At the start of the year Castleford Tigers head coach Daryl Powell declared that the club was on the verge of “something special” and events of 2017 have certainly backed up his belief.
Now the dust is settling on the Grand Final disappointment it is time for evaluation and it is hard to believe that if you had offered anyone at Castleford – fan, coach or player – a first-ever League Leaders’ Shield and a first-ever appearance in the Old Trafford finale back in February they would not have snapped your hand off.
It may not quite have gone to plan right at the end, but the 2017 season will live long in the memory of supporters more familiar with relegation struggles than tussles for the top in the previous two decades.
Although Tigers boss Powell was understandably disappointed with events at Old Trafford he has been able to look back on the year fondly as Cas made the breakthrough to be trophy winners and not merely contenders as they had been in the previous three years.
He said: “To be the most consistent team in the competition is special to me.
“We’ve had a big year, we’ve finished top by 10 points, which is awesome.
“I’m delighted for the whole club. Winning the League Leaders’ Shield is a huge achievement for us. From where we were four years ago, to being able to compete at the highest level and now winning a trophy, we have come a long way.”
Powell believes there is more to come from his team.
He insisted: “I believe we are on the path towards being superb across a number of years.
“We have got right to the forefront of achieving our potential here as a group. And there is a long way to go.”
Powell’s efforts to create a side that caught the imagination of rugby league followers outside of the club as well as inside earned him his second Super League Coach of the Year accolade at the recent Man of Steel Awards night and he spoke of his pride in winning.
He added: “You get these awards for a variety of different reasons – players, the coaching staff, the way the team plays. It’s a joint effort to be honest and I’d just like to pay tribute to the people I work with because everybody provides the support you need.
“I voted for Chris Chester personally. Wakefield have been awesome and so unlucky, they could easily have played us in the semi-final instead of Saints. I wouldn’t have argued either way if Chris had picked it up.
“I think Radders (Lee Radford) has had a big year as well, winning the Challenge Cup and in the top four again with Hull. Brian Mac’s done a good job as well, turning it round after it being such a tough one.
“I’m pleased to get the award obviously, but there’s been some big performers on the coaching front this season.
“If I hadn’t have won it I would still have been proud of what we’ve done, but it’s great to get the recognition from coaches you are coaching against that think you have done a good job.”