Castleford Tigers are set to be without three key players for Sunday’s huge Tetley’s Challenge Cup semi-final, but head coach Daryl Powell is backing their replacements to step up to the task of getting the club to Wembley.
With Grant Millington already ruled out through injury the Tigers suffered two further blows when they lost fellow forward Weller Hauraki and top scorer Justin Carney to suspension.
Cas lost their appeal on Tuesday against a two-match ban imposed on Hauraki while Australian powerhouse Carney was suspended for two games for making a dangerous throw in the eyes of the RFL in last Sunday’s game against London and must also sit out the semi-final.
Castleford may now lodge an appeal against the Carney decision, but if he does not make the team Powell is confident there is a more than capable deputy ready to step up in James Clare.
He said: “James is the likely option to come in. He’s been outstanding when he’s played this year.
“Sticks has come in and done a good job on the wing and at full-back. A couple of weeks back he scored a couple of tries at the end against Hull and took them exceptionally well.
“We’ll miss Justin, Weller and Grant, but we’ve got a biggish squad for a reason, whether it be injuries or difficult situations like we’ve got at the moment . “We’ve made a lot this year about the ethic of the squad and everybody being able to slot in and do a high quality job. We’ve got good players in every position who can come in. That’s why we built the squad and hopefully we’ll be able to make the best use of it.”
Powell has no further injury worries with all the players coming through the London game fine and he will also have Daryl Clark and Andy Lynch back after they were rested.
Despite the absentees he admits to having a few selection decisions to make as to who to leave out after several players enhanced their case for a team place in the 64-18 win over London.
Powell said: “I thought we played some smart stuff against London.
“We were a little bit soft defensively early on, but once we got on top I thought we played some smart rugby league. Potentially a few players played their way into the team for the semi-final.
“I thought Frankie Mariano was excellent and Jamie Ellis did a really good job when he came off the bench so I’ve got some really good options there. Scott Wheeldon was really strong. He carried the ball, was exceptionally tough, got on the front foot and played the ball quickly. Gaz Carvell also got a nice try so we’ve got some competition for places that’s for sure.
“That’s important because it’s disappointing we’ve got Grant Millington out. He got a grade two medial ligament injury and it’s a blow for him personally and for us as a team as he’s been superb this year.”
Powell is hoping his own knowledge and that of senior players in the team can help the Tigers handle the pressure of a big semi-final.
He added: “Experience is big in situations like this so we’ll be calling on all the experience that players have had before. I’ve been involved in semis and finals and it’s about staying calm, managing your emotions and playing the game that you need to.
“It was a pretty special game last time Castleford were in a semi-final and I’m not too sure my heart rate would be great going through something like that. The result needs to be a little bit different and we’ll be happy.”