Challenge Cup final 2021: Castleford Tigers head coach Daryl Powell savours memories of his 1999 win

On the wall in Daryl Powell’s garage is a picture of the Leeds Rhinos team he was a part of celebrating their victory over London Broncos in the 1999 Challenge Cup final.

Powell played at stand-off in the 52-10 win at Wembley that day and, this Saturday, will be aiming to repeat that success as a head coach when Castleford Tigers take on St Helens in this year’s final.

That Cup win remains a proud moment for the 55-year-old, although he knows what it is like to be on the losing team as well from his two other final appearances with the Rhinos in 2000 and 2003, and as Castleford boss when they lost to his former club seven years ago.

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All of those experiences have reinforced to Powell just how much these moments need to be savoured, particularly if you finish on the winning team.

“I hadn’t been in a Challenge Cup final until that time and I’d played at Wembley as an international player, but to go there in a Challenge Cup final was absolutely class,” Powell said.

“To win it with Leeds was an unbelievable feeling. You can’t quite express how big it is when you win those games – that was almost a career’s worth, really, and it’s trying to get across to players they don’t come around that often.

“I think Luke Gale, who went there with Leeds (last year), that was his first time and he’s 32. You’ve really got to savour the moments and the chances you get to win such a prestigious trophy.

“Some players are lucky to win it consistently, but for most players it doesn’t happen very often, and you have to savour the memory and the moments.”

There are pictures all around the Mend-A-Hose Jungle as well which serve as a reminder of the club’s history in this competition – the team led by Arthur Atkinson which brought it back to Cas for the first time in 1939, the back-to-back triumphs of 1969 and 1970, and the 1986 triumph which remains their most recent Challenge Cup success.

Powell, who hails from nearby Ackworth, was at Wembley 34 years ago as a supporter cheering on the team coached by Cas icon Mal Reilly and skippered by John Joyner which edged out Hull Kingston Rovers 15-14.

He wants to see the current crop of players join those greats in being immortalised with pictures of their achievements at the Tigers’ home ground, with that being one of the key messages to the squad in the build-up to this weekend’s clash with St Helens.

You can’t quite express how big it is when you win those games – that was almost a career’s worth, really, and it’s trying to get across to players they don’t come around that often.

Castleford head coach Daryl Powell

“It’s just the legacy side of it,” Powell said. “The players’ input has been really important around what does it mean to them because they’re the boys who play the game.

“All around I’m looking at pictures of Challenge Cups being held aloft by Malcolm Reilly and all of the other guys, and it’s fantastic all the way through the history of the club.

“We want to be a part of that and I think the big story is when you’re long gone from this club, those pictures are still here and that’s the important thing for us.”

There is the added subtext of this being Powell’s final season in charge of Castleford before making the switch to Super League rivals Warrington Wolves on a three-year contract from the start of the 2022 season.

Although the Tigers claimed the League Leaders’ Shield in 2017, the sport’s major domestic honours have so far eluded the team in Powell’s eight years in charge during which he has overseen a revival in the club’s fortunes.

Clinching rugby league’s most prestigious knock-out competition would be the perfect way to send him off and Castleford captain Michael Shenton believes the spirit created in the squad by Powell has been a big part of turning around the Tigers.

“He’s instilled a belief and a standard mentality that we can compete and beat anybody,” Shenton said.

“This is what you’ve got to do, it doesn’t matter that your facilities aren’t up to scratch with some of the other teams, we can create something more powerful within our culture and our team spirit at times. If you have that, it goes a long way.

He’s instilled a belief and a standard mentality that we can compete and beat anybody.

Castleford captain Michael Shenton on Daryl Powell

“The other stuff is nice, but when we have a group of players who want to play for the club and each other, it’s very special.

“Daryl is great at creating emotional hooks and stories, and then his technical knowledge with Ryan (Sheridan, assistant coach), and when Danny Orr was here, is exceptional as well. He surrounds himself with strong people and it creates a good environment for a rugby league team.”

Powell will be drawing on the experiences of both the 2014 Challenge Cup and 2017 Super League Grand Final defeats in the build-up to Saturday’s showdown with 12-time Cup winners Saints.

In the case of the former, he looks back now and feels encouraging the players to enjoy everything about the build-up and being part of a Wembley final will be a better approach this time around.

“I think I tried to play it down a fair bit in 2014 and keep a lid on it, and in hindsight that was probably a bit of a mistake,” Powell said.

“We want to enjoy the experience and be excited by the challenge, and I think that’s one of the biggest messages I’ve given to the players this time.”

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