THE Wembley dream may be over for another year, but there is still plenty for Castleford Tigers to play for this season, according to head coach Terry Matterson (pictured).
With four games left in Super League the Tigers are aiming to clinch a top eight finish and a place in the play-offs and are aiming to end as high up the table as possible.
They can move up a place to sixth with victory over their semi-final conquerors, Leeds, at Headingley tonight and know that a win could take them to within a point of clinching a play-off place. But they will have to shake off the disappointment of a heartbreaking extra-time loss last Sunday and will have to try to beat a cock-a-hoop Rhinos side without up to 12 first team players.
“It’s a challenge for us to recover quickly,” Matterson told the Express.
“It’s not going to be easy, we understand that, but we’ve got to pick ourselves up and get back into it straight away.
“It’s not ideal to play Leeds again. But we’re going to go there with our heads held high and to try and give a performance that our fans will be proud of. It’s not about revenge. They’re there and we’re not, but it’s a completely different match. We’ve got a chance to go above them in the table and that’s as important as anything.
“We’ve got one competition now and we want to make the semi-finals. We’re in a good position to do that, but we have to get over this disappointment quickly.
“There’s a lot still to play for, there’s no doubt about that. We’ve put ourselves in a good position to play semi-final football and to give ourselves another chance to play in those big games and to learn our lessons from the weekend if we get in another position like that.
“The more semi-finals you can play the more experience you’re going to have so we want to do that again. I hope it’s made the players more determined.”
The price of the huge effort put in by the Tigers in the cup tie can be seen with Brett Ferres and Kirk Dixon definitely ruled out of the trip to Headingley – and possibly for the rest of the season – and fellow cup battlers Ryan Hudson and Paul Jackson also picking up injuries.
With Richard Mathers, Steve Snitch and Nick Fozzard still on the recovery trail and three props – Craig Huby, Jonathan Walker and Jake Emmitt - also ruled out for the rest of the year, the Tigers are down to bare bones as they aim to get one back on their old rivals.
They also face having to face Leeds without their brilliant try scorer in the semi-final, Rangi Chase, after he went back to Australia for a court case at the start of the week and is only due back in England tooday.
“Rangi’s away and whether he’ll be in shape when he comes back we’ll have to work out, but it’s a long round trip for him,” explained Matterson.
“He’s due to come back on Friday and we may as well pick him in the 19. We’ve only got 18 fit so Rangi makes 19.
“We’re wounded and we’re probably picking from 18 players. Our squad’s 30, including the loan players, but we’ve got 12 unavailable.
“Brett Ferres has an injury in the shoulder/chest area. Kirk Dixon’s the same and those two definitely won’t be right this week and all things point to them having season ending injuries. They are having scans to find out the extent of the damage this week.
“It would be a big blow, but we have got a bit of depth there. Greg Eden’s available and Willie Isa has shown that he’s ready to go. I’m sure those two will come into contention.
“Ryan Hudson copped a pretty bad knock for the second week in a row and Paul Jackson got an injury as well.
“Nick Youngquest got a bang, but he came back on and he pulled up okay. Martin Aspinwall got a good knock with Carl Ablett, who came off worse, but he’s fine, he’s tough and should be okay.
“Dean Widders, Daryl Clark, Nathan Massey and Oliver Holmes are all fit and available and those guys have got a point to prove after not being in the 17 for the semi-final. They are going to get an opportunity this week. John Davies is also back after his one-match ban and is in contention.
“Things are not going our way injury-wise and they haven’t all season. You can take that two ways, you can feel sorry for yourself or you can have 17 that run out there every week fully committed and that’s what we’ve got to focus on, not who’s in and who’s out.”
Matterson was proud of the 17 on duty against Leeds at the Keepmoat and was pleased with the defensive effort.
He added: “In three weeks’ time it will probably sink in when we’re not there, but we did everything we could. We had our chances, but just didn’t quite take them. Credit to Leeds, they hung in there and hung in and their captain came up with a couple of big plays for them.
“It was a tough way to go out, but I’d still rather lose like that than get beaten well. We were right in it at the death and it was a wonderful performance from the team. I know there are no prizes for second place, but we couldn’t have done too much more. To keep a team like Leeds to one penalty goal for 74 minutes and to eight points in 80 was a great effort.
“It doesn’t make you feel much better, but we gave it our best shot. It was great to play a part in such a great game. It was similar to the game at the Galpharm a couple of years ago and we’ve come out the wrong end again. But we’ve got a very young side and it’s important they learn from this experience. We played a team that had so much more experience of being in those pressure cooker situations and I think at the end of the day that was probably the difference.”
Tigers’ away game at Wakefield has been brought forward a day to Saturday, August 20 ,with a 5.05pm kick-off and will be show live on Sky Sports.