Fit-again Castleford Tigers’ Niall Evalds striving to make it back-to-back Wembley Challenge Cup finals
STAR FULL-BACK Niall Evalds is “hopeful” of being available for Castleford Tigers’ Betfred Challenge Cup semi-final against Warrington Wolves.
A calf injury kept Evalds out of Tigers’ past two games, but he has been included in coach Daryl Powell’s initial 21-man squad for tomorrow’s tie at Leigh.
Evalds was a Challenge Cup runner-up with Salford Red Devils last year and his inclusion in Saturday’s 17 would be a huge boost for a team who are on the back of three successive league defeats, including a record 60-6 home loss to Leeds Rhinos a week ago.
“I am hopeful,” the England squad member said of his chances of featuring tomorrow.
“We’ll see how training goes, but I am hopeful I will be out there with the boys.”
Evalds joined Tigers from Salford in the off season and recently agreed a two-year extension to his contract, which was initially for 2021 only.
Despite playing in two finals for Salford, the 27-year-old said games like tomorrow are “what I came here for”.
He said: “It’s what you dream of as a kid, playing in semi-finals and finals.
“These chances don’t come around very often, so we are all excited and hoping for a big performance on Saturday.”
Evalds can see similarities between Tigers and last year’s Salford side who beat hot favourites Warrington at the semi-final stage before losing by a point to Leeds at Wembley.
He was injured and missed the last-four tie, before returning for the Wembley showpiece.
“I think it’s a similar hard-working team,” Evalds said. “But it is just about nailing a performance on game day.
“The thing about the Challenge Cup is form goes out the window.
“It is just about who handles that pressure and works hardest on the day.
“Who executes the gameplan and does all the things that add up to you getting the win.
“We know we are facing a good Warrington side who have had a good run of form recently.
“They’ve had some good wins, including last week and we are coming off a bad loss.
“The form is polar opposites, but all that counts for nothing on Saturday and it’s just who wants it more for 80 minutes.”
Evalds has played in two of the European game’s last three major finals, having also featured for Salford in the 2019 Super League decider.
“Back-to-back Wembley appearances would be nice,” he admitted.
“But we have talked about doing it for this group of boys and for Powelly.
“It is obviously his last year here and we have a lot of motivation to get to Wembley. We have just got to nail that performance, but we are all ready to go.”
This year’s final, on July 17, will be the authentic Wembley experience after the 2020 decider was played behind closed doors because of the pandemic.
Evalds described that as “weird” and admitted he would love to play at a full national stadium, though Tigers have yet to win since spectators were allowed back last month.
“We are excited, I think everyone in rugby league and sport in general is glad fans are gradually coming back in,” he stated.
“It just makes the atmosphere so much better.
“We are glad to see them back and we are just hoping to reward them with a good performance on Saturday and hopefully a Wembley appearance.”
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