Castleford Tigers’ entire season – and Daryl Powell’s farewell campaign – is pinned on this Betfred Challenge Cup final.
This has been a disjointed year not only in sport but life in general, but for Cas, today has provided a purpose – get to Wembley and go one better than they did in 2014. For one game like this, league form can go out of the window, and the Tigers have got memories of their semi-final win over Warrington to look at for that.
They’ve had so much invested in this cup run – two golden point victories and being massive underdogs against the Wolves. There’s money in the bank there, and they have players as well as Daryl leaving at the end of the season, which gives them extra motivation.
But the key for them is that every single player needs to play well – this isn’t a game where four or five can stand up for them, or one man has a great game and wins the Lance Todd Trophy. It has to be a 17-man effort, a coalition of the willing.
There are three key components for Castleford – Daryl Powell coming up with the right game plan, Paul McShane then orchestrating it on the field, and the other 16 players all buying in and all playing their part. If that happens then I give them a chance.
Saints probably have to have an off day as well – their form has been sketchy even in the Challenge Cup, although like all good teams they find a way to win. In all of their matches they’ve been tested and fought for each other to come through it. They will also know that if they want to go down as one of the great teams in Super League history then they need to add a Challenge Cup to their titles.
What I like about Saints is their defence – their attack has been a bit inconsistent and spluttery, but they defend hard for each other and have great line speed.
They also have a wonderful brains trust in their side – the spine of Lachlan Coote, Jonny Lomax, Theo Fages and James Roby can guide them around the park and take a lot of juice out of Cas.
The other two factors to consider are the 40,000 plus crowd – which players haven’t been used to recently – and how hot it could be out on the field on the day.
I’m expecting a tight game for a long time and then somebody with electric pace – possibly Regan Grace – to break it wide open. After that I see Saints finishing strongly to win.
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