THERE IS no big secret behind Castleford Tigers’ dominant recent league record against Leeds Rhinos, their coach Daryl Powell reckons. It is just a matter of playing well.
Castleford lost four and drew one of the teams’ first five encounters after Powell took charge in 2013, but since then they have won eight in a row in Super League, though Rhinos had the last laugh with a comprehensive victory in last October’s Betfred Grand Final.
“I just think we have played well against Leeds, that’s the only reason really,” said Powell, whose team face Rhinos again at Elland Road on Friday night. “Before that it was a poor record against them.”
But Powell reckons the sides have been more evenly-matched than recent results suggest. He added: “We’ve been motivated against Leeds and played well a number of times, but there’s been some tough tussles.
“The game at the Magic Weekend last year was like a play-off game, really tough. I remember going in at half-time thinking it was like a hospital ward, there were people really struggling. The intensity of the games has been awesome at times and I would expect something similar on Friday evening.”
Despite Tigers’ upper hand in league meetings, Rhinos have beaten them twice in major finals, at Wembley in 2014 and Old Trafford last year.
Friday will be the sides’ first competitive showdown since the Grand Final, but Powell insisted: “I don’t think we need to talk about it too much.
“Clearly it was a disappointing end to last season for us. You get motivation from different things and the way it ended, regardless of who we were playing against, I think is going to play a part this season.
“But we’re not going to jump up and down about it. It is a game that’s important to us, we are trying to piece our combinations together and we are still working hard on that.
“Benny Roberts in particular is getting better week on week and when he gets his game together – and he is looking like that in practice – then I think we will come a little bit closer to our best. There are some good signs from us at the moment, but we are a work in progress.”
They are just a quality group of players. It was a tough game for them, Saints have been on fire, but they found a way to win and they have good players in every position so we know it will be a real challenge for us.Castleford Tigers’ boss, Daryl Powell
Rhinos have won four of their opening five games and ended leaders St Helens’ unbeaten record last Friday. Powell, who ended his playing career at Leeds and moved into coaching there, warned: “It doesn’t matter who’s playing does it?
“They are just a quality group of players. It was a tough game for them, Saints have been on fire, but they found a way to win and they have good players in every position so we know it will be a real challenge for us.”
Tigers have also suffered only one loss this year, at Saints in round one, but have had three weekends without a game. The visit of Wigan Warriors two days ago was their second game to be frozen off this year and Powell admitted: “It is frustrating.
“We haven’t been able to get any fluency to our season, but it is what it is and there’s not much can do.
“The table is a little bit unbalanced, Warrington have played seven games and we’ve played four, but we just have to crack on.”
Of Tigers’ fixture backlog, Powell stressed: “I don’t see any point in worrying about it. There’s the international weekend which takes care of one of the games.
“We’ve just got to keep winning games and chipping away. I think we’ve stabilised really well after that initial smack in the chops we got at St Helens.
“We’ve just got to keep improving and I think we’re doing that and getting a little bit better each week. There’s a number of areas we need to keep improving, but I think we are in a good place. We’ll go week to week and just keep getting better as a team, hopefully.”
He added: “You want to be playing week to week so it has been difficult, particularly with the changes in combinations. We’ve got a new half in there and a new full-back.
“That’s been the most difficult thing so you’ve got to get as much as you can out of practice. Training’s been a lot more intense over the last week or two, based on the fact we know what’s coming up in the next block – really difficult games and tough challenges – and the fact the team needs to spend more time together. We’ve done some things a little bit different over the last couple of weeks.”
Powell was a Leeds United season ticket holder in his teens and is relishing seeing his team run out at Elland Road.
Rhinos are hoping for a Super League record crowd of more than 25,000 and Powell said: “Elland Road is a decent surface and we’re looking forward to getting out on the field again.
“Both clubs, particularly Leeds, have put a lot of stall by this game.
“It is a little bit different, it is a quality stadium and it’s going to be a bigger than normal crowd, you’d expect.
“I think everybody’s excited about it, we certainly are.”
Powell confirmed his squad will be similar to the one named last week.
Greg Eden and Joe Wardle remain on the casualty list and are “a while away”, Oliver Holmes will serve a one-game ban and new signing Liam Watts is still suspended.