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4 days ago
Amongst the results from week one of Super League, one outcome stands out from all the rest. Having dominated the regular season in 2017, Castleford Tigers, favourites to win the 2018 edition before a ball was kicked, slumped to a defeat at the hands of St Helens, which was described by head coach Daryl Powell as ‘embarrassing'.
The 46-6 reverse to Saints left the Tigers at the bottom of an admittedly early table and last year's table-toppers need to bounce back quickly in the games that follow.
Supporters may still believe in Castleford following their dominant regular season campaign but the bookmakers have suffered from an instant lack of faith following that opening defeat. St Helens are the new favourites for the 2018 Super League crown at 10/3 in bet365's outright Rugby League betting markets with Cas in third place behind Saints and Wigan.
It is, of course, a long season and few would expect the Tigers to miss out on a place in the Super Eights and when we reach the knockouts, anything can happen as eventual champions Leeds Rhinos proved to widespread surprise.
Having suffered that huge disappointment in 2017, Castleford Tigers can react in two ways this time around. Many expected Powell's men to be galvanised by that loss in the final to Leeds, making sure that there was no mistake this year. Cas were ruthless in the regular campaign, winning 20 of their 23 matches and finishing with a ten point gap over the Rhinos in second place.
The Super Eights followed and Castleford were dominant again before narrowly scraping through their semi by 23 points to 22 over St Helens. Defeat in the Grand Final followed but surely 2018 would follow a similar pattern in the regular stage?
The second theory regarding the Tigers' 2018 suggests that the squad may suffer a hangover period, reacting in a less-than-positive fashion to that heartbreak 12 months ago.
One game doesn't make a season but the nature of that loss, to one of their nearest rivals for 2018 glory, prompted Powell to make that ‘embarrassment' statement. Cas were behind in the fourth minute and conceded eight ties along the way on what has become something of a bogey ground for the side.
Powell identified the ruck as one key factor to address with Saints taking full advantage of the Tigers' weakness in that area but there were serious concerns in attack at the same time with Castleford rarely looking like crossing the line and adding a try to their six points from the boot.
It's impossible to make a reasoned verdict on a team's season after just one game and over a long Super League campaign, Super Eight qualification remains a likelihood for Cas but there were real concerns here. Defeat to title hopefuls St Helens is no disgrace but the meek showing from the Tigers puts Coach Powell under instant pressure and an immediate return to form is a must for Castleford as they move through February and beyond.