ACTING head coach Stuart Donlan is targeting Saturday’s Stobart Super League contest at London Broncos as the game to reignite Castleford Tigers’ season.
Four defeats in their first five games have left the Tigers third from bottom, although the results do not tell the full tale as they have already played three of the likely top six finishers and were right in the matches with a chance of victory against Catalan Dragons and Leeds Rhinos until the last 10 minutes.
Only Wigan Warriors have outplayed Cas, but with just two points to show for their efforts so far it makes the trip to play London Broncos a key one already, especially with the hosts still winless from their first five games.
Assistant coach Donlan (pictured), in charge again this week with Ian Millward still on compassionate leave, acknowledged the important of the match ahead.
He told the Express: “Wigan and Leeds are tough, but this one’s probably even tougher with London losing and us not winning since round one.
“There’s a lot of pressure on, but we’ve got a lot of confidence out of last Friday’s game against Leeds. We progressed a long way from the week before and we’ve spoke about improving again this week. If we show the same commitment as we did against Leeds then we’ll do really well in London.
“We’re really looking forward to going down there and coming back with two points.
“They’ve got some experienced players down there like Craig Gower. He’s coming to the back end of the career, but he probes around and gets them going. Michael Witt’s gone there from Crusaders and after watching the videos on London he’s a key player with Craig.
“There’s also Luke Dorn, with his speed and chiming into the line, he’s going to cause us a threat as well. They’ve got some pretty lethal strike weapons that we’re going to have to look at and take care of, but if we improve our defence like we did last week we’ll be okay.
“They’ll eventually pick up their first win, but we’re going there full of confidence from last week and if we keep on improving we’re hoping it won’t be this week that they get that win. We need the two points to start progressing up the table.”
Donlan is still looking for his first win as acting head coach, but did not think they were far off against Leeds when they ran the world champions much closer than the final 36-14 score.
He praised the players for their much improved display from the previous week and was pleased with the effort shown.
He said: “I thought the lads showed real commitment. We didn’t get the result we wanted, but we can build on that performance and it can stand us in good stead for the rest of the year.
“It was 100 per cent better than against Wigan and if we keep on improving as we are we’ll come really good soon.
“A couple of decisions could have gone our way at a vital stage of the game and it could have been a different result.
“We showed a lot of character to come back from 18-0 down to 18-14, but it was disappointing that on the very next set after we scored to make it 18-14 we turned the ball over on tackle three in our end. It just eased the pressure off them.
“Overall it was a good effort, but we’ve still got areas to improve on.
“We worked on our defence quite a lot before the game and it improved. But it still needs to improve and we’ve touched on it a little bit more this week.
“A lot of it against Wigan was the speed of the ruck that killed us. But I thought we did a fantastic job on Jamie Peacock, just getting numbers in the tackle and putting him on his back. I don’t think he will have been put on his back as many times in his career.
“We spoke about slowing their ruck down and I thought we achieved that for the majority of the game. This then helps you get your line set and your spacing right in defence, which helps the edges a lot. Wigan broke us down a lot round our edges and it was because of the speed of the ruck.”
Donlan was pleased with the performances of several players, including new boy Grant Millington, who was handed his debut at prop.
He “Getting Grant out there and getting the minutes that we did out of him was very pleasing. I was impressed with how he went and I’m looking forward to seeing him get some match fitness and watching him progress and develop as a Cas player.
“Danny Orr and Rangi Chase tried their hearts out, trying to get us going. Daryl Clark brings a lot to us when we put him on. We use him when opposition defences are a bit tired and his speed out of dummy half allows us to speed things up when he goes on.
“We tend to use Nathan Massey around the same time. He’s got good footwork near the line and a quick play the ball and Daryl runs off the back of that.
“When we put Daryl on he brings us to life a little bit. I thought when he came on against Wigan he brought us back into the game and he did it again on Friday.
“Josh Griffin added another try and has done well on his try scoring. We just need to do a little bit of work with him on his defence. He’s sometimes struggling when to come in and when not to. We’re trying to work with Josh to just have a little bit of patience and faith in his centre inside him to make that tackle.
“He is scoring a lot of tries, but at the minute we’re conceding a few down that edge so that’s something we’re looking to fix up with Josh. We’ve done some work with him this week on it.”
Donlan remains in charge with Ian Millward not ready to come back to the club this week.
He added: “Ian’s got a few things he needs to do. He needs to spend a bit of time with his family and get himself strong again, but he’s determined to come back and he’ll be back sooner rather than later.
“He’ll come back when he’s ready and only when he is strong enough. When he does we will welcome him with open arms and it will be good to see him.”