Written by Callum Walker
I remember following the Tigers since year the 2003. We finished eighth that season under Graham Steadman after finishing sixth and eighth in 2002 and 2001 respectively. At that time, Castleford had a perfect blend of youth and experience with the likes of Mitch Healey, Wayne Bartrim and Lee Harland helping to bring through rookies Danny Orr, Andy Lynch and Wayne Godwin.
Going into the 2004 season, however, that all changed. Losing the likes of Healey (retired), Bartrim (retired), and Orr (Wigan) was always going to hit a team hard, but replacing such class with the likes of Sean Rudder, Ryan Sheridan and Paul Newlove – both of whom sat out most of the season with injury – and Craig Greenhill was a recipe for disaster.
And, so it proved; with just one win in 19 league games, the Tigers were rock bottom of Super League. Steadman was sacked with Gary Mercer installed in his place. Five wins in ten games threatened a miracle, but a defeat at home to Wakefield Trinity in their last fixture condemned the Tigers to the second tier for the first time since the switch to the summer game.
I remember crying at that game as the players gave a final hurrah walking round the field one last time as a Super League side. But, the one year spent in the Championship – or National League One as it was known then – was as exciting as any.
Incoming boss Dave Woods had built a team around veteran halfback Brad Davis and livewire hooker Andrew Henderson, and, though the Tigers came up short in the Northern Rail Cup Final against Hull KR, the West Yorkshire club thrashed Whitehaven – who had, ironically, finished above Castleford that season – in the promotion final, 36-8.
✌️ weeks until we’ll be #ReadyToRoar and back in action!
Get your Fan Cutout for August’s games behind closed doors and support the club!
— Castleford Tigers (@CTRLFC) July 25, 2020
I fell in love with Rugby League that year, travelling to places such as Oldham, Rochdale and Halifax and watching my team play from the heart. But, Super League was of course the dream and it had been achieved. That is why many Tigers fans – including myself – couldn’t understand why Woods was not given the chance to take the club forward in 2006.
The former Penrith and Parramatta reserve player was released and in stepped Terry Matterson. The Tigers were relegated again that year for the second time in three seasons, though it wasn’t entirely justified.
Catalans Dragons finished bottom, but were exempt from relegation whilst points docked for salary cap breaches against Wigan wouldn’t be enforced until the following season, which would have put the Warriors below Castleford in the table.
The so-called “Battle of Belle Vue” – as Wakefield once more put the Tigers into the second tier – was another heartwrencher and one which Castleford fans have never forgotten. But, again, the club bounced back with ease, annihilating Widnes in the play-off final 42-10.
I never truly understood the importance of that victory until the season after when licensing came into being. Castleford finished bottom in another abysmal top flight year, and though they finished seventh in 2009 and reached the Challenge Cup semis in 2011, the club narrowly missed out on the play-offs in 2010 and 2011.
At least we were safe though, and, dominated with Rangi Chase magic, the brand of Rugby League often went from downright spectacular to the absurd.
Even though both relegation seasons were difficult to go through to say the least, the worst was still yet to come. The dark days of the Ian Millward era didn’t last long – one-and-a-half seasons – but it set the club back many years.
Following a run of just one win in 18 games spanning 2012 and 2013, the former St Helens boss was sacked. With home crowds dwindling to less than 4,000 and with the club in financial tatters off the field, the end looked nigh for Castleford Tigers.
Then in stepped Steve Gill as chief executive and Daryl Powell as head coach. The change was incredible in such a short space of time. A Wembley appearance and a fourth-place finish in 2014 baffled fans who just barely two seasons earlier had been disgusted with on-field performances and off-field management as the Tigers languished at the bottom of the table.
Fifth-place and sixth-place finishes in 2015 and 2016 respectively paved the way for an incredible season in 2017. As a Castleford fan, dreaming of winning the league was just that: a dream. Somehow that became reality as my team lost just six games all year, bouncing their way to a first title in a 124-year history. Unfortunately, a Grand Final defeat at the hands of Leeds brought us back down to earth with an almighty bump.
2018 yielded a third-place finish with fifth the end result in 2019. And, with the Tigers in second place at present, the future certainly looks a lot brighter than it did at the start of the last decade.
Speaking from experience, I know as well as anyone that being a Castleford fan comes with its ups and downs – mainly its downs. But, what we have witnessed in recent years under Daryl Powell has been nothing short of unbelievable. From perennial strugglers to fighting for silverware, it’s been a transformation that no supporter – no matter how hardy – thought possible.
I remember going to games hoping to not get thrashed now I attend fixtures feeling confident that we are going to win, no matter which side turns up.
It’s no good resting on our laurels, though, complacency breeds negativity and a losing mentality can take hold a lot quicker than a winning one.
That is why I often tell fans that a “small-club mentality, a look-at-how-far-we-have-come-type of thinking” is wrong. To be a so-called ‘big-club’ you need a different way of going about your business. Believe we can win silverware, don’t be thankful for just getting there, because before you know it, we’ll be back fighting for our lives at the wrong end of the table.
Yes, the club has turned itself around in a very short space of time, but that can easily come crashing down – just look at Leeds. The foundations have been put in place to ensure that doesn’t happen and I, for one, feel good about both the short- and long-term future of the Castleford Tigers. What a difference a few years make.