WINNING THE league leaders’ shield is Castleford Tigers’ ticket into an elite club, coach Daryl Powell believes.
Three victories in the Betfred Super-8s will mathematically guarantee top spot and Tigers will secure a home semi-final place if they win tonight’s opener against St Helens at the Jungle.
Powell reckons pole position will mean Tigers, relegated twice from Super League in the past, can now be regarded as a giant of the European game.
But he insisted there will be no easing off even when that goal is achieved and tonight’s game is an opportunity to strike a psychological blow against one of Tigers’ possible Grand Final rivals.
“We want to be seen as an elite club,” Powell stressed.
“We’ve been there or thereabouts for the last few years and now we’ve got a great chance to be part of that group.
“We have to stay positive, stay focused, keep working hard and keep picking points up.
“Any one of these teams we are playing against could be in the Grand Final and you want to make sure you’ve got the ascendancy in the way you perform.”
Powell admitted Tigers’ 10-point lead going into the eights is a “substantial benefit”, but he added: “It’s almost a case of put that to one side and don’t think about it too much. It’s about winning games now and creating some momentum.
“You can’t hide away from the fact finishing top for us would be a significant achievement – it has never been done at the club before – but then there’s the small matter of the play-off game and the Grand Final.
“We are in an unbelievable position to have a home game to get to a Grand Final and we’ve been pretty tough to beat here.
“I think it’s important we maintain that home form and this is the best possible game for us to start off.
“It will be a really tough game and I think we’ll have to be right at our best to win it.”
Powell warned: “They’ll come and challenge us in every department.
“We’ve got to turn up and play well.
“We take confidence from the fact we know we can beat everybody if we play well, but ultimately you’ve got to deliver on the day.”
Second-rower Oliver Holmes could make his fifth appearance of the season for Tigers – and first since April – after recovering from a knee problem.
Hooker Adam Milner (ankle) and prop Larne Patrick (illness) are also set to return, but Kevin Larroyer drops out due to suspension. Saints expect to welcome back influential half-back Matty Smith, who has missed three games due to a facial injury, but Luke Douglas (knee) misses out.
Castleford Tigers: from Cook, Foster, Gale, Hardaker, Hitchcox, O Holmes, T Holmes, Lynch, Massey, McMeeken, McShane, Millington, Milner, Minikin, Monaghan, Patrick, Roberts, Sene-Lefao, Shenton.
St Helens: from Lomax, Makinson, Morgan, Percival, Fages, Smith, Walmsley, Roby, Amor, Wilkin, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Thompson, Lee, Peyroux, Knowles, Richardson, Grace, Lees, Taia.
Referee: Robert Hicks (Oldham).
Kick-off: Tonight, 8pm.