Rugby League: Castleford planning their `escape' celebration

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The Independent Online
There will be a stark contrast in atmosphere at two grounds tomorrow, as Castleford count their blessings and Oldham count the cost of losing their Super League place.

Their defeat in Paris in midweek means that Oldham are relegated, leaving Castleford to celebrate their escape when Sheffield visit for the last league game of the season.

"I'm happy for everyone at the club, not just for myself," said Stuart Raper, the coach, whose recruitment from Australia when all was close to being lost has been vindicated by Castleford's survival, which he described as "great news for the club and the town".

With the threat of relegation lifted, Raper wants Castleford to go out on a high. "I think it is very important we win and I will be stressing that to the players. I really want us to go out and have a committed effort.

"I think for the first time this season they can play without the pressure on their shoulders, those extra few kilos they have been lugging around in the thought that if they drop this ball or throw that bad pass that could be the one that gets them into relegation.

"I know the players want to go out on a winning note. We do not want to stay in the top league on someone else's result and it would be nice to go up another notch above Paris."

Castleford's chief executive, Richard Wright, is already looking forward. "The hard work begins today to make sure that the club grows stronger and is never involved in a relegation fight again," he said. All the same, the mood will be one of relief, tinged with a little euphoria.

The afternoon will have an altogether blacker aspect at Boundary Park, where Oldham's game against Warrington comes too late to offer them any hope.

The club's better players are looking to their futures, with Martin Crompton, Francis Maloney, Paul Atcheson and Paul Davidson all likely to attract interest from Super League sides now that Oldham will be unable to meet their contracts.

Elsewhere on the final day of the league season, St Helens will be well below full strength against the other escapees, Paris, at Knowsley Road.

Bradford still have the opportunity to complete the best-ever season by a side in the top division, despite the loss of their 100 per cent record to Wigan last week.

Victory at the London Broncos, who are already guaranteed second place, will beat the previous record of just two defeats in a championship season.

Martin Offiah, who now wants to commit himself full-time to the club, will be back on the London wing, with Scott Roskell dropping to substitute and Peter Gill resting a knee injury. Robbie Beazley, who moves back to his regular position of hooker, has signed a long-term contract with the Broncos.

The Divisional Premiership throws up another meeting between Super League- bound Hull, who may well be in the running for Crompton's services, and their neighbours, Hull Kingston Rovers.

Des Harrison has escaped suspension to play for Rovers, but the potential match-winner is, as usual, Tevita Vaikona, who broke Hull's try-scoring record for a season last week.