2017 was a brilliant year if you were associated with the Castleford Tigers; a team who occasionally challenged the big boys, but never became one themselves.
They wanted to change that and that’s exactly what they did.
With halfback Luke Gale becoming more prolific game by game, Paul McShane excelling in the role of hooker, Greg Eden back in England after a spell in the NRL with the Brisbane Broncos and Zak Hardaker making the unpopular switch to Castleford from Leeds, the Tigers were onto something good.
Jesse Sene-Lafao joined from Australia, boosting the Tigers forward pack immensely. With Denny Solomona leaving at the end of 2016 to switch codes to Rugby Union, Castleford were really left in the thick of it.
Nevertheless, they had two very capable replacements ready to help the Black and Amber conquer Super League. Step up Greg Minikin and Greg Eden- Daryl Powell and his Tigers were ready to roll.
The season began with a thrashing of newly promoted Leigh Centurions, beating the then-Neil Jukes’ side 44-16.
The Warrington Wolves are normally one of the teams to beat most years, although in 2017 this was not the case. Warrington’s abysmal season gave the Tigers room to manoeuvre in the top four.
One of the fans favourite Rugby League rivalries is when Castleford Tigers play the Leeds Rhinos. This one would be an extraordinary win for Powell’s men, who romped to a 66-10 obliteration.
‘Classy Cas’ as they were dubbed by many were to lose their first match after opening with five straight wins, before succumbing to a late 13-12 loss at the hands of Salford Red Devils.
Castleford did then produce six wins on the bounce and people started to truly believe that they were the real deal, coming up to the Easter period.
Was Powell The Key?
The key factor into how Castleford’s success was propelled in 2017 was the role of head coach Daryl Powell.
He has always been a hands-on coach; one who likes to man manage and get the best out of his players.
Players like Nathan Massey, Mike McMeeken, Jake Webster and Adam Milner have all become better under the management and direction of Powell and his backroom team.
The one thing about this club is that they have become an extremely good side in such a short space of time.
In 2015, they finished 6th after the super 8s and then in 2016 they finished 5th, coming agonisingly close, but not close enough.
The one thing that’s still unanswered is how their success was brought on in 2017. Well we’ve already discussed how Daryl Powell was and still is hugely influential, but there a many unsung heroes within Castleford Tigers as an organisation.
One being the fans. They have seen some very tough times at the Jungle and they have always seen their team come close to becoming big and they’ve deserved a bit of luck.
This luck came at just the right time in 2017. As spoke about previously, Warrington were nowhere near as strong as they’ve been in previous years, Wigan were not up amongst the top four until the table split and, for the majority of the season, neither were the Leeds Rhinos, which paved the way for Castleford.
Castleford have always been a small club- never one as big as St Helens, Wigan or Leeds. They are a club with ambition and this was shown in 2017- the year of the Tigers.