RUGBY LEAGUE is a 17-man game now and that means some players grab the glory after others put in the hard work.
Castleford Tigers, who visit Salford Red Devils tomorrow, have illuminated Super League with sparkling wins in their opening four matches, scoring 62 points more than any other team.
Their attacking play has been described as among the best seen since the sport’s move to a summer season 21 years ago, but Castleford’s success has been built on more than flair with ball in hand.
Having had the second most porous defence last year, coach Daryl Powell’s side have tightened up considerable at the back. At the start of round five only Hull, who had conceded two fewer points, had a better defensive record and Tigers’ hard work in that area paid off last week when they kept Widnes Vikings off the scoreboard.
It was the first time in eight years Castleford had recorded a clean sheet and, according to forward Nathan Massey, it was hard work done in the opening stages that set them on course for their 34-0 success.
Powell has hit on a winning formula, using his starting pack to wear the opposition down and then bringing on a fresh set of forwards to exploit the gaps that inevitably appear.
“Widnes really came after us in the first 20-25 minutes,” Massey - who started at loose-forward last week - reflected.
“We got clamped on our line a few times, but we had some great resilience and I think we broke them mentally after that.
“We bring our bench on and they do a massive job for us and we took a fair bit out of them holding them out, so it was really good.
“We joke that us boys who are starting are like cannon-fodder at the minute.
“We’re doing all that tough stuff then the other boys - Junior [Moors], Millo [Grant Millington] and Cookie [Matt Cook] all come on and get all the glory!
“Cookie scored a try last week and I don’t know how that happened! But it’s good how Powelly is rotating us and we’re happy with it.”
Massey has yet to get over the whitewash this season - and said Cook has been happy to remind him of that.
“I can’t even get over for a try when I’m being put over,” he said. “I’m sick to death of hearing from Matt Cook about his try!
“When we played Leeds, me, Andy Lynch and Cookie all came close to getting over, but we didn’t manage to - then me and Lynchy were watching him from the bench wondering how he’d got one so early.”
More than 1,500 Castleford fans are expected to travel over the M62 tomorrow and the club’s momentum is building week by week, but Massey insisted they need to be mindful of the fact there is a long way to go before honours are handed out.
“Obviously we’ve had four really good results but we’re not getting ahead of ourselves,” Massey stressed. “We’re taking each week as it comes because there’s never an easy game in Super League these days. Anyone can turn anyone over so we’ve got to be on top of our game, but we’re a happy camp at the minute.”
He added: “People outside of us are starting to see us as a threat as well, but it’s about what we do behind closed doors.
“It’s a really good place to be at the minute. I think the only pressure we’ve got is from ourselves and I don’t think we’re doing that at the minute.
“We’re not looking too far ahead; everyone is coming to work with a smile on their face and it’s bringing the best out of us.
“It’s nice to come into training knowing everyone is performing at the top of their game and the depth we’ve got means we’re all being pushed because you can’t afford to have a bad game.
“If you do, you’ll be out, and it’ll be tough to get back in.”
Castleford finished fifth last season, but Massey said they are anything but an overnight success.
“We’ve been building towards this for quite a while,” he said.
“Playing the way we do for the last three years, we’ve had some frailties in our defence and that was something we worked hard on in pre-season and it’s coming to fruition now I think.
“It’s no shock to us; it’s just believing we can really compete at the top end of Super League.“