Castleford have had many great coaches in the past; four men have led Castleford to Challenge Cup glory - Billy Rhodes in 1935, Derek "Rocky" Turner in 1969, Tommy Smales in 1970 and Malcolm Reilly in 1986 - whilst Darryl Van der Velde came close to repeating that feat for a fifth time in 1992. Next came John Joyner who steered Castleford to a stunning 33-2 victory over favourites Wigan in the Regal Trophy Final, the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup and the Premiership Final in 1994, winning Coach of the Year in the process. Stuart Raper is also revered around the historic town for leading the club to within 80 minutes of both the Super League Grand Final and Challenge Cup Final in 1999.

But, often hailed as Castleford's best ever, Daryl Powell took up the reins at the West Yorkshire club after a turbulent decade in May 2013. In his first full season with the Tigers, he took them to Wembley and a fourth-placed finish in the Super League. Since then, the club have finished fifth twice and top once - in 2017. Whilst Powell failed to lead Castleford to Challenge Cup glory in 2014, the dramatic change in Castleford's fortunes have left them fighting for silverware rather than the wooden spoon and he steered his players to a first-place finish last season for the first time in the club's 93-year history in 2017.

A transformation scarcely believable

Daryl Powell took over at Castleford in early May 2013 after former boss Ian Millward was sacked following a dismal run of results which had seen the Tigers fall to the bottom of the Super League table.

But, if Rugby League fans - and many Castleford fans - believed the job would be too much for Powell, they were very much mistaken.

The ex-Featherstone boss' impact was instant; the Tigers won six, drew one and lost six with Powell at the helm towards the back end of 2013. Then came the club's first Wembley visit in 28 years in 2014 - though it ended in a 23-10 loss to Leeds, it was a fixture that just barely a year ago would not have seemed possible.

In the same year, the Tigers had the opportunity to clinch the League Leaders' Shield, but fell short on the final weekend to finish fourth.

Two seasons of finishing fifth demonstrated that Castleford were no one-season wonders as they perhaps were under Raper in 1999 - though Castleford finished fifth in 1999 and 2000, the Tigers exited the 2000 play-offs in the first round whilst making the semi-finals in 1999.

The Tigers also exited the 2000 Challenge Cup in the fifth round after cruising through to the semis the year before.

Truly record-breaking season

If Castleford were - after three full seasons under Powell - a force to be reckoned with in the top half of Super League, then 2017 saw the club break the mould entirely. Castleford lost just seven games last season, finishing top by a record ten points. The breathtaking rugby played by the likes of Luke Gale, Greg Eden, Grant Millington and Zak Hardaker set the league alight and won admiration and adulation up and down the country.

Though the Tigers floundered in the Grand Final, 2017 should be remembered by Castleford fans for the way in which their side tore apart their rivals in a fashion that seemed a lifetime away from the relegations of the 2000s and the truly horrific times under Terry Matterson and Ian Millward.


Though 2018 has so far been a far cry away from 2017, let's not forget that the Tigers are still in fifth spot and level on points with fourth-placed Hull FC. A top eight finish will always seem likely under Powell and a top four spot will always be the goal. If Castleford fans are getting ahead of themselves thinking they have the divine right to beat every team and dominate the league like they did in 2017 - I admit I have thought like this for periods of this season - then just contemplate what life was like following Castleford before May 2013.

I still remember that Sunday afternoon when less than 4,000 fans turned up at home against Huddersfield to witness a 24-40 demolition when only three tries in the last nine minutes put some sort of respectability to the scoreline.

This, for me, was the lowest point since relegation back in 2006. Millward was sacked after this match and from there the rebuilding began with interim coach Danny Orr steering the Tigers to two wins from three before Powell finally took charge in May.

Culture and ethos

The moniker "Classy Cas" has been banded about down the generations, but Powell brought it back and then some to a side - and a club - void of confidence and charisma. Powell took over when the club was perhaps at the lowest ebb in its history; well, in 2017, the Pontefract-born Powell took the club to its highest ever achievement. It took Billy Rhodes, Derek Turner, Tommy Smales and Malcolm Reilly just five matches to win the Challenge Cup in 1935, 1969, 1970 and 1986 respectively.

Powell led his men to 25 wins out of 30 Super League games to claim top spot in 2017.

That is not just inspiration, that is consistency - Powell and the Tigers had been building up to 2017 for three years. He has created an ethos that other Super League clubs admire and his relationship with the fans is second to none. Powell is idolised at Castleford and he has steadily built a tremendously close bond amongst all those associated with the club from the fans to the boardroom. For me - performances in 2018 aside - Powell deserves the accolade as Castleford's greatest ever coach.