Castleford Tigers are gearing up for some fast and furious action as their regular season comes to a conclusion with an exciting final three matches with play-off hopes at stake.
Head coach Daryl Powell has warned his players they are in for some intense battles as the race for a top five place in the Betfred Super League intensifies and their training has been adapted to fit in with what is expected in the games to come against St Helens, Hull and Wigan.
He said: “I think we are already in play-off mode.
“We are looking forward to it. I reckon Salford will win on Thursday night, then we have just got to win games.
“We had some decent sessions last week, we wanted to keep training fast. We know the games leading into the play-offs will be fast so we have stepped our training up a bit.
“The boys had some time off during the earlier Challenge Cup rounds, but we felt we needed to keep training going into what is going to be a really big game for us this week.”
Powell believes two wins from the Tigers’ three remaining games could be enough to clinch a play-off place with more twists and turns likely in the final weeks.
A victory this week could see Cas go level with current second-placed team Warrington Wolves, who face a tough game against another of the play-off contenders in Salford Red Devils tonight – just five days after they won the Coral Challenge Cup final at Wembley.
“Friday for St Helens to turn around is a tough ask, but Thursday is ridiculous for Warrington.
“They will have been celebrating, no doubt – and they should do – but that’s tough. It could easily create an unbalanced competition, I think the scheduling is abysmal. I don’t know whose idea it was, but it is what it is.
“If we win on Friday and Warrington lose on Thursday we are level with them. It is pretty tight, there’s nothing in it at all.
“We are going to need to win at least two of the three games, I would think.
“After Saints we have got Hull at home and then we are away at Wigan so it is a tough run-in, but if we do get there we will deserve to be there and we will be a threat.
“If not, we won’t have been good enough, but I think we are capable of coming up with three high-quality performances that’ll get us where we need to be.”
For the first of their trio of run-in matches the Tigers are on their travels to play leaders St Helens on a bogey ground where they have never won a competitive match. But they could be boosted by the return of Liam Watts, who has been the team’s most consistent performer this year.
The prop forward has missed the last two matches with finger and ankle injuries and was expected to be out of action for a month, but Powell revealed he was back in training and on course to play at the Totally Wicked Stadium.
He explained: “He has trained twice this week and looked okay.
“There’s a strong chance he will be available again. He is an important player for us, he has been really strong all year.
“He had a little bit of a tail off after playing so many games and minutes for us, but he has had a bit of a breather now and it would be pretty big to get him back in the team for these last three games and, hopefully, fingers crossed, the play-offs.”