Daryl Powell's road to the Grand Final as Castleford face Leeds
By Tom Mordey | Twitter: @TomMordey |
Last Updated: 06/10/17 9:46am
Classy Cas. A famous nickname, reinvented by a side on the brink of history.
The Tigers have dazzled, thrilled and danced their way to the top of the Super League table. They've lost just five games, scoring a whopping 965 points on the way.
We've heard all about the finishing finesse of the Castleford wingers. High praise has been lavished on the half-back magicians. The forwards' high intensity hard running game has caught everyone's attention. But what about the man who has pulled it all together?
In May, Daryl Powell celebrated four years in charge of the Tigers. He replaced Ian Millward, who left the club bottom of the Super League table. By the time Powell took the reigns, Castleford were 12th. And that's how they finished after 27 rounds.
It was a long route back to Super League for Powell. He left his job at local rivals Featherstone to take the reins at Castleford. He had enjoyed decent success with the Championship side, reaching three Grand Finals and winning one in 2011, and Powell led Rovers to a famous day out in the Challenge Cup in 2012, beating Castleford 23-16 in the fourth round. Not bad at all.
It was a strange route to the Championship for Powell. His coaching career started with the club he finished his playing days with - and Saturday's Grand Final opponents - Leeds Rhinos.
Powell had not long hung up his boots at Headingley before he walked back into the dressing room, this time in charge of his old team-mates. He replaced Dean Lance after a disastrous start to the 2001 season, promoted from his job as Head of Youth Development and handed a contract until 2003. A big display of faith from Gary Hetherington.
But Powell took to the task well. Leeds finished 2001 in fifth, making the play-offs, before losing 38-30 to St Helens at Knowsley Road. 2002 brought further improvement, Leeds finishing fourth, although they were thumped in an elimination semi-final by Wigan, 41-18 at the JJB Stadium. But 2003 was to bring better things.
Powell had blooded the youngsters at Leeds, sparking off a golden generation by promoting the likes of Rob Burrow, Danny McGuire and Matt Diskin to first-team regulars. A certain Kevin Sinfield was also appointed captain in 2003, aged just 22. The move paid off.
Leeds played some thrilling rugby all season and came up just short, losing an agonising Challenge Cup final to Bradford 22-20 and then a cruel play-off final eliminator to Wigan, 23-22 with Brian Carney scoring a stunning length-of-the-field try.
Phil Clarke's Grand Final preview
Following Castleford's crushing victory over Leeds back in March, few could have scripted the season that followed.
And Leeds decided to make a change. Powell stepped aside for Huddersfield coach Tony Smith, moving into an unfamiliar role as Director of Rugby. It was branded as a two-year sabbatical, with Smith only expected to stay in 2004 and 2005. The idea was for Powell to improve his coaching skills whilst ensuring the development of Leeds' talented crop of young superstars, but it didn't quite work that way.
Leeds won the Grand Final in 2004 and despite Powell coaching Ireland to a European Nations final, he decided to switch codes at Headingley, taking a job in 2005 with the Leeds Tykes, initially as attack coach, progressing to first-team coach before again switching back to assistant backs & skills coach. In 2008, after a decade at Headingley, he ended his association with the club before joining Featherstone.
Fast forward to 2017. Powell has masterminded Castleford's rise to the top of Super League, and it's not particularly a surprise given their rise in his four years in charge. Powell won Coach of the Year in his first full season in 2014, with Castleford reaching the Challenge Cup final and finishing fourth in the table. He received the same accolade this week. 2015 brought a fifth-placed finish and they achieved the same last year after the Super 8s campaign.
It has not been all easy going either. Powell has lost talented players during his time with the Tigers. The initial blow was 2014 Man of Steel Daryl Clark leaving for Warrington despite the success he had achieved with the club that season.
Marc Sneyd also joined Hull FC, having been on loan for 2014 while Craig Huby and Jamie Ellis signed for Huddersfield. Powell then had to deal with Justin Carney's departure from the club a year later before 2016 brought around the Denny Solomona saga, robbing Powell of Super League's top try scorer.
They've barely noticed in 2017. Instead, the boot is on the other foot. They added Zak Hardaker from Leeds and key players like Luke Gale and Mike McMeeken have both signed long contract extensions, and the Tigers are playing rugby rarely seen in the Super League era. Adventurous, free-flowing and off-the-cuff has been the order of the day for the side, and you can see the confidence oozing through the players, having the freedom to play it as they see it.
It's no coincidence Solomona broke the Super League try-scoring record last season and Greg Eden was on course to do the same this year before his untimely injury. Castleford have scored the most tries (166), the most clean breaks (208), had the most tackle busts (918) and…well you get the picture.
You can see their progress in attack under Powell by their consistent presence as one of Super League's top try scorers during his time at the club.
Super League Tries - Castleford
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So it's Grand Final time. The Tigers are on the cusp of Super League glory.
They've never finished higher than fourth in the Super League era. And Castleford have never won the league title in their 91-year existence. Their last Challenge Cup was even back in 1986. Powell's side have a chance of making history. Will their season have one final flourish and end in glory at Old Trafford?