Going into Friday night's game against St Helens and Castleford fans were in a spirited mood; despite the loss of Zak Hardaker for a likely two-year ban for drugs use, the Tigers' faithful were convinced that one man does not make a team. After all, Castleford has lost Rangi Chase, Daryl Clark, Justin Carney and Denny Solomona in the past, but it has failed to derail their top four ambitions. Yet, from the word go on Friday night, something just did not look right - it was though all the promise had been sucked out of this Tigers' team in last year's Grand Final.

Is it time for Tigers' fans to panic or has the 46-6 defeat been grossly exaggerated?

St Helens

Take nothing away from Saints, they were in brilliant form.

They have been tipped by pundits, fans and bookmakers to be challenging for silverware at the end of the season and their performance on Friday night justified why. Full-back Ben Barba was in a rampant mood, scoring two tries and having a hand in all of what the home side did well, while Mark Percival showed just why he should have been picked at centre for England in last year's World Cup.

And, buoyed by the news that barnstorming prop Alex Walmsley had signed a new four-year deal the same day, fending off intense interest from Down Under, the mood around Langtree Park before kick-off was one of hope and optimism. With a 10-0 lead after merely seven minutes, however, the mood inside the stadium was one of disbelief - Saints were taking last year's pacesetters to the cleaners.

What happened to Castleford?

The Tigers just did not look up for it from the word go; the players looked lethargic and disinterested, as though they were still in Lanzarote for their warm-weather camp and that this was a mere training session.

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Yes, reigning Man of Steel Luke Gale and Mike McMeeken were part of the England squad that didn't end their season until December, but so were James Roby, Mark Percival, and Alex Walmsley. Gale - as usual - tried his heart at out, but he had very little support from those around him.

Jake Trueman, for example, is just 18 years old and though he impressed greatly towards the latter end of last season, was akin to a rabbit caught in headlights on Friday night and perhaps the Tigers would have been more effective with the experienced Jamie Ellis partnering Gale instead. McMeeken, meanwhile, was at fault for Saints' opening two tries and seemed - throughout the game - to be riding on the wave of the reputation he built up for himself at the start of last season.

Full-back issue

But, by far Castleford's biggest problem on Friday night was at full-back. Zak Hardaker is one of the most naturally talented full-backs in the game, so, to step into his shoes is a daunting task. And, the decision not to make a move for another No.1 appears to have bitten Daryl Powell on the backside; Ben Roberts is an elusive runner and formidable defender when playing at stand-off and so before Friday, Powell and the Tigers' fans hoped that this would make him suitable for the full-back position.

Yet, within ten minutes, Roberts was huffing and puffing - the endurance that a full-back needs and which Hardaker has in buckets is simply not one of Roberts' strong points.

Just a few minutes before half-time, record-breaking winger Greg Eden had actually taken over from Roberts at the back with the latter on the wing in order to catch his breath. Roberts could have been forgiven if he had been thrown in at the deep end at full-back with just a week until the season started, but, he has had four months to get used to the increasing demands. Even his positioning let him down; on a number of kicks through he was found wanting. But, the moment which summed up the match was Roberts' decision to let Jonny Lomax's 40/20 dribble over the touchline when he had the opportunity to bring the ball back, giving Saints good field position from which they scored.

Powell must take some of the blame

Roberts' best position is quite clearly stand-off. But, with head coach Daryl Powell making the big statement before the season that Roberts could fill Hardaker's shoes, the Samoan international was put under unnecessary pressure. Though Powell's statement also highlighted the belief he had in Roberts to slip in seamlessly, it is obvious that the Tigers needed an actual full-back to replace Hardaker - not a makeshift one. Roberts, effectively, was given the short end of the stick by his coach.

Some of Powell's choices before and during the game were also baffling; the decision to start Nathan Massey at loose forward when the tenacious Adam Milner was sat on the bench did not make sense. And, neither did dragging James Green off after just eight minutes when he had looked impressive in the opening exchanges. Clearly, Powell believed Green was heavily at fault for Saints' opening two tries even though McMeeken seemed to be the main culprit, but, the latter appears fireproof at the moment.

The influential Grant Millington was apparently ill in the run-up to the game and during the game itself, hence why he played just ten minutes. Why was he included to begin with? Yes, he's integral to how the Tigers play, but a sick and unwell Millington offers nothing and, instead, takes up a vital bench spot. Powell also seems determined to play Jesse Sene-Lefao at prop, despite the fact that when Castleford was playing their best-attacking rugby at the start of 2017, the South Sea Islander was operating at second-row, running brilliant channels and causing havoc in the opposition's defence.

Is it time to worry?

From start to finish, the Tigers looked despondent. But, is it too early in the season to write off Castleford? The Super League season is in its infancy and so are Castleford's new combinations. Roberts can be as impressive as he wants at full-back in training, but there is no substitute for match practice. And, Jake Trueman is not even out of his teenage years yet and, so, to cast him under the bus so quickly could be extremely detrimental to his progression. Luke Gale, meanwhile, had just two weeks off before he rejoined the Tigers squad for pre-season.

Remember, the season has 23 rounds, trophies are not won in the first few months of the Super League season as other fans so often reminded the Castleford faithful in 2017. Although Friday night was incredibly disappointing and seemed a throwback to the disastrous Ian Millward era before Powell took over, the result may actually be beneficial in the long run. Leeds Rhinos lost 66-10 away at Castleford in March last year, but they went on to record their eighth Grand Final victory against, ironically, the same opponents. Castleford fans, do not write off 2018 just yet.