THERE are plenty of uncanny similarities between the dominant Manchester City side currently cutting a swathe through the Premier League and the Castleford Tigers team that ruled Super League for so much of 2017.
City, for instance, have produced some utterly sublime football while stitching together a record-extending 18 successive league wins so far, much as Castleford did when surging to a first League Leaders’ Shield by a record 10-point margin.
Similarly, their style – with David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne playing with such panache – has been so aesthetically pleasing that people are being implored to go witness them in action just as many urged folk to go watch Luke Gale, Michael Shenton, Zak Hardaker and co ruthlessly destroy teams at Wheldon Road.
Obviously, though, there is one major difference here.
Whereas Pep Guardiola’s side – even having only just passed the campaign’s halfway mark – are almost certain to be crowned champions, already being 15 points clear of their nearest rivals, Castleford did not have it quite as easy.
Super League’s play-off system, of course, meant Daryl Powell’s side had to negotiate two extra games. Admittedly, they beat St Helens in a truly epic semi-final, but, crucially, lost the biggest tie of all – their maiden Grand Final.
It was a real tough thing to take but ultimately we’ve moved on, we’re in a good place and I think our squad’s strong again regardless of a couple of people leaving. We look in a good place to go well again.Daryl Powell
Victors Leeds Rhinos ruled once again leaving a bitter taste in the mouth of Castleford fans as their 91-year wait for a first championship continues.
Powell is known to like heading to Knaresborough the day after a loss, to enjoy the tranquillity of the River Nidd while attempting to banish the frustrations of a defeat. After that sobering October night at Old Trafford, though, destroyed 24-6, it would have been understandable if he was still there now mulling things over.
“We went to Dublin straight after so it was probably Guinness that got rid of some of the pain,” joked Powell, to The Yorkshire Post.
“It was pretty tough. I’ve been involved in a few games where you don’t get what you want at the end of the season and you don’t then have anything else to look forward to, so it is really hard.
“It was really tough for everyone to take with what happened with Zak (Hardaker) and then what happened in the game. We didn’t do ourselves justice and played so poorly. Probably the majority of our team played as poorly as they could.
“But the things that whack you around the chops generally define you a little bit and I think we’ll learn a lot from it.
“We’re going to need to go well again this year so we’ll use all the things we learned last time: one, about how good we are and, two, about winning big games. We have a lot of really high-quality players who have got to become big-game players. That is the challenge for us this year.”
The issue with Hardaker, of course, was Castleford discovering just two days before the Grand Final that their influential England full-back had tested positive for cocaine, forcing the club to drop someone who had made the Man of Steel shortlist.
But how does he turn the class of 2017 into ‘big-game’ in 2018?
“It’s experience,” he said.
“There is some coaching elements and you always have to look at yourself and what you’ve done leading into big games.
“It was pretty hard, though, to see what was going to happen in this game (re Hardaker).
“We just didn’t get it right. We made so many errors. We didn’t handle the conditions well.
“But we now have a lot of players who have played in a Grand Final. We had one before that (Shenton) and that wasn’t a successful one. It was a real tough thing to take, but ultimately we’ve moved on, we’re in a good place and I think our squad’s strong again regardless of a couple of people leaving. We look in a good place to go well again.”
In years to come, though, what will be the overriding recollection of 2017: regret at what happened at Old Trafford or joy at what was achieved beforehand?
Powell knows already. He said: “I thought it was an incredible year for us. We were the most consistent team by a distance, winning the League Leaders’ by 10 clear points. That takes a bit of doing. We had some massive results and performances where we were just clearly head and shoulders above everybody else.
“We had some players come through and really put themselves forward for being stars of the future. I don’t think we’re going to be defined by one game. Ultimately we’re defined by what we did and what we created as a club and as a group of players. We created history as the first Castleford team to ever finish top so it was a significant season for us.”