After getting their Super 8s campaign on track in style at Headingley last week, Saints’ reward for a win on Thursday will be huge.
By beating Castleford, they will book their place in the play-offs – a semi-final shoot-out for a place at Old Trafford, with two games to spare.
Our goal is to make top four and as a group of people – a group of players – we are desperate to do thatKeiron Cunningham
Off field turmoil at the Tigers in recent weeks, coupled with a need to win to keep any hope of reaching the top four alive, means the task awaiting Keiron Cunningham’s men in the Sky Sports televised clash (8pm) will be daunting.
“We got beat by a point last time we played at Cas and we threw a lot of good stuff at them and they threw a lot of good stuff at us,” explained Cunningham.
“It was a real entertaining game and we’re looking forward to the challenge of it.”
Aside from the small matter of avenging Saints 25-24 reverse at the comically-named Mend-a-Hose Jungle back in June, Saints are hunting points to close down Huddersfield and Wigan as the sides jostle for position in the play-offs, with ties favouring higher placed teams.
But Cunningham says he isn’t dwelling on other results, and is more concerned about his own team picking up form following a nosedive start to the Super 8s.
“All we can do is do what we can do – what is within our grasp to dictate what happens in the season – and if that means winning as many games as we possibly can then that’s what we do and however the cards lie at the end of the rounds then that’s what it is,” he said.
“We have an influence on the Castleford game and then the Wigan game and then the Warrington game -– that’s all.
“Whoever, Leeds, Wigan, we can’t do anything about that – we can just look after our own back garden and see where we lie.
“Our goal is to make top four and as a group of people – a group of players – we are desperate to do that.” Three Super League losses on the bounce almost threatened to derail Saints’ championship defence, but a week off for the Challenge Cup Final allowed Cunningham’s men to regroup and put in extra hours without a game over their heads.
And with none of those losses, to Catalans, Hull and Huddersfield, being by more than 10 points, Cunningham knew there was no need for major renovation.
“I didn’t think we were far off against Huddersfield and I seemed like a Mystic Meg by saying it – I knew we weren’t far off,” he said.
“There were only a few things we needed to tidy up and the break really did us good. It gives you chance to get some hard work into them and do some longer sessions and get some genuine time on the field.”
Saints have a run of two blockbusters following this week’s trip to Castleford, with Wigan next up at Langtree Park before the champions collide with Warrington.
And even if a play-off place is sewn up this week, the profile of the final two fixtures will give them more than enough rehearsal for the semi-final, which looks likely to be in the form of trip to either Wigan or Leeds.
But Cunningham is encouraged by signs behind the scenes at the club, with the break and win over Leeds acting as the perfect springboard.
“We’re excited about playing again now and there’s a bit of a buzz about the place,” he said. “The players are enjoying doing the hard things which is always a promising sign as a coach.”
Saints have named an unchanged 19-man squad for Thursday’s trip to Castleford.
Saints 19-man squad:
Tommy Makinson, Jordan Turner, Josh Jones, Adam Swift, Travis Burns, Luke Walsh, Mose Masoe, James Roby, Kyle Amor, Jon Wilkin, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Alex Walmsley, Mark Flanagan, Mark Percival, Luke Thompson, Greg Richards, Joe Greenwood, Andre Savelio, Adam Quinlan.
Castleford 19-man squad:
Luke Dorn, Michael Shenton, Ben Roberts, Luke Gale, Andy Lynch, Adam Milner, Grant Millington, Oliver Holmes, Ryan Boyle, Junior Moors, Scott Wheeldon, Denny Solomona, Liam Finn, Michael Channing, Mike McMeeken, Ashley Gibson, Will Maher, Gadwin Springer, Paul McShane.
Referee: Ben Thaler.