For a club that suffered two relegations in three years (2004 and 2006), finishing high in Super League and competing for Rugby League’s biggest prize wasn’t something that Castleford Tigers have been known for. The previous three seasons have turned their reputation on its head, they went from the Super League strugglers to the team that will be a great side one day, based on their recent league finishes in the previous three seasons (2014 – 4th, 2015 – 5th, 2016 – 5th). 2017 is the year where the club have finally become a great side (2017 – 1st after eighteen games, six points clear).
No doubt the acquisitions have played a big part in the Tigers progression, they targeted the NRL and brought over players who weren’t in the picture at their previous club. The club’s top try scorer this season, Greg Eden, is the perfect example of this. He didn’t see much game time in his stint with the Brisbane Broncos, Castleford coach Darrel Powell provided the player with an opportunity to reignite his career at the club he started his professional career with. With thirty Super League tries in eighteen games so far, Eden is on course to break the Super League try scoring record which stands at forty, set by former Castleford winger Denny Solomona last season.
The capture of Leeds Rhinos full-back Zak Hardaker on a one year loan has been another significant piece of business by the Tigers. After his spell at Penrith didn’t work out, the full-back returned to England and obviously wasn’t going back to Leeds after disagreements which led to his move to Australia in the first place. He has been ever present for the Tigers so far, seventeen appearances and three tries to his name. With the departure of Luke Dorn before the start of the season, it was important that the Tigers signed a quality replacement. Hardaker has been a winner throughout his career, three super league titles and two challenge cups is a great achievement. The Tigers need to be signing more players of this calibre to achieve their targets.
Although their hard work is paying off now, it’s not been an easy ride for the Tigers in recent times. Denny Solomona walked out on the club during the winter, despite having two years remaining on his contract. He stated that he was “retiring” from Rugby League, although it was obvious to see that he was plotting a move to Rugby Union side Sale Sharks. For any club, losing one of your key players in this fashion is a real blow. Castleford have not let this situation affect them, in fact I’d say they’ve improved. Maybe this situation provided them with the fire they needed to improve their fortunes on the pitch. They deserve a pat on the back for how they have dealt with the situation.
The Tigers have had a strong season in 2017, they currently lead the Super League by six points after eighteen games. Their form so far has separated them from the rest, fifteen wins and only three losses is their greatest win to loss ratio of the Super League era at this point. It’s difficult to look past them, their form puts them in a strong position for Grand Final glory. Only four teams (Leeds, Wigan, Bradford and St Helens) have managed to win the Grand Final since Super League began in 1996, proving how difficult it is to achieve this feat. For Castleford to become the fifth, they’ll need some luck in the injury department. It is vital that they keep their players free from injury as best as they possibly can.
It is public knowledge that Castleford Tigers have been crying out for a new stadium, it is what they need to progress to the next step as a club. Winning a Grand Final is also another step that creates progress, in terms of reputation and income. For a club like Castleford, achieving this feat will provide them with further funds to add to their development plans. The Tigers have provided the foundations, they need to keep at this level to catapult themselves in to the rugby elite.