By Phil Hodgson
Some victories are more important than others, as perhaps you’ll agree.
I’m not talking about the nature of the competition involved. It goes without saying that the result of a Ladbroke’s Challenge Cup Final, or a BetFred Super League Grand Final, means more than the outcome of, say, a pre-season friendly.
But having said all that, there are occasions when defeat or victory has more relevance than usual, and I’m not referring to derby matches.
What I’ve got in mind is last Saturday’s game between Castleford Tigers and Wigan Warriors.
I covered the match for League Express, and went down to the Mend-A-Hose Jungle anticipating a win for the Warriors.
The Tigers, who are perhaps the most exciting side in Super League this season, had lost their previous two matches, at St Helens and at Hull, and I felt that they would go into a contest with a Wigan outfit renowned for its pragmatism in a nervy state of mind, given that three successive defeats could have cast a gloom over a town which, only a fortnight earlier, had been buzzing.
As it happened, Cas hit the straps from the start, were 12 points ahead in double-quick time, and rarely looked in danger of losing.
It was an aspect that Tigers coach Daryl Powell touched on in the post-match press conference. Three reverses on the hoof can certainly affect confidence and attitude and I think Powell and his assistant coaches Danny Orr and Ryan Sheridan deserve huge credit for ensuring that their players went into the Wigan game in – by the looks of it, anyway – fine mental shape.
In the event they turned on arguably their best display of the season, which is saying something, and are back in their role as most fans’ flavour of the month, although how they will have fared in Thursday match at Huddersfield will have been interesting, given that they will have been without Luke Gale, Zak Hardaker, and Mike McMeeken, all of whom were on duty with England for the game with Samoa.
I suspect Castleford will have simply got on with it and will have accepted the outcome with good grace, which while we’re on that subject is how I see Wigan coach Shaun Wane’s usual reaction to defeat.
Many people seem to think that Wane can be a bad loser but I just don’t see it that way. Maybe it’s his relatively gruff manner, but I’ve always found him to be very approachable and honest, if perhaps a little forthright.
His immediate reaction to the 54-4 defeat at Castleford was very similar to that of other coaches who have found themselves sitting in the same seat in the Tigers’ media centre.
I’ve seen Chris Chester (Wakefield Trinity), Rick Stone (Huddersfield Giants), Brian McDermott (Leeds Rhinos) and Neil Jukes (Leigh Centurions) all perched there looking, frankly, shell-shocked in the wake of a Tigers points-spree and all, while adopting a default position of being critical of their own players, have been quick to pay due credit to Cas’ expansive attacking style.
The Tigers left everyone other than Wigan fans buzzing on Saturday (although it may be that even Warriors supporters may have been impressed, especially as their side suffered a host of debilitating injuries before and during the game.
This is a hypothetical question, of course, but I wonder what the mood would have been like in Castleford this week if the Tigers had lost? If, say, the ball had gone to ground at key moments, as it seems to have done in the reverses at St Helens and at Hull.
We’ll never know, of course. What we do know, though, is that the wheels are back on the wagon at Wheldon Rroad and that, as I wrote in League Express, Castleford are back to their brilliant best, with the spectre of three successive defeats most emphatically avoided.