A surprise first defeat of the season for Castleford last weekend by Salford may have offered a dose of reality to those who believed the Tigers would breeze through Super League this season. So it is how they respond that will tell us the most about the credentials of Daryl Powell’s side in 2017.
That view is one shared by the Castleford scrum-half Luke Gale. Like so many of his team-mates last Sunday, the England international was noticeably below-par as the Tigers struggled to handle the inclement weather against Salford – and Gale understands how Sunday’s meeting with Catalans will decide external perceptions of his side.
“I think games like Sunday are what will define us as a group and a team this year,” Gale says. “Throughout the course of a year you’re going to have setbacks along the way, but this is a big game against Catalans to show we can respond.
“We’ve fixed things up and while that Salford game is a tough one to take, we’ve dusted ourselves down and we feel like we’re ready to show a proper response and get back to the Castleford people were seeing in that first month.”
Castleford’s 13-12 defeat against the Red Devils is the only negative on their report card. But it is perhaps the way Castleford won their opening four matches that has really caught the eye, rather than the results themselves.
More often than not, the Tigers have blazed a trail with their eye-catching style, something Gale says Castleford must revert to as they look to solidify their early position inside Super League’s top four. “We just didn’t play very well, did we?” he reflects. “From the start we knew Salford were a good team but the conditions were awful and they played them better than us. We went into our shell in the second half and it was just a real grinder of a game.
“It’s not been that bad an opening month: we’d have taken four from five. We know teams will come after us; Salford’s defence shut us down really well and we need to find ways to counter that. That wasn’t a day where we could showcase our skills but we need to get back to how we know we can play.”
The mood in West Yorkshire this week has had an air of defiance about it as Castleford aim to prove that defeat at Salford was an anomaly and, just as the Tigers have called for calm when they were sweeping aside all before them, Gale has reiterated that message after a first loss of 2017. “We’ve worked hard all week and the good thing about losing is that you can learn from it and it should make you stronger,” he says. “We’ll learn where we are this week in regards to how we respond. Nothing changes, there’s no need for wholesale turnarounds and we’ll fix things up and go again – we haven’t suddenly become a bad side off the back of one result.”