THE SUPER-8S format has been criticised for creating meaningless matches at the bottom of the table, but this year that could be the case for the leading team.
With three games remaining in the regular season, before the competition splits into Super-8s and Qualifiers, Castleford Tigers have an eight point lead over their nearest rivals and there is a possibility they could secure a top-four finish - and therefore a place in the semi-finals - before the next phase begins.
Castleford’s latest win was a 24-22 home result against Hull, who started the round in second place and they already have one hand on the league leaders’ shield, but England forward Mike McMeeken insists they can’t afford to look any further than their next game.
That is a trip to Wakefield Trinity and on Thursday and victory then would open a 12 point gap over their fifth-placed neighbours with only 18 points left on offer before the sudden-death play-offs in two months’ time.
“We have got to take it week by week, like we have been doing,” McMeeken stressed.
“We know we’ve got a tough game coming up against Wakey.”
The win over Hull avenged two defeats at KCOM Stadium, including a Challenge Cup exit 10 days earlier, but was a warning against taking anything for granted.
Castleford seemed to be coasting when they led 22-4 early in the second half and they were 24-10 ahead with nine minutes remaining, but Hull’s never-say-die fightback left Tigers hanging on when the final hooter sounded.
McMeeken admitted it was a “tense” finale and he said: “We made it pretty hard for ourselves in the end.
“Credit to Hull, they came back at us, but luckily enough we held on.
“We don’t want to be getting into tight games like that. At half-time we thought if we had a tidy second half we’d win it quite comfortably, but it got scrappy.
“They are a class team and they are where they are in the table for a reason, but it was more us giving away silly errors and silly penalties.
“That killed us. You can’t do that against a team like Hull so it was a learning curve for us in that second half and we have a lot to work on for this week.”
After ripping through most of the opposition they have faced this year - their average score in Super League is 33-16 - McMeeken feels Castleford will benefit from a tighter encounter.
“We’d prefer to have a big win, but these are the type of games you are going to get in semi-finals and finals,” he said.
“It is good for us as a learning curve. We know we are going to have these tight games so we’ve got to get used to them.”
Castleford defended strongly for almost an hour before conceding three late tries. McMeeken reflected: “In the first half especially, we were outstanding.
“We had three or four sets on our tryline and we will take a lot from that, but, we let in a couple of soft tries in the second half.
“That was a bit disappointing, but we got the win which was the most important thing.”