The Battle For Top Spot
With Castleford not in action until Sunday (March 26) Friday night’s clash at the DW Stadium (we are not doing the availability joke again this week….) between Wigan and Hull FC will see the winner hit the top of the table. While it is early to be talking about winning the League Leaders Shield it is a meeting which may turn out to have a considerable say in who leads the way going into the Super 8s and the final four.
Form suggests Hull FC might just about have enough. They are unbeaten since their home defeat by Catalans Dragons and have seen off Huddersfield, St Helens and Widnes during that run. With Albert Kelly at the hub of things they are now playing some eye-catching stuff after a slow start. Only Tigers wing Gregs Minikin and Eden have scored more tries so far this term than Kelly following his switch across the city from Hull KR, and his halfback partnership with Marc Sneyd appears to be blossoming.
Added to all that it is not the worst time to be playing Wigan. A home draw with Huddersfield kept their unbeaten start to the season in tact but was not quite the result they would have expected against the previously struggling Giants. The Warriors are without several of their first choice players with all of Dom Manfredi, Lewis Tierney, Oliver Gildart, Joe Burgess, Sam Tomkins, Michael McIlorum, Liam Farrell, John Bateman and Sean O’Loughlin side-lined through injury. Youngsters Liam Forsythe and Liam Marshall will continue their development smack, bang in the deep end while Shaun Wane has added more youth to his 19-man squad this week in the shape of Nick Gregoson, Josh Ganson and Callum Field.
Hull’s greater experience, especially in the pack where Gareth Ellis, Mark Minichiello, Scott Taylor and Danny Houghton should look to dominate. All of which should give Kelly and Sneyd the platform to do their thing to take the black and whites back to the summit of Super League for a couple of days at least.
Castleford To Bounce Back
That is until the Tigers take to the field against Laurent Frayssinous’ Catalans Dragons on Sunday. Smarting from a shock loss at Salford last time out Daryl Powell’s side should be more than motivated enough to see off a Dragons side which hasn’t even got the comfort of its normally reliable home form to fall back on. Defeat to St Helens last time out followed a scrappy home draw with Widnes at the Stade Gilbert Brutus, so perhaps the Dragons will be happy enough to get back on the road again where the pressure is arguably lower.
Everywhere you look there are stats which point to a Castleford victory. They are the league’s leading try scorers, have provided the most assists and clean breaks, while only Hull FC have a better average gain per carry than this formidable Tigers attack. Denny Solomona has been seamlessly replaced by Greg Eden, proving that the style of play and the system employed by Powell is far more important than the personnel. Up front Mike McMeeken and Jesse Sene-Lefao are a formidable pair of running back rowers, and the whole thing is tied together nicely by the creativity of Luke Gale at half. Even the early season loss of Rangi Chase has not derailed the Tigers, who but for that blip at Salford have looked like a serious contender in 2017.
Expect them to get back on the horse against a Dragons side still missing Greg Bird and Jodie Broughton and which showed in its defeat to St Helens last weekend how difficult they find defending against teams who are prepared to shift the ball wide early. Which all but defines the style of play preferred by the Tigers under Powell.