CASTLEFORD TIGERS are already in “play-off mode”, coach Daryl Powell says.
Tigers had Saturday and Sunday off, because of the Coral Challenge Cup final break, but Powell revealed they have stepped up training since their win at Huddersfield Giants on August 18.
Castleford visit Betfred Super League leaders St Helens on Friday at the start of a three-week period which will make or break their season and Powell noted: “I think we are already in play-off mode.”
He said: “We are looking forward to it. I reckon Salford will win [at home to Warrington Wolves] on Thursday night, then we have just got to win games.
“We had some decent sessions last week, we wanted to keep training fast. We know the games leading into the play-offs will be fast so we have stepped our training up a bit.
“The boys had some time off during the earlier Challenge Cup rounds, but we felt we needed to keep training going into what is going to be a really big game for us this week.”
Castleford are sixth in the Betfred Super League table, outside the play-offs zone on for and against, but only two points behind the second-placed Wolves. Warrington make the trip to Salford just five days after their shock Wembley win over St Helens and Powell described their short turnaround as “crazy”.
The game has been brought forward from Sunday for live television coverage and Powell claimed: “Friday for St Helens to turn around is a tough ask, but Thursday is ridiculous.
“They will have been celebrating, no doubt – and they should do – but that’s tough. It could easily create an unbalanced competition, I think the scheduling is abysmal.
“I don’t know whose idea it was, but it is what it is. If we win on Friday and Warrington lose on Thursday we are level with them. It is pretty tight, there’s nothing in it at all.”
Of Tigers’ prospects of a top-five finish, Powell predicted: “We are going to need to win at least two of the three games, I would think.
“After Saints we have got Hull at home and then we are away at Wigan so it is a tough run-in, but if we do get there we will deserve to be there and we will be a threat.
“If not, we won’t have been good enough, but I think we are capable of coming up with three high-quality performances that’ll get us where we need to be.”
Tigers could be boosted this week by the return of prop Liam Watts after two games out with ankle and finger injuries.
He was expected to be sidelined for at least a month, but Powell said: “He has trained twice this week and looked okay.
“There’s a strong chance he will be available again. He is an important player for us; he has been really strong all year.
“He had a little bit of a tail off after playing so many games and minutes for us, but he has had a bit of a breather now and it would be pretty big to get him back in the team for these last three games and, hopefully – fingers crossed – the play-offs.”
Of the rest of his squad, Powell added: “There’s not going to be too many changes. We haven’t got any of the medium- or long-termers coming back so we’ll be reasonably similar to the way we’ve looked in the last couple of games.”