Previous Meetings: They’ve split a game each this season, Cas winning their meeting at the start of the season and Wigan winning a few weeks ago. Both games were close, decided by six points or fewer. These clubs have generally had close encounters over the past few seasons. It’s worth pinting out that Castleford’s best run in the Super League playoffs involved winning at the DW Stadium (then the JJB) in 1999.
Form: Wigan had been in good form until their visit to the Galpharm last week. They will no doubt hope that was an aberration. Conversely, Castleford had been in a mini-slide until they crushed Harlequins and surged past Celtic Crusaders. Even so, the scrappy nature of their win against the bottom side last week isn’t necessarily the lasrgest confidence boost going into this game.
Thoughts: Of all the potential upsets this weekend, I can’t help but feel that Castleford have the best shot. They’ve got a full strength side, talented players, a smart coach, and they’ve already won at this ground this year. They also have some unfinished business to attend to over their narrow loss a few weeks ago. Castleford won’t be lacking for motivation.
Nonetheless, Wigan have an interesting statistic going in their favour: Brian Noble has never lost his opening game of a playoff series as a coach. He also happens to be the most successful coach in the Super League playoff era and even if I think it’s unlikely this Wigan side will add to that tally, I do think that his experience will count for something (as will home advantage).
His experience may very well be needed as well to balance out the youthful exuberance that Sam Tomkins will bring to his first playoff series. If Castlefod can get to him and unsettle his nerves, then that might serve as the foundation for a winning gameplan. I’m not sure how many chances the Tigers are going to get, so they will need to execute with precision on the occasions they do get a chance. It’s also worth noting that several of their key players (Michael Shenton, Joe Westerman etc.) are also Super League playoff rookies, although they did win the Nation League One playoffs a few years ago.
In Conclusion… A very tight game to cal, but I think the home advantage may just help sway this Wigan’s favour. I very much doubt either side will manage to blow the other one out of the water, and it may turn out that a rugged forward battle allows some nice tries to be scored. As long as Wigan can show that last week was a mistake, and that the form they’ve been building before that is more reflective of their current state, then they should be okay. If it’s not, then I don’t think Cas will refuse the chance to put them away.