The 2017 Super League season was a fairytale one for the Castleford Tigers, finishing top of the table for the first time in their 91-year history. However, a Grand Final defeat at the hands of Leeds Rhinos stopped the Tigers from clinching the Super League title. We take a look today at one of their most dominant displays of that season, against the previously mentioned Rhinos.
Castleford’s style of play
First up, we take a look at the way that the Tigers played during the course of the game, looking at their attack and defence.
During the course of the season the Tigers liked to attack out wide, shipping the ball to winger Greg Eden, and the first try of the game against Leeds Rhinos set the platform for how the season would pan out.
In the image above, current Toronto Wolfpack prop forward Gadwin Spring draws in four of the Rhinos’ defenders near the post. This opens up space on the left wing. exposing the Leeds defence. Adam Milner perhaps plays the most crucial part in this play, being aware of the position that Cuthbertson and Walker are in. When the ball is played on the next tackle it takes just three passes for Greg Eden to go over in the corner.
Being able to lure out the defence from their line became a staple for the way that Castleford played tactically throughout the season, and utilising the wings was their strongest asset. This attacking mentality proved to be a massive success, as the Tigers finished the season scoring 200 more points than their closest competitors.
Combining attack and defence saw them end the season as the league’s best defensive side conceding a total of 378. They often say defence wins matches and often enough this proved the case. Adam Milner was one of the Tigers’ standout players when it came to attack and defence in 2017; a well-rounded hooker, he was part of Castleford’s strong pack alongside Paul McShane.
Being able to open play, Milner is a no nonsense hard working unit, who is a key powerhouse in the defensive line. Being able to push through team’s defences and get the ball near the line so the Tigers can exploit the wings is what Milner stood out for in 2017.
As seen in the above image, the line of play Castleford use is direct, with quick passes enabling them to find the try line effectively. Milner’s pass (red circle) is used to draw out the Rhinos’ defensive line, whilst the ball is passed along to Eden, with Hardaker also playing a role in drawing out the Rhinos’ defence.
Pressuring a team to make a mistake is one of the biggest positives a team can take out of any game, especially when it comes to defence. Castleford’s defence throughout the 80 minutes at Wheldon Road was exceptional. Pressure created, as seen in the image, above enabled Daryl Powell’s side to keep the Rhinos at bay.
Tracking the ball at all times as it is shifted out wide enabled the Tigers to adapt and force an error, and the blue circle on the far side shows an empty space that winger Greg Eden ran into once Leeds spilt the ball. This counter attacking style enables the Tigers to switch from defence to attack at the switch of a button.
The way that Leeds are lined up in this phase of play is a weakness for them. Bunching up together makes their wings vulnerable if a mistake is made, especially in this case.
Once again Castleford were able to draw the Leeds players away. Webster and Minikin both link up well during this phase of play, making the most of an extra man on the near side. Minikin has eyes on the ball and knows where to position himself to get around the Rhinos’ last man. He then passes the ball across to Webster, who offloads it at the last second to Mike McMeeken, who touches down. Once again the Tigers take advantage of Leeds’ defensive weakness.
Winger Greg Eden would prove to be the Tigers’ most prized asset throughout 2017, picking up a total of 38 tries; the second best in Super League history behind former Tigers winger Denny Solomona, who had scored a total of 40 the previous season.
Luke Gale’s wonderful assist
2017 was Luke Gale’s year, as he was crowned Man of Steel for his efforts at half back. However, the moment which stands out in the 66-10 win over Leeds was his assist to Greg Minikin.
Being chased by three Rhinos defenders after making a break from halfway, Luke Gale had two options available to him; take the tackle, or kick on the outside of his boot. Gale decided to take the second option, a well-timed kick to now Hull KR winger Greg Minikin, who at first looked like he had dropped the ball, but had actually gathered it cleanly to touch down. His influence in the halves was clear to see in this game, and, throughout the season, he lead the table in terms of points scored, and had an 82% win percentage. He was key to Castleford’s 11 game unbeaten run at the end of the regular season picking up a total of 134 points which equates to roughly 12 points per game.
As well as being the Tigers designated kicker, Gale also has a rugby brain being able to pick out key paths to run and being able to assist tries. With a total of 20 try assists that season, Gale was the top provider of tries that season. Being aware of his surroundings at all times, this made Gale an obstacle for any side that played against him, especially against Leeds, his future employers.
In total Luke Gale scored 48 points in four match ups against the Rhinos – more than any team he came up against. The awareness the English international had during the 2017 season was a key part of him picking up the Man of Steel award and cementing himself as one of Super League’s best half backs.
Leeds’ defensive weakness on the wings and in the middle
The Rhinos have dominated Super League over the years, but during the match against Castleford, they were blown off the park. In terms of their defence, they struggled.
An obvious weakness was their inability to stop the Tigers from scoring out wide.
Not only did Leeds struggle out wide, but they also struggled defensively down the middle. As seen in the picture above, the Tigers managed to make a quick play, despite being held down. The Tigers adapted to this, and begin once again to expose the Rhinos’ weaknesses on the flanks.
As the season went on the Rhinos continued to improve on their defence, and at the end of the season, they had conceded just 477 points, which was the third best defensive record behind the Tigers and St Helens.
This match up would be the stepping stone and the basis for the Rhinos to fight their way back into contention and try to kick start their season, finishing second in the league table behind the Tigers. However, with their Super League grand final experience behind them, the Rhinos knocked the four defeats of 2017 to the Tigers off the park and outwitted them at Old Trafford, ultimately lifting the Super League Trophy.
Scoring out wide was a staple of the Tigers’ 2017 season, and was the main reason why they made it to their maiden grand final. Attacking and direct rugby is something that Castleford’s fans like to see, and the Tigers’ faithful throughout the campaign had the words ‘Classy Cas’ in their heads.
In conclusion, the match-up against Leeds would set the benchmark for how Castleford would play throughout the season, playing a direct style of play whilst also being able to break their opposition down. Defensively they did struggle at times throughout the season, especially later on towards the business end of the season. However, being able to break down teams the way that they did was entertaining to watch even for the neutral, the style of play that the Tigers were historically known for had returned. ‘Classy Cas’ were back!