WHATEVER HAPPENS over the final weeks of the season, scrum-half Luke Gale reckons 2015 has been a valuable learning experience for Castleford Tigers.
After a poor start, when they lost their opening three games, Tigers forced their way into play-offs contention and are still in with a chance of a semi-final place after finishing fifth at the end of the regular First Utility Super League rounds.
Injuries and a handful of close defeats have proved costly, but Gale believes more positives have come out of the season than negatives.
“We’ve done it tough this year,” said the former Leeds Rhinos academy half-back.
“The start of the year wasn’t too great and we need to start next season a bit better, but I think we have shown some great character.”
Tigers were tipped to struggle this year following the departure of key players including Man of Steel Daryl Clark and long-serving prop Craig Huby.
But Gale insisted: “To be fifth, I think it is a massive effort.
“I think we have got a great squad and whatever happens we will be better for it.
“We are looking forward to next year already.
“I think we have got a great thing going on down here, it is happy times and a great future.”
One big lesson is how to react when things begin to go wrong.
Tigers led 10-0 at Huddersfield Giants last week, but conceded four tries after Mike McMeeken had been sin-binned en route to a 40-26 defeat.
Gale reflected: “We have got to keep our heads up.
“I thought we showed some character last week, but we had a bad 20-minute period in the first half.
“We had a bit of adversity with the yellow card and we didn’t react too well to it.
“They put a few points on us.
“We were missing a few players, but we showed some character.
“A few decisions went against us here and there and we need to be a bit smarter.
“We got back to within four points, but we weren’t quite smart enough.
“Huddersfield are a good side and they don’t give you much.
“They put some quick points on us and we just couldn’t come back from it, but it was a decent performance and we will brush ourselves down and get ready for Thursday.”
With three games left to play – including this week’s visit of St Helens and trips to the top two of Leeds Rhinos and Wigan Warriors – Tigers are four points adrift of Huddersfield Giants and Saints, who occupy the final two semi-final spots.
If Tigers lose to Saints in two days’ time and Huddersfield beat visitors Warrington Wolves on Sunday, Cas’ hopes of qualifying for the play-offs will be over.
“The next three are all must win games,” Gale said.
“It is a tough run-in, but the boys will be up for it.”
Meanwhile, boss Daryl Powell agrees Tigers will need to tighten up on Thursday, against a Saints team coming off the back of a morale-boosting 32-18 win at Leeds.
“We started well last week,” Powell said.
“We were defending well and we caused them a lot of trouble when we got into good field position, but we consistently gave a bit too much away around the middle of the field.
“We got rattled and when we went 10 points down we panicked a little bit.
“It is a key learning experience for us.
“When you are playing in big games like that you need to be a little bit more composed.
“If we had been, we’d have had a better shot at it.
“Huddersfield have got two of the best kickers in the game in attacking positions and they caused us a lot of problems.
“We got ourselves back to within shooting distance in the second half, but we just could not go on with it.”
Powell insisted morale remains high, adding: “The spirit, togetherness and unity of the team is pretty evident though.
“We had a bit of illness in the camp – Oliver Holmes wasn’t fit – but the boys were awesome. It was a pretty special effort under the circumstances.
“The final scoreline was pretty harsh.”