Written by Callum Walker
Photo by Photo Hull Daily Mail
A 14-4 lead at half-time against rivals Hull FC should have seen Castleford kick on and register back-to-back home successes, but that wasn’t to be as the black-and-whites hit back with four second-half tries to register a 31-18 victory.
The Tigers registered just three tries – one of which came courtesy of an Albert Kelly dropped ball – and again lacked fluidity and spark in attack.
Whilst the Castleford forwards were impressive – Liam Watts, Jesse Sene-Lefao, Mike McMeeken and Grant Millington all made dents against a strong Hull pack – their halves were once more non-existent.
It wasn’t even the backs in general that disappointed. Peter Mata’utia has rekindled his form from when he first joined whilst Greg Eden caught some absolute nightmare kicks. Greg Minikin and James Clare have been the target of much abuse in 2019, but they held firm in defence with all five of Hull tries coming down Castleford’s supposed stronger left-edge.
A three-quarter line cannot do much without creativity from the halves. For most of 2019 so far, that creativity has been lacking completely. Jake Trueman is still only 20, but his lack of pace is more reminiscent to someone of 50. His once superb short kicking game has drifted into mediocrity and his lack of communication is alarming for a halfback.
His halves partner Jordan Rankin has to take his share of the blame too; since coming to the Jungle on a swap deal for former Newcastle Knights second-rower/centre Joe Wardle, Rankin has been disappointing. A halfback is supposed to take on the line and offer a crisp and effective passing and kicking game. The only weapon in Rankin’s armory appears to be an inside pass to Mike McMeeken and then hope for the best.
St Helens have Jonny Lomax partnering Danny Richardson, Warrington Blake Austin and Dec Patton, and even Salford have Rob Lui and Jackson Hastings. A good team has a good pair of halves, Castleford meanwhile, have one of the worst partnerships in the league.
It’s almost ironic that the only half that has strung a few decent performances together in 2019 – Cory Aston – was dropped by head coach Daryl Powell and has now been seemingly left to rot on the training ground. Aston’s physicality, support play and inventive running puts Trueman and Rankin to shame and it’s a mystery as to how both are keeping him out of the team.
From one of the most exciting teams to watch in Super League to one of the worst, Castleford are predictable and boring. There is nothing wrong with Castleford’s pack – on its day its up there with the best in the top flight – but it’s no good being able to get into prime attacking positions if the halfbacks cannot generate good enough chances.
Tigers fans are praying for Luke Gale’s return and even Jamie Ellis – who has been the target of much displeasure from the Castleford faithful – has been touted as a possible replacement for either halfback. Whatever the solution, Castleford are currently at sixes and sevens and the performance of Albert Kelly and Marc Sneyd on Thursday night was evidence of the necessity of two influential halves, something which the Tigers lack to devastating effect.