Castleford Tigers boss tells tested players: "It's tough - put your hand up"
AS they begin an exhaustive run of games which they hope will culminate in Wembley glory, Castleford Tigers coach Daryl Powell has told his squad they must “put their hand up” and reminded them of rugby league’s innate toughness.
They host Hull FC tomorrow looking to get their Super League form back on track after three successive defeats in the competition.
Castleford showed their true selves when impressively defeating Warrington Wolves in Saturday’s Challenge Cup semi-final, a win which has set up a final date with St Helens on July 17.
However, with the games coming thick and fast - they visit Wakefield Trinity next Wednesday - their squad strength, durability and character will be tested to the limit in a hectic schedule that sees them play seven matches in just 31 days.
Full-back Niall Evalds plus half-back pairing Jake Trueman and Gareth O’Brien - all so influential against Wire - are all out of the squad against Hull and Cheyse Blair and Daniel Smith are not ready to resume.
It means there is a swift recall for dropped scrum-half Danny Richardson and prop George Griffin returns from his ban but Tigers will still be understrength against Hull who lost out narrowly in their Challenge Cup semi-final against St Helens.
“We have to try and manage our way through this really difficult period,” insisted Powell.
“The season is just completely different and it’s crazy really when you see the number of games we’re going to have to play.
“We just need to take it week by week and try and get our best team out on the field and try and get outstanding performances each week.
“(Of the injured three) they are struggling a bit all with different things.
“Gaz says he’d be okay to play this week. Niall was sore. Jake Trueman is still having issues with that back. It’s just hard work.
“We’ve got important games coming thick and fast and we’re trying to get a team on the field every week that’s competitive.
“That was a big game last week. We absolutely had to win last week and in and around that we have to really work hard to do our best to pick up league points and it’s tough at the moment.”
Managing players and their workload in the build-up to Wembley will be similarly difficult but Powell insisted: “I just think players have to put their hands up to play.
“It’s tough but it’s a tough sport. You can't play in a semi-final and then a final.
“You’ve got games to play (in between). That’s the way it is.
“They have to put their hands up and get ready to play.
“At the moment we’re down on troops and we’re battling our way through but none of them (injured players) are long-termers or medium-termers.
“They are all short-termers. We just have to get ourselves back on track in the league which is going to be hard as we're playing against a Hull team that is hurting after last week and they will want to get back on track quickly, too.”
Castleford started the campaign in fine form but have slipped down to eighth after their last league outing - a record 60-6 home defeat to Leeds Rhinos.
They will be desperate to give Tigers fans something to cheer when they return to Wheldon Road tomorrow.
That said, Hull, who sit fifth, now only have Super League to concentrate on.
“They started the season outstandingly well but that’s a tough result for them last week,” said Powell, Hull bouncing back from 20-2 down to trail just 21-18 heading into the final minutes before Regan Grace intercepted Jake Connor’s pass to secure Saints’ passage to Wembley.
“They clawed their way back into the game and showed the character they have got. “They are heartbreakers, those; they’re three points down and throw an intercept.
“But that’s the beauty of sport. We’ve all been there on both sides.
“I feel for them but you win and lose and you have to handle both ways. We’ve got to focus on ourselves.”
Meanwhile, the Covid outbreaks announced over the last 24 hours which has seen Friday's games between Leeds Rhinos and St Helens as well as Huddersfield Giants and Wigan Warriors both postponed has raised obvious concerns for Powell.
It is the first time since last year that any Super League games have been called off due to the pandemic and - with Wembley looming - Castleford will be desperate to avoid any positive tests or close contacts of their own.
Powell accepted they will have to be more “vigilant” and added: “There’s a duty for everybody to look after ourselves.
“Everybody is becoming a little bit more relaxed about it (Covid) at the moment for obvious reasons.
“But we need to try and make sure we’re looking after ourselves.
“We have to focus on ourselves; there’s no point getting too wrapped up with anything else.
“We need to deal with what’s in front of us at the moment and take it from there.
“Otherwise it just becomes too difficult.”
Castleford, who have never won the league and last won the Cup in 1986, certainly have ambitions to challenge on both fronts.
Tomorrow will be a good first test to see if they really do have the capabilities to do just that.