TOMORROW’S HOSTS Castleford Tigers are genuine title contenders, Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington says.
Hetherington has hailed the “remarkable” job done by his old mate Daryl Powell since taking over the Tigers helm a year ago today.
Tigers were 12th in Super League when Powell was appointed, but will go into tomorrow’s derby at home to Leeds in third spot, having lost just three times this year.
Hetherington made Powell his first signing when he formed Sheffield Eagles in 1984. He also recruited him as a player at Leeds and appointed him coach in April, 2001.
Powell was in charge of Leeds until October 2003 and will be coaching against his former club in a competitive game for the first time tomorrow.
“Daryl has done an outstanding job and they are certainly the most improved team in Super League,” Hetherington said.
“They play a really exciting brand of rugby and the terrific spirit in the team is very evident. People questioned how they would fare without Rangi Chase, but Daryl has got his players playing to the best of their ability.
“When I saw them at the start of the year I was surprised at how good they looked and they have maintained that through the course of the season.”
Powell had a spell in rugby union after leaving Rhinos, then led Featherstone Rovers to three successive top of the table finishes in the second tier Championship.
Hetherington added: “Daryl made a fairly immediate impact last year. Castleford were at a low ebb, but he has put a new culture in place, which is one of his fortes.
“He has got them to be real title contenders and that is a remarkable achievement over a short space of time.
“They have beaten Warrington and Wigan this year and they have shown themselves to be a pretty formidable outfit.”
Hetherington said he always believed Powell had the potential to be a top coach. He stated: “He has always had outstanding leadership qualities and he was captain of Sheffield Eagles at 19.
“He did an outstanding job for Leeds as a player and as a coach he took over when we were in a difficult phase and made a very significant contribution.
“He oversaw significant improvements and also brought in a raft of young players, gave them opportunities and sowed the seeds for the success that followed.
“His contribution was never really recognised, but it was a significant one.”
Meanwhile, Hetherington admitted Rhinos will have their hands full tomorrow night.
“It is great to see both teams in the top-three,” he said. “But whenever Leeds and Cas come together it doesn’t really matter what their form is.
“Coming from Cas I know the whole town gets together when Leeds come to town and that will certainly be the case this time.
“Daryl is a Cas lad with fond memories of his time at Leeds, so it will be a big occasion for him and for their other ex-Leeds players.
“It is a significant game for both teams and the crowd will play a big part. Cas fans are very passionate and I hope Leeds fans travel in great numbers.
“It will be a great boost to the players if, when they run out, they see the railway end of the ground full of Leeds fans.”