Jordan Rankin believes Castleford Tigers have “come good” at the right time as they prepare for a season-defining clash against Hull FC tonight (Thursday).
The Tigers sit in sixth spot, two points behind the Black and Whites, but know that a victory, given their far superior for and against, will move them back into the play-off places.
With just two games left to play, a victory for Hull would leave Castleford with a mountain to climb in their final game as third-placed Warrington and fourth-placed Salford Red Devils - both two points ahead of Cas - boast a better points difference.
The Tigers have been without star half-back Luke Gale for the entire campaign while captain Michael Shenton hasn’t featured since April.
“For us, we have had a pretty up and down season. Considering the players we lost at the start of the year, I think we have done pretty well to keep ourselves in the race for the top five,” said Rankin.
“The players here know that it doesn’t matter who is playing here every week, you have got a job to do.
“All in all, I have enjoyed the season immensely. The consistency for us has come at the back end of the year, we had a bit of a lull but we have come good now.”
Castleford’s have only conceded 10 points in their last three outings.
That return has yielded two wins and a narrow 4-0 defeat at runaway leaders St Helens and Rankin feels another big defensive effort will be key this evening.
He continued: “We have found a bit of a groove with our defence and hopefully we can continue that.
“Daryl (Powell) has been pushing it all season. He has known from quite early on that we need to be a good defensive team. It has probably taken a little bit longer than he would have liked for us to click.
"With injuries and combinations being changed, those factors can disrupt your defensive patterns and routines.
“But I think it is more of an attitude thing that has changed over the last six to eight weeks.
“And it is good to see us working hard on the training field and going into games and defending really well for each other.”
Hull have endured indifferent form in their last four games, picking up just one win.
But Rankin insists that Castleford need to be ready to face the “best Hull team” at Wheeldon Road this evening.
“They are a team that have a lot of quality. There are some really dangerous players in (Jake) Connor, (Albert) Kelly and (Jamie) Shaul,” added Rankin.
“(Marc) Sneyd has got a great kicking game on the back of it.
“Last year they lost a lot of players at the back end to injury and that hampered their form.
“This year they have been pretty consistent. They have obviously lost a few games, just like any team, but when they want to play they are a dangerous team.
“We need to prepare for the best Hull team to come here tonight.”
The Australian utility back has full confidence that the Tigers can reach the Grand Final, but they must first focus on earning the two points against Hull.
“We don’t think that any team is above us when it comes to our potential to reach a Grand Final,” he added.
“We have got to take it a week at a time, and I know that is cliche in saying that.
“At this time of the year you have got to treat every game as if it could be your last. We know we are good enough to make the Grand Final, we know we have a good enough squad to do that.
“It is about us putting in the good performances on the field.”