26th November 2017, 14:29 | Castleford
Betfred Super League: League Leaders Shield winners; Grand Finalists
Ladbrokes Challenge Cup: Quarter-Finals
Top Scorer: Greg Eden (38 in Super League)
The 2017 Betfred Super League season will live long in the memories of Castleford Tigers fans but in the end it will go down as so near but so far, as Daryl Powell’s men fell just short at the final hurdle.
After showing signs of their potential in recent seasons, Powell made a couple of key additions in the shape of Greg Eden, Jesse Sene-Lefao and Zak Hardaker to turn them into a side which would blow away most of their Super League opposition.
They began to show their promise in the Super 8s in 2016 and fans, players and pundits alike were tipping the Tigers for success in 2017 and they duly delivered.
They backed up all the pre-season chat by winning eight of their first nine league games, including a memorable 66-10 hammering of local rivals Leeds Rhinos.
They remained head and shoulders above the rest of the competition in Super League, although there was the disappointment of a quarter-final exit in the Challenge Cup to Hull FC, after they had cleaned the floor with St Helens in the previous round.
The League Leaders’ Shield was claimed in the third round of the Super 8s, as a four try show from a magnificent Jake Webster saw them see off local rivals Wakefield Trinity.
All sights were now set on reaching Old Trafford.
St Helens were their opponents in the semi-final and it almost went all wrong, but Luke Gale’s dramatic drop goal in golden point extra time guaranteed their spot in their first Super League Grand Final.
The week leading up to Old Trafford was far from ideal for the Tigers with the suspension of Zak Hardaker being a big hindrance in their preparations.
And when it came away to stepping out in their debut Grand Final, they came up against a red-hot Leeds Rhinos side who seized control to win their eighth crown and break Castleford hearts in a sell-out at Old Trafford.
The bar is now raised for 2018.
Daryl Powell has been building a ‘dynasty’ at Castleford over the past few seasons, turning a club which almost went out of business four-and-a-half years ago into a trophy winning side.
He was deservedly awarded ‘Coach of the Year’ at the end of season Man of Steel awards and has coached Castleford to being one of the most exciting sports teams to watch in 2017.
2017’s Super League Steve Prescott Man of Steel – say no more.
The scrum-half has been the keystone in Tigers’ rise to a genuine title contending team, with his creativity and brilliant kicking a key part of their success this year.
He finished the season with 20 assists, as well as kicking 135 goals in Super League.
There’s only one choice, it was one of the greatest matches Super League has ever seen.
With more plot twists than an episode of Eastenders, their 23-22 semi-final win over St Helens will go down in Wheldon Road folklore.
At 20-8 up with 10 minutes to go, it seemed like the Tigers were home and hosed at the Mend-a-Hose but the old adage of ‘Never write of the Saints’ rang true as three tries in eight minutes left Cas two points behind and the Jungle was stunned.
But a needless penalty in the last few seconds allowed Gale to kick the penalty to take the game into extra time and less than three weeks after undergoing surgery to remove his appendix, the no.7 kicked over the one pointer to send Castleford barmy.
This try pretty much tells you all you need to know about Castleford’s playing style in 2017; they’re quick, they’re exciting and they score a lot of tries.
Straight from Warrington’s kick-off after only just scoring, the ball was fed to Hardaker on his own 10m line and broke free of the Wolves line to feed Gale who darted over.