Inside RL with Peter Smith: Castleford Tigers lead the way as local clubs prosper

Castleford Tigers' 'Mike McMeeken celebrates with Ben Roberts and Jake Webster.
Castleford Tigers' 'Mike McMeeken celebrates with Ben Roberts and Jake Webster.
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SIX OF the seven teams covered by the Yorkshire Evening Post can look back on the regular season with a sense of satisfaction.

The one disappointment were Hunslet, who failed to qualify for the Kingstone Press League One Super-8s.

Dewsbury Rams coach, Neil Kelly. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Dewsbury Rams coach, Neil Kelly. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Tenth place on the table left the Parksiders as the lowest-ranked long-established club in the division, but they could yet salvage some pride in the Shield competition.

Confirmation Gary Thornton will continue as coach next year has given Hunslet some stability.

Finances are tight, but Thornton will have an opportunity to build his own squad between now and next February and Hunslet should do better in 2018.

Batley Bulldogs slipped three places from third in the Championship in 2016 to sixth this year. They over-achieved last term and it was always going to be a tall order for new boss Matt Diskin to replicate that success.

Leeds Rhinos' new kid on the block, Jack Walker. PIC: Tony Johnson

Leeds Rhinos' new kid on the block, Jack Walker. PIC: Tony Johnson

It took a while for the players to adjust to a new way of doing things, but they won five of their last seven games in the regular season and are going into the eights in good shape.

Featherstone Rovers will compete in the Qualifiers for a second successive year, which is an outstanding achievement for a part-time club, though back-to-back defeats at the end of the campaign cost them third spot.

Chairman Mark Campbell expected better, hence his decision to sack coach Jon Sharp after the penultimate game of the league season, but Rovers are the country’s second-highest part-time team and they have progressed on the field – in terms of performances – this year, as well as off it.

Extra income generated in the middle-eights should help them to continue moving forward next term.

When Neil Kelly took charge in April, Dewsbury Rams had lost all eight of their Championship fixtures, were second-bottom on the table and looked doomed to relegation.

Fifteen games and eight wins later Rams are up to eighth – fifth from bottom – and have secured four home games in the Shield.

With a five-point cushion between them and second-bottom Oldham, Rams are close to securing their Championship place for next season.

Kelly was out of rugby league from 2010 to 2017 and other chairman must be wondering why they didn’t bring him back to the sport sooner, but credit to Rams’ Mark Sawyer for an inspired appointment.

Super League this year has been all about Castleford Tigers, who have appeared to be playing a completely different sport at times.

A 10-point lead going into the Super-8s tells its own story. Tigers still have something to prove in really big games, but in recent weeks they have shown they can win close matches and with key players unavailable.

Castleford’s defence has improved this year and they can score tries from anywhere. They have a big, mobile pack playing in front of backs with pace and finishing power, organised by two quality halves.

How they cope with what will effectively be seven meaningless matches in the eights remains to be seen, but top spot for the first time in the club’s history is already virtually assured and that’s a superb achievement in itself.

Having been in touching distance of third place at the end of the regular season, Wakefield Trinity were disappointed to finish fifth.

That shows how far they have come under coach Chris Chester.

Trinity’s improvement has been built on smart recruitment and an outstanding team spirit and – with only points difference separating Wakefield from the semi-final places – they are genuine Grand Final contenders.

Wakefield have exceeded expectations this year, as have Leeds Rhinos. The double is still a possibility for the Headingley outfit who have bounced back from the traumas of last year in good style. Coach Brian McDermott was mocked back in March when he said he believed Rhinos could go on to win the Grand Final. That no longer looks so far fetched.