Cup kings Wigan to halt Tigers charge.
The last time Wigan Warriors lost a home fixture in the Challenge Cup, Diana Ross was number one in the pop charts…Prince Andrew and ‘Fergie’ were sending out wedding invitations…plans to build a Channel Tunnel had just been announced…and news had broken that Freddie Starr had reportedly eaten a live hamster!
The precise date was Sunday, 16th of March 1986 which just puts into perspective what a daunting task Castleford Tigers face when they visit the DW Stadium on Saturday.
Whilst Castleford can take some solace from the fact that it was they who actually inflicted that defeat en route to lifting the famous trophy for the fourth and most recent time in their history, they wont need any reminding that Wigan have won the Challenge Cup an astonishing 11 times in the intervening period, including twice in the last three years.
They take the Tetley’s Challenge Cup very seriously, do Wigan!
So, can Castleford, currently third in the Super League table, follow in the footsteps of the Kevin Ward-inspired ‘class of 86’? Well, certainly on current form, it’s hard to say winning is beyond them.
Coach Darryl Powell deserves enormous kudos for the way he has re-moulded the Tigers into a formidable outfit this year, at a time when many were predicting that the loss of talismanic half-back Rangi Chase was akin to a death blow.
The reality is – free from the constraints of a dominant and overpowering playmaker – Castleford have been liberated into developing a style which is more suited to the team as a whole, rather than the sum of its parts.
Fashioned around high completion rates, lots of lateral ball movement, one of the best kicking games in the competition and the electrifying dummy-half work of brilliant hooker Daryl Clark, Castleford are running in tries from all angles and are the only team in Super League to have notched over 500 points.
They also look one of the fittest sides in the competition and this was in evidence last weekend when they produced arguably their best performance of the season to run a decent Hull KR side off its feet, crossing the try-line 11 times in a ruthless 54-12 dismantling.
Even though prolific wingman Justin Carney again misses out through suspension, Castleford could hardly be in better shape right now but the big question is, do they possess the ‘minerals’ to upset one of Super League’s big boys when it really counts?
Yes, a last-gasp Luke Dorn try helped Castleford defeat Wigan in dramatic fashion earlier in the season, but the Warriors’ hadn’t clicked into gear then due to the distraction of the World Club Challenge, and subsequent defeats to St Helens, Leeds and Huddersfield suggest the Tigers still have something to find on the big boys.
Wigan’s squad strength has been tested to the full recently after a spate of injuries to big-name personnel but, having won three on the bounce, the Warriors’ youngsters simply found last week’s game vs Huddersfield the proverbial ‘match too far’, going down 31-22.
That said, the game did allow loose-forward Sean O’Loughlin to get some valuable minutes under his belt after a lengthy lay-off and Wigan’s influential skipper should have a major impact on proceedings here in a physical pack which is reinforced by the return of Mick Mcllorum, Liam Farrell and Ben Flower from injury.
With young wing sensations Joe Burgess and Dom Manfredi – in tandem with Matty Bowen – providing Wigan with more than enough raw speed to nullify Castleford across the back-line, it gets increasingly harder to spot a chink in Wigan’s armour for Castleford to exploit, particularly as halfback Matty Smith is able to provide plenty of big-game nous alongside O’Loughlin.
Wigan coach Shaun Wane has added some extra spice to the game by publicly taking exception to perceived ‘over-confidence’ from the Castleford camp, so the ingredients are there for an absolute belter of a cup-tie in which us bookmakers have generally settled on a handicap line of Castleford receiving of 8 points.
Though no team has beaten the Tigers by a score greater than 8 this season, we at BetBright think Wigan may do so here. History tells us, the Warriors always turn up for the big games and, with wet conditions forecast, their extra ‘street smarts’ may prove the telling factor.
The Tetley’s Challenge Cup Quarter Final clash kicks off at 2.30pm on Saturday at Wigan’s DW Stadium.