Well Done Road

It’s taken Castleford to (all but) cement top spot in the league this year for journalists to fall over themselves to ask why more emphasis isn’t placed on the League winners. You can bet your bottom dollar that if Saints, Wigan or Warrington had played as Cas have and strolled to the top of the Super League table, this debate wouldn’t be as widespread.

But why is this? We all know more emphasis should be placed on winning league in the regular season. Fans mock the trophy given out as the ‘hub cap’ and the name – League Leaders Shield – hardly conjures up images of swashbuckling rugby or hardened battles, its more an apologetic nod towards those who happen to find themselves top at the end of the season. A change in name, and trophy, are vital to shift more kudos to the best team at the end of the regular season – after all would you rather be League Leaders Shield holders, or the Super League Premiers or similar?

I also get the feeling that some journalists are trying to write some kind of narrative to Castleford’s season that doesn’t exist. The Tigers domination of Super League isn’t as surprising as some people might think. You could, of course, argue that without a naive Keiron Cunningham in charge at Saints, without a raft of Wigan injuries, Warrington’s implosion or a Leeds side still recovering from key retirements that Castleford have taken advantage. However I’d much prefer to say that Castleford have been outstanding for the majority of this season.

Since Darryl Powell took over in 2013 the Tigers have played entertaining rugby and have improved year on year. They have risen from 12th place in 2013, to 4th in 2014 before losing both their play-off games, then 5th in 2015 with a 3/0/4 record in the first ever Super 8’s and finally to 6th (regular season) up to 5th with a 5/0/2 record after the Super 8’s in 2016. This simple analysis allied to the resurgence of the Classy Cas moniker is surely enough to prove that this is no fluke. They are currently the team every rugby league fan wants to watch, emulate and, as such, beat.

Before Justin Holbrook took over, some Saints fans wanted Powell in charge at Langtree Park. However based on his record at Castleford why would he leave The Jungle? He’s been allowed to grow and flourish at Cas, and has been able to bring in some real stars in the likes of Zak Hardaker to complement the squad. While things are looking markedly better since Holbrook took over, the Black & Ambers have got something good going in West Yorkshire and why wouldn’t Powell want to see the job through.

The only worry for the next few years I’d have as a Castleford fan is what moving away from The Jungle could take from them. The ground formerly known as Wheldon Road is so bad its good, similar to Belle Vue at Wakefield. It’s a proper ground, with a good atmosphere and allows Saints fans to get all misty eyed thinking about the Old Lady, Knowsley Road. If Cas can successfully negotiate the bedding in process they’ll be fine – but moving into state of the art stadiums doesn’t hold the same fears for the opposition as a 91 year old old fashioned ground does. It won’t have the same atmosphere, the same feel – it’ll be something of a neutral ground for a year or 2 before the club settle in.

As a rugby league fan though, I’m pleased that another team is challenging for honours. Even if I do want Saints to win every cup possible, every year for all eternity, a competitive league is good for the sport. I might not be as gushing as Roger Draper who has in the past day called Castleford ‘­

the best team in British sport’ – I’m sure the England Womens Cricket Team, for one, might argue their merits for that accolade – but I’m happy to say they’ve been a breath of fresh air for Super League. I’ll also spare you from using the boring cliché that they’re the Leicester City of Super League too. They’re not yet – but they could be if crowned champions in October – and who would bet against that.

Thursday Night Sh-Lights

Rugby League under the floodlights, the open air stadium, the tribal atmosphere, the skill, the battle – marvellous isn’t it? Finishing at 10pm on a Thursday, being 75 miles from home and having to negotiate a partially shut M62 isn’t as good, especially with a 6am alarm for work the next day.

But in the grand scheme of things travelling fans don’t matter do we? So what if the stadium is half full? You don’t have to run in from work, make a half-arsed ham butty for the drive before eating an overpriced pie which has had the middle cooked in the pits of hell. You can sit in the comfort of your armchair, have a cup of tea and not think about leaving the house. You can watch the Video Referee use super zoom, and actually know why they’ve gone to the screen in the first place while listening to an overpacked commentary box argue over if it’s a try or not. You don’t have to get back in post-midnight after driving home, still alert and struggling to switch off because you’ve travelled through the outskirts of Manchester due to the M62 closures. Marvellous isn’t it.

Well no it isn’t. I’ve never liked Thursday night Rugby League – it’s the ultimate rock and a hard place argument where you either sacrifice a derby match so you don’t need to travel or you put up and shut up with a drive over the top of the M62. If we bring kick off times any earlier for evening kick offs you risk losing the number of paying punters through the gates, especially for away games, and you certainly can’t make them later.

Obviously Rugby League dances to the SKY TV tune. They tell us who is playing where and when, but when a fixture list is announced in November at least you have time to try to adjust to the schedule. We’re also now battling against the football season which restarts this weekend and Sky certainly won’t want anything interfering with the money spinner. But surely there is room in the schedule over a Saturday and Sunday to have televised Rugby League to allow more people to get to the live event. Saturday at 7pm maybe? Sunday at 12pm or 6pm? Whatever time it is, it’s only fair on the fans that when the play offs come around they are given the biggest chance possible to attend – and scheduling a 150 mile round trip isn’t going to do that.

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