Castleford Tigers are waging a war on Super League stereotypes

By Billy Wilkinson

Castleford Tigers coach Daryl Powell is on a mission to play entertaining rugby.

Since taking over in 2013, Powell has changed the club. In his first season, he led the Tigers to their highest league position since Super League began, an appearance at Wembley, and was recognised with Coach of the Year honours.

Powell hasn’t just revitalised what was becoming a stale Tigers team, he’s revitalised them into arguably, the most exciting side in all of Super League.

“I think sport should be entertaining,” Powell told BBC Sport “When you talk to players, you want them to be excited about how you play. For me it’s a crucial part of coaching.”

What could be considered to set Powell apart from the rest, is that he doesn’t dismiss any philosophy, but he certainly enforces his own.
“All coaches have their own different opinions and that’s fine – we’re all different. But for me, I think there’s a way the game should be played. I genuinely enjoy watching us play.”

Anyone who watched Castleford last season would be able to testify for Powell’s philosophy. The only team to score more points than Powell’s men last year were Grand Finalists Warrington, and they were the only two teams to break the 800 point mark.

Under Powell’s system, Denny Solomona became rugby’s answer to Lionel Messi. Last season, the former Tiger broke Danny McGuire and Lesley Vainikolo’s joint record for most tries in a Super League season, scoring 40.

Castleford were simply devastating in offensive transitions last season, as illustrated by Solomona’s performance against Warrington.

The Kiwi winger wasn’t the only player to have his offensive numbers boosted by Powell’s philosophy. Stand-off Luke Gale led the league in try assists, and it wasn’t even close. Gale posted 46, with second-placed Chris Sandow assisting 25 tries. Astonishingly, fellow Tiger Luke Dorn finished joint fourth, with 21.

While fans, or even coaches, may scoff at Powell’s view of how a physically punishing sport should be played, it’s having an impact on the fans.

Super League attendances have stagnated, or even fell over the past decade or so. Not in the case of Castleford, though. Castleford’s numbers have been rising steadily ever since Powell’s arrival, boasting the third highest last season. It’s not just about Powell being happy with his team’s playing style, it’s trickling down to the supporters.

The approach Castleford Tigers take to rugby will always be decisive. For all the entertainment they provide, fans will know they have no silverware to show for their efforts. Powell’s swashbuckling rugby does seem to leave Castleford weakened on the defensive side of the ball. They conceded the second most points in all of Super League last year, leading to their potent offense essentially being cancelled out.

However pleased the supporters may be with the style, trophies are what ultimately counts.

Castleford Tigers kick-off their Super League season against Leigh Centurions on 10th February.

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