With the exception of the round one hammering away at St Helens, Castleford have had a solid, but unspectacular start to the season. Eight games in and the Tigers have won six - though they are the only side in the top seven to still have a minus points average. In fact, Castleford are only two points worse off at this stage of the 2018 season than they were in their record-breaking season in 2017. But, in almost every game so far, the Tigers have held healthy leads, only for the opposition to claw their way back and leave the games uncomfortable viewing for the Castleford faithful.

Yes, the opposition are always going to have chances in a game of Rugby League and the momentum of a game can change instantly, but to almost collapse in the second forty is a worrying sign for head coach Daryl Powell. With two postponed games already and with some of the Tigers' games coming in atrocious conditions, are the Castleford players just simply not into a rhythm or is it a mental problem?

Taking the game away

Ever since Castleford played Salford in round four, the Tigers have scored just three second-half tries - one against Warrington in round seven and two against Huddersfield in round eight. In comparison, the Tigers have scored 13 in the first forty; but why is this happening? The Tigers have been in comfortable positions - 20-0 against Salford, 0-24 against Leeds, 0-7 against Wakefield and 6-28 against Huddersfield - in four out of their last five games, but have stepped off the pedal and let their opponents back into it.

In all four of these games, the opposition has won the second half - Salford 2-8, Leeds 14-0, Wakefield 6-5 and Huddersfield a remarkable 22-12. Though Castleford have built up a healthy enough lead to ensure they have got away with two points, this kind of defensive leakage needs sorting before the Tigers come unstuck. With an inconsistent fixture list, the Castleford players may have yet to find the physical groove to play for the full 80 minutes, or perhaps they have put the cue on the rack, believing that the game is already done and dusted.

Physical problems?

In the last five games, Castleford have appeared sluggish in the second-half; the difference between the first and second has often been like chalk and cheese. Against Huddersfield, the Tigers looked impressive in the first-half - almost back to their 2017 selves - even without lynchpin Luke Gale. In fact, the scoreline at half-time - 6-28 - could have been even greater in the Tigers' favour had a number of chances stuck.

But, Castleford looked disjointed and disorganised after the break as though the players could not replicate the abundance of energy shown in the first-half. Indeed, the Tigers almost let the Giants overturn a 22-point deficit with a number of players looking tired and with some appearing to carry injuries - Greg Eden for example pulled his hamstring for the third time this season whilst Junior Moors left the field with a head knock and the returning Joe Wardle also looked to be in discomfort.

It is perhaps no surprise that new recruit Liam Watts has looked one of the fittest against Warrington and Huddersfield after being suspended for three games. The fact that Castleford have also had two games postponed is not exactly conducive for getting the team up to match-day fitness, whilst the torrid mudbaths against Wakefield and Warrington would sap the energy out of any competitor.

Mental block?

Salford, Leeds and Huddersfield were all there for the taking; in 2017, Castleford would have put 50+ points past the three sides with how well they started the game. Coach Powell highlighted in his most recent post-match interview (after the Huddersfield game) that his players for some reason are stopping playing the way they did in the first-half and instead become jittery, giving penalties away and making a succession of errors. It is somewhat difficult to believe that an injury-ravaged Huddersfield side, void of confidence and a permanent coach, could almost overturn a 22-point half-time deficit. In fact, because of the circumstances currently being experienced by Huddersfield, it is even harder to believe that a strong Castleford side were physically outmuscled in the second half.

This points the finger at Castleford's stumbling second-halves being a mental issue; once the opposition has got a sniff of a comeback, something switches in the minds of the Castleford players. Everything that was going right in the first-half would now go wrong in the second - or wouldn't be tried at all. The opposition has been able to creep their way back into the game and the previously calm and composed Castleford team has become rattled, inviting the opposition on further. Errors are made and penalties conceded, leaving the Tigers further under the cosh and when a team gets a roll on it is incredibly difficult to stop - as the Tigers' opposition have found out in the first forty minutes several times this year.

Castleford are being starved of possession in the second forty and when they do get the ball they panic, fearing that they must take advantage. Inevitably, the composure has gone and the Tigers have appeared unlikely to break down teams once this has happened. No wonder then that the boot of Luke Gale and Jamie Ellis have been vital in keeping the score ticking over.

Reignite the belief

It's easy to say this, but Castleford need to calm down in the second-half and merely adopt the same tactics as used in the first forty that blew away Salford, Leeds and Huddersfield. Powell somehow needs to instil the belief that the players have in the first-half for the second as well. Get it right and become an 80-minute side and Castleford will be firing on all cylinders.