” Powell said. “Starting the season well nowadays, with 23 rounds before the cut-off, is really important.
“We have got a really difficult start with Leigh at home and then Warrington away. It’s an interesting start.
“We’ve got a week in between those because of the World Club Challenge, but those are two games that any team that thinks it can do something in terms of being there at the back end of the competition needs to do well in.”
Tigers finished fifth last year, despite an horrendous injury list; Powell feels they are in far better shape now.
“We have lost Luke Dorn, who was an exceptional attacking full-back and he understood our game implicitly,” he said.
“He knew everything about it and he dictated some of it as well. Zak Hardaker is different – an outstanding attacking player in his own right, but an even better defender.
“We are trying to get better at exactly that so it’s significant he has come in in that position.
“Forward-pack-wise there’s not been too many changes, but Jesse Sene-Fefao has come in and done really well and people are improving around him.
“Mike McMeeken looks really strong and Paul McShane looks like he is reaching his potential as a player.
“Players have improved and I think the new ones who’ve come in have done really well. Greg Eden, Jesse and Zak have really complemented and added to what we already had.”
Castleford Tigers: from Chase, Cook, Eden, Gale, Hardaker, Lynch, Massey, McMeeken, McShane, Millington, Milner, Minikin, Monaghan, Moors, Roberts, Sene-Lefao, Shenton, Springer, Webster.
Leigh Centurions: from Brown, Higson, Crooks, Tonga, Dawson,Ridyard, Drinkwater, Hock, Weston, Paterson, Stewart, Hansen, Pelissier, Tickle, Vea, Hampshire, Reynolds, Hood, Green.
Referee: Robert Hicks (Oldham).
Kick-off: Tonight, 8pm.