Few would have predicted it at the start of the year, but Castleford Tigers can go top of the First Utility Super League with just six games to go if they bring home two points from Headingley tonight.
Much more than just bragging rights are at stake this time as the Tigers tackle Leeds Rhinos in a tasty local derby that will see whoever wins hit top spot for 24 hours at least.
Leeds are one up on their old rivals for the year, having won an intense battle 22-14 at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle in May, but Cas boss Daryl Powell is pleased to have a fresher squad this time after having two days more than last time to prepare – and he believes his team go into the big return in positive mood.
He said: “We’ve played well against the top four teams this year. We haven’t always got the result, but we’ve shown we can compete favourably with them and this is a great opportunity to go toe to toe with Leeds.
“I thought we did a great job in the first half when we played them at home, we just didn’t sustain it for the 80 minutes. We were a little bit unlucky, some of the things they were doing didn’t get picked by the video referee at the time and Jon Sharp agreed I was right afterwards, but it’s a little bit late then.
“But we showed we could match them. We had them rattled in the first half and put them under pressure. We’ve got to do it again and maintain it for longer.
“Conditions dictated a little bit last time when it was very wet. We’d had a short turnaround which probably left us a bit short on energy later on the game when they got us. It’s good that we managed to play Huddersfield on Friday night and give ourselves a decent preparation time this time.
“We’re in reasonable form and we showed the players a lot of positive things after we had played Huddersfield. There’s some things we need to improve, but there were loads of positives to build on.
“Leeds are pretty similar to us. They are coming out of a spell where they’ve had a lot of injuries and it should be an interesting game.”
Powell said that although top spot was up for grabs the Tigers were still keeping their feet on the ground.
He added: “We’ve not really talked about going top. It’s the start of a new block of games for us and we are picking games off one at a time, focusing on performance and not where we will be after the outcome.
“There’s obviously seven games to go and it’s getting tight and tense, but we don’t want to worry too much about that . It’s just focus on the game that’s in front of us and they don’t come any bigger than going to Headingley. Castleford against Leeds, it’s fierce rivalry among the sets of fans.
“There should be some tension there and we are just looking to play well.
“We’ve got to be confident in our own ability to go anywhere and perform.”