ENGLAND FORWARD Mike McMeeken reckons the competition is about to get tougher.
Castleford Tigers begin their Betfred Super-8s campaign away to Wigan Warriors tonight knowing they are already virtually assured of a semi-final place.
The target is to knock Wigan out of second spot and secure a home tie in the play-offs. With Wigan just one point ahead that battle is likely to go down to the wire, but McMeeken predicts even the sides with little to play for will be dangerous over the next seven rounds.
“With the teams in the Super-8s this year I don’t think there’s any easy games,” warned the back-rower. “Huddersfield are on great form and Catalans showed how good they are last week [beating St Helens in a Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-final].
“Every one is a tough game and we have to make sure we are on our game every week. You can’t have a game off.”
Of tonight’s challenge, McMeeken said: “Whenever you play Wigan it’s always going to be a tough game.
Second is a key spot, getting that home semi-final, but at the moment it is just making sure we knock off each week as it comes.Mike McMeeken
“Obviously we’ve had a bit of time off and a bit of a freshen up, we’ve hit the ground running this week and we’re ready for them. Second is a key spot, getting that home semi-final, but at the moment it is just making sure we knock off each week as it comes.
“We can’t look too far ahead. We’ve got Wigan and then Warrington next week so two very tough games in succession.
“We are in a really strong position now and it’s one we can really kick on from.
“We’ve got some tough games on the road, but also four home games which is really key for us.”
Tigers have slipped two places from last year when they topped the regular-season table by 10 points, but McMeeken believes this season has been just as impressive considering their injury woes.
“We’ve been without Galey [Luke Gale] for a big chunk of it and he is a key player for us,” he said. “We’ve got ourselves into a good position and the squad’s really shown how good we are.
“We didn’t start off the greatest, but to get ourselves into third position come the end of the regular season was a massive achievement and we’re really proud of where we’ve finished. Obviously we’re not 10 points clear at the top, but going forward it’s a strong position and we’re looking to build form for the semi-finals.”
McMeeken made his comeback from knee and hamstring injuries when Tigers won at Widnes in the final round of the regular season almost two weeks ago. He admitted: “It has been a bit frustrating.
“Everyone picks up injuries, it’s just how I bounce back from it. I am looking to improve myself each week and get myself into good form towards the back end of the Super-8s.
“They looked after me when I came back against Widnes. I only played about 60 minutes so I got a bit of game time which is what I needed before the break.
“This week we’ve been working hard on the field and that’s helped me again so it’s just a case of making sure I keep on improving each week. The injury’s all good now so I’m just looking forward to kicking on.”
Joe Wardle is set to return from an ankle injury tonight and Jake Webster, Will Maher and Kieran Gill are in contention. Peter Mata’utia (hamstring) drops out along with Calum Turner.
Wigan welcome back George Williams from injury and could give a debut to young prop Oliver Partington.
Wigan Warriors: from: Bateman, Clubb, Davies, Escare, Flower, Greenwood, Hamlin, Isa, Kibula, Leuluai, Marshall, Navarrete, Partington, Powell, Sarginson, Sutton, Tomkins, Williams, Woods.
Castleford Tigers: from Clare, Clark, Eden, Ellis, Gill, Holmes, Laulu-Togaga’e, Maher, Massey, McMeeken, McShane, Milner, Moors, Sene-Lefao, Shenton, Trueman, Wardle, Watts, Webster.
Referee: James Child (Dewsbury).
Kick-off: Today, 7.45pm.