Super League: Best offence is a good defence for Castleford Tigers against Hull Kingston Rovers
Castleford and Hull KR are both feted for their attacking approaches, but the visitors for Saturday's Super League clash will be just as focused on their defence. Watch it live on Sky Sports Arena from 7.30pm (kick-off 7.45pm)
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 10/09/21 6:35am
When Hull Kingston Rovers and Castleford Tigers clash at Hull College Craven Park on Saturday evening live on Sky Sports, it will be in a match which sees two of Super League’s most feted attacking teams go head-to-head.
The hosts have produced some eye-catching displays at times in the past two seasons after evolving an unpredictable style under Tony Smith, while Castleford have long been praised for the expansive approach adopted during Daryl Powell's reign as head coach.
But while it is perhaps an unheralded part of their game, the Tigers will be just as focused on making sure their defence is up to scratch for the clash between two teams fighting to be part of the play-offs when they get underway in two weeks' time.
"Some people say it's a 50-50 split [between attack and defence], but I don't think it is," Castleford prop George Griffin said. "If you get on the top of teams defensively then the attack will just come off the back of that, so you're setting a platform in defence.
"Hull KR are a really hard team to defend against; teams run the same sort of shapes, but they're off the cuff a bit and almost let their halves do what they want, skirt across the line and hit different holes.
"We're going to have to adjust accordingly, look after them, get over the top of them and keep them to minimal metres, and attack will come off the back of that defence.
"We've got the nickname of 'Classy Cas', but it all comes down to defending and if you're not doing that and turning the ball over in the right areas, you're not going to be able to attack well."
Some people say it's a 50-50 split [between attack and defence], but I don't think it is. If you get on the top of teams defensively then the attack will just come off the back of that, so you're setting a platform in defence.
Castleford forward George Griffin
Few teams test sides defensively as much as Hull KR have done this year and their approach is emphasised by the fact Smith's side have offloaded more times (253) than any other in Super League during 2021.
The Robins lead the way in dummy-half runs too (366), with hookers Matt Parcell and Jez Litten picked out by Castleford assistant coach Ryan Sheridan - the man who oversees the Tigers' defensive game-plan - as two of their key men.
The three-quarter line of Ben Crooks, ex-Cas man Greg Minkin, Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Ryan Hall, all pose problems out wide, while props Albert Vete and George King bring threats through the middle, and Sheridan has been working hard to figure out how to counter those.
"You do look at their previous games, how they've played and how they've approached different opposition, and it's looking at the things they're doing consistently and what they're not doing differently from week to week," Sheridan said.
"Then you break it down to which are the key threats and they've got plenty across the field. They play an exciting brand of rugby and they've got players who can hurt you at any point if you're not on it defensively, and it is a challenge.
"They've got some tricky players and some tricky shapes in there, and you have to be on it defensively."
Not that Castleford do not have their own threats to utilise when they turn defence into attack, and those could be boosted by the return to action of half-back duo Gareth O'Brien and Danny Richardson.
Their inclusion would see the dynamic duo of Peter Mata'utia and Jordan Turner return to their regular positions in the back line and even though reigning Man of Steel Paul McShane is set to miss out due to injury, Sheridan sees plenty across the park where the Tigers can test Rovers.
They've got some tricky players and some tricky shapes in there, and you have to be on it defensively.
Castleford assistant coach Ryan Sheridan on Hull KR
"We've got some quality attacking players," Sheridan said. "If you look at what Nathan Massey is doing through the middle at the minute…then you start to look at those two half-backs who control the game, they're both smart, tricky players.
"We've got Niall Evalds at the back who is lightning quick, turns up on things and is a skilful player. Then we've got Peter Mata'utia, who has been playing so well throughout the year and in the last few games he's stepped up as a leader.
"And it's been good to have Michael Shenton back, another skilful centre in the way that he plays so it all adds to our attacking side."
Victory over Hull KR would take Castleford to their sixth win in eight games since their Challenge Cup final defeat to St Helens in July, a run which has seen them rise up the Super League table and into the top six with two games of the regular season remaining.
The match against Rovers is followed by the visit of third-placed Warrington Wolves to the Mend-A-Hose Jungle on September 17 and Griffin senses a buzz of excitement around the Tigers squad.
"I wouldn't say we're feeling pressure, it's more we're excited about the concept of what could happen given where we were a couple of months ago," Griffin, who got his break in Super League with Rovers nine years ago, said.
"No-one thought we'd ever make the play-offs and to say we might even be able to grab fifth is pretty exciting.
"We've got to play well to get the spot, but we're capable of doing it as long as we put on the field what we're doing in training."