Heading into Friday night's game against Wigan, Castleford fans were in good spirits; for the second season in a row, a Grand Final place at Old Trafford seemed possible. Despite not having the most consistent of seasons, the Tigers finished third in the Super League table - their second highest position in the league since Daryl Powell took over midway through 2013. And, with an army of nearly 4,500 fans making the arduous journey from West Yorkshire - indeed, people were still pouring into the north stand of the DW Stadium after the game had begun - the Castleford players needed little motivation to come away with the spoils.

Poor past results

But, not for the first time in his Castleford career - and certainly not in his overall coaching career - Powell failed to mastermind a victory in a big game as the Tigers succumbed to a 14-0 defeat. In six major finals - four for Featherstone and two for Castleford - Powell has won just one as a head coach. Castleford's semi-final clash against Wigan underlined that failure. From the kick-off, it was obvious which side was going to win the game.

Yes, Wigan defended superbly, but Castleford produced their worst attacking performance of the season in the game where it mattered most. It seems that the Tigers crumble when games mean more - last season's Grand Final epitomises this - but why is this?


Powell addressed the media after the game, calling for an attitude change from his players in big games. But surely the coach is responsible for motivating his players during the week and before and during the game? That's now a Challenge Cup Final, Grand Final and semi-final heartache for the Tigers under Powell.

That team that took to the Wembley turf in 2014 was significantly different to last year's Grand Final or this year's semi-final team. Plus, Powell had already failed to win three out of four Championship Grand Finals with Featherstone before he even joined Castleford.

In those six finals and one semi-final, Powell would have had at least 50 players at his disposal, the only consistent figure being himself.

Now, Powell is a fantastic coach - finishing top with Featherstone for three consecutive seasons and once with the Tigers in 2017 are superb achievements - and to even get near a final is a huge thing for Castleford fans who just five years ago were praying for an end to the Ian Millward era which left the club hanging by a financial thread. Furthermore, I've seen a lot of comments from fans praising the club for just finishing in the top four. But why settle for mediocrity once we get into these big games?

Changes needed

I didn't think last year's Grand Final could be equalled in terms of how dire the Tigers played, but the 17 that took to the field on Friday night - with the exception of Mitch Clark and Peter Mata'utia - rivalled that performance.

Too many players saved their worst games of the season for Friday night, but tactics are a big part of finals Rugby and Powell was simply outsmarted by opposite number Shaun Wane. Wigan did the basics right whilst the Tigers couldn't string a decent attacking set together. Powell can't control dropped balls, but he can control how his side shape up before a game.

Castleford, not for the first time, looked overawed on the big stage and despite all the promises that his side would be "up for it", the Tigers never looked like winning. The buck stops with the coach and, looking back on Powell's big game results in the past, this explanation would seem fairly justified.

During the game itself

Mitch Clark - one of Castleford's best players when he came on the field - was given just 15 minutes by Powell, whilst Jesse Sene-Lefao was hauled off with half an hour to go despite injecting much-needed energy.

Joe Wardle was a given starting spot at centre with the departing Jake Webster on the bench. Webster - despite Oliver Gildart running rings around him earlier in the season - should have taken that spot with Wardle on the bench or left out of the 17. In what turned out to be his last game for the club, effort alone would have seen Webster have more impact.

Sene-Lefao's best position is at second-row - as everyone saw in 2017 - but with Oliver Holmes seemingly able to do no wrong, the Samoan was pushed back in at prop - a position which does not suit his devastating running and offloading game. Adam Milner was left on the bench whilst Nathan Massey - who also seemingly can do no wrong - occupied the loose-forward spot and both arguably had their worst games for Castleford in 2018.

Castleford missed Jake Trueman and Junior Moors, but the team that took to the field should still have been able to overcome Wigan. Natural halfback Ben Roberts looked as though he'd never played at stand-off in his life whilst the absence of Matt Cook in place of Moors reduced Castleford's forward engine considerably. Issues such as kicking on the third tackle didn't help proceedings either - particularly when Wigan were making easy yards down the middle - and surely the responsibility for this once more lies with the coach.

Silverware needed in 2019

If Daryl Powell is to throw the monkey off his back, Castleford must win silverware in 2019. As a Castleford fan, it's great to see my team having a chance to win something at the end of the season and I would rather see my team playing in these big games than wooden spoon deciders.

In fact, the result would not have left as much scarring if the team performed how everyone knows they can. Failing to score in 160 minutes of Rugby League - the Tigers were nilled by St Helens the week before - is, however, dreadful.

For Castleford to pick up trophies in 2019, changes are needed; a winger, two centres - one to replace Webster and one to challenge Michael Shenton who looks to be on his last legs - and a prop should be high up on the list of necessities despite Powell stating that the club would not do much business in the offseason. The Tigers have been battling near the top of the table for three or four years now and there will come a time when Powell and Castleford part ways. In that time, Powell needs to inject new life into the squad and somehow find a way of shaking off the big game failures.