Head coach Daryl Powell believes his Castleford Tigers team can heap more misery on his former club if they make a good start at Headingley tomorrow night.
The Tigers face a Leeds Rhinos side wounded by a run of four straight defeats and several injuries to first team stars and travel with confidence built from two close games with the champions already this year.
Their attacking game has also clicked as they have scored 109 points in their three matches under Powell so far, but the Castleford boss accepts he still has concerns about the defensive side of his team’s game.
He is also wary of the potential of a backlash from the Leeds club where he was once head coach unless Cas make a much better start than they did in their 30-30 draw with London Broncos last Saturday.
Powell told the Express: “It’s a good time to play them, but only if we play well. If we perform we’ve got a good opportunity to go there and win the game.
“We have to go there believing that we can, but you have to play well to give yourself a chance.
“I’ve had a look at the two games between the teams this year and there has been nothing between the sides. The Challenge Cup tie was exceptionally close and Castleford won the home game earlier.
“The players should have a great deal of confidence that they can go to Headingley and come away with the points.
“But it’s going to need us to start well and put a dent in Leeds’ confidence. It won’t be the highest it’s ever been after they’ve lost a few games so the start of the game is crucial for us.
“I know Leeds have got a couple of people missing, but they’re still an outstanding team and we are expecting a hard game. It happens to most teams that you get into a bit of a dip for various reasons. They’ve obviously had some injuries and have lost a couple of tight games.
“They’ve played against Wigan, Hull and St Helens recently and they’ve been playing in tough games. They’ll be hurting a bit and will be highly motivated.”
Powell is in a better position than most to assess the task the Cas players have in front of them, having coached many of the current Rhinos side, and he will know what to expect from the atmosphere, having taken charge against the Tigers when at Leeds.
He said: “It’s been a long time since I was at Leeds. It’s been five years and a bit longer since I was with the Rhinos so it’s an interesting one going back this week. I’m looking forward to it.
“It’s going to be tough. Leeds have got a solid core of elite players that have been outstanding for them for a number of years.
“I’m well aware of their strengths and also areas that we might be able to isolate and hopefully do well against.
“We are going there with some confidence that we can score points. But our defence is going to need to be outstanding.”
Castleford will have to make at least one change to their line-up with winger Justin Carney banned for a third time this season and ruled out of the Leeds match after being found guilty of making a dangerous throw at London.
The three-game suspension will also see Carney miss the home match with Hull and the away game at Wigan.
His place is likely to go to Richard Owen, who will be eager to impress in his first game since Powell took over, but Carney will be a big miss after impressive recent displays.
Elsewhere in the team the Tigers could also be without another Australian with forward Grant Millington facing a race to be fit in time for the Headingley trip.
Powell said: “We’ve got a couple of injuries to check on later in the week so once I’ve done that I’ll make a decision on the team, but there could be a couple of forced changes.
“Grant Millington’s got a bit of an issue with his groin. I’m hopeful he will be okay, but he will have a late fitness test on Thursday.
“Justin Carney’s ban is a blow to us because he’s been playing outstandingly well. He’s a high quality player, who’s been right on top of his game.”