Written by Callum Walker
Daryl Powell’s reign as head coach of Castleford Tigers recently hit the seven-year this mark. In that time the West Yorkshire side have been transformed from perennial strugglers to silverware hopefuls. It has been nothing short of a miracle.
Hailing from neighbouring town Pontefract, Powell grew up a Castleford fan, but made his name as a player for Sheffield and Leeds – whom he later coached for almost three seasons. Tony Smith took over the reins at the Rhinos at the end of 2003 as Powell shifted to the Headingley club’s Rugby Union set-up before returning to League with Featherstone Rovers.
During his time at Castleford’s bitter rivals, Powell steered Rovers to three consecutive League Leaders’ Shields in 2010, 2011 and 2012 and triumphed at the Championship Grand Final in 2011.
For Castleford fans, anything to rid them of the nightmare of the Ian Millward reign would be a godsend. Just three points in the Tigers’ opening 11 games saw the club rock bottom of Super League in the 2013 season. And, with crowds dwindling to less than 4,000 and financial concerns continuing to brew, the board acted before it was too late.
Both Millward and assistant Stuart Donlan were shown the door whilst former livewire halfback Danny Orr assumed coaching duties for three games – in which he helped the Tigers win two. The impact of Powell was instant; six wins and a draw from their final 13 games – including an unbelievable 49-24 thrashing of rivals Wakefield at the Magic Weekend – lifted Castleford to 12th and just six points off the play-offs.
— Peter Smith (@PeterSmithYEP) May 15, 2020
The Wembley trip itself was a surreal experience for a club and fanbase that barely a year ago seemed on the cusp of disaster. Fifth was where Castleford finished in 2015 and 2016 after being beset by injuries before 2017 came around.
After building for a good few years, the Tigers were tipped to unsettle the so-called ‘big boys’. They didn’t just upset the applecart, they destroyed it, as they finished top for the first time in their history with 25 wins from 30 league games. A 23-22 Golden Point semi-final thriller against St Helens saw them cement a deserved spot at the Grand Final.
For Castleford fans, it seemed too good to be true, and it was. The week leading up to the Grand Final is supposed to be one of celebration and anticipation, for Castleford, it was one of shattering dreams as star fullback Zak Hardaker was left out of the squad for the club’s biggest-ever fixture.
It later emerged he had failed a drug test as the Tigers’ Old Trafford heartache was compounded by a 24-6 defeat to Leeds – a side they had not lost to in their previous eight meetings.
Doing expertly well to shake off such a nightmare, the Tigers finished third and fifth in 2018 and 2019 respectively as Powell began a period of reconstruction with high-profile departures such as Ben Roberts and Luke Gale ensuring it would not all be plain sailing.
That reconstruction appears to have paid off so far in 2020 with Castleford sitting in second with five wins from their opening seven games. New halfback partnership of Jake Trueman and Danny Richardson has been exciting to watch as the next generation of silverware-hopefuls don the Castleford shirt.
It’s now common for those associated with the club to aim high – and rightly so. In fact, a bad season would now be considered falling short of the top-five play-offs. Seven years ago, such a feat would not even have been considered. Castleford is now expected to do well and it’s all down to one man: Daryl Powell.
With a deal running until the end of 2022, Powell is not expected to leave anytime soon. Silverware is definitely the next step after a few near misses and the ex-Featherstone boss will know that too. But, with Powell at the helm, they have the man to achieve that. And, that in itself is a miracle considering the position the club found itself in before his appointment.