KEIRON Cunningham thinks Castleford are ‘on the rise’ and labelled Daryl Powell as a ‘great coach’ ahead of the sides’ meeting tonight.
The Saints boss isn’t expecting his men to hold on to their place at the top of Super League without a fight when they travel across the Pennines but also promised there would be no excuses if the champions fail to secure the points.
After a shaky start to the season, Castleford have gradually found good form and won their last three games - including a stunning 31-24 win at Leeds last week to climb to fifth in the rankings.
Tigers coach Powell should take a lot of the credit, according to Cunningham.
“Great coaches get the best out of their players and Daryl’s a great coach,” he said.
“I’ve watch their last four games. They are a team in form and definitely on the rise. People had written Cas off at the start of the year and they lost a lot of players.
“But Daryl’s too smart a coach to let them go backwards. He integrated a lot of people. I spoke to Daryl at the start of the year and I think he was a little bit frustrated it didn’t happen a little bit quicker.”
But Saints themselves have won four on the bounce, including last Friday’s derby against Wigan which guided them to the summit of Super League with five games to go before the Super 8s begin.
Not only did they manage to overcome their fierce rivals, but Cunningham revealed a virus swept through his camp last week, with many of his players still under the weather for the derby.
Despite that and a shorter turnaround this week with Saints being Sky TV’s pick for the Thursday game, the coach is refusing to complain.
Great coaches get the best out of their players and Daryl’s a great coachKeiron Cunningham
“It’s only one day off a week – for me it’s nothing - all we’re missing is one training session,” he explained.
“The boys are recovered – they trained well out there today.”
“We’re in a nice spot. A very good spot for this time of year but the thing with rugby league is it can turn very ugly We’re not going to use the turnaround as an excuse.”
Meanwhile, Cunningham admitted he has fought with a welcome selection headache this week.
Saints fans were rubbing their eyes at the sight of Luke Walsh and Joe Greenwood’s names on the teamsheet to face Castleford, with both players suffering injury hell this season.
Walsh made his return from a broken leg only to require ankle surgery following Saints’ controversial loss to Catalans in May - while Greenwood hasn’t figured since popping his elbow in March’s trip to Hull KR.
“We’ll get a couple of names on the teamsheet we’ve not seen for a while this week,” smiled Cunningham earlier in the week.
“I’ll have some selection headaches - good headaches I’ve been waiting for. It freshens you up slightly.”
Greenwood has been back in training for a couple of weeks. Walsh, though he was able to run before, participated in his first full-contact training session since his injury on Monday.
On the returning duo, Cunningham said: “It’s the first time he’s trained properly with the team - full contact.
“Joe’s trained last week. There are a lot of people looking over their shoulder and he’s proving everybody wrong.
“Some people aren’t going to be happy on Thursday night.”
Prop Luke Thompson is also in Cunningham’s squad, with the trio of fresh faces replacing Lewis Charnock, Jack Ashworth and Matty Fleming.