Final meeting for Morgan and Matterson
Two of Engage Super League’s longest-serving coaches will go head to head for the last time tomorrow knowing for one of them, defeat will signal the end of the road.
Hull KR’s Justin Morgan and Castleford Tigers’ Terry Matterson are leaving their clubs at the end of the season - both are expected to take up assistant roles back in Australia’s NRL - and, by a quirky twist of fate, will be up against each other at Craven Park in a must-win last match of the regular season.
The prize for the victor will be the final spot in the Super League play-offs and an outside chance of a fairytale finish at Old Trafford next month, with the loser able to pack his bags for an early return home.
With at least half a dozen players also leaving their clubs, emotions are sure to be running high.
“We need to put those emotions to one side or at least suppress them for 80 minutes,” said Morgan, 36, who took over the Robins in 2005 when they were in the old National League and turned them into a competitive force in Super League.
“We’re not the first group of coaches or players to leave the club. The priority is the club and the team.”
Matterson, 44, who has been with the Tigers for six years and also guided them to promotion, said: “Some emotion is good but hopefully this isn’t the last game. The plan is to win this and go through.”
Rovers are the firm favourites to book a third consecutive play-off place, having hit their best form of the season, while Castleford are in their worst run, with just one win from their last four matches.
The Tigers, who are still getting over their agonising Carnegie Challenge Cup semi-final defeat, missed out on a top-eight spot a year ago when they lost their last match of the regular season to St Helens and Matterson is desperately hoping to avoid a repeat.
“It’s in our hands and I think that’s the important thing,” he said. “If we’re good enough, we’ll get the points and go through.
“It’s set up nicely. We started the season with seven from eight and Hull KR have finished the season with seven from eight. It’s all there to play for.
“It’s been a tough old run since the semi-final but it’s a one-off game now. We need to pick ourselves up from what happened last week.”
While the Tigers are coming off a 50-18 home defeat by Hull FC, the Robins are on a high after winning their last three matches, including a notable triumph over Catalan Dragons in Perpignan last Saturday.
“We’ve been effectively been playing sudden-death rugby for the past couple of months and now we’ve put ourselves in a position to make a final push,” said Morgan. “It’s going to be a huge game.”
Emotions will also be running high at the Twickenham Stoop, where long-serving Harlequins RL captain Rob Purdham will bid a fond farewell to the London club.
The England World Cup forward is leaving the club after 10 years to return home to Cumbria for family reasons and would love to bow out on a high.
“We’ve done the double over Leeds this year and it would be nice to do the double over Saints as well,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s ever happened before.”
Luke Gale, Andy Ellis and Oliver Wilkes will also be making their final appearances for the Londoners, who will be playing under the Harlequins banner for the last time as they prepare for another name change.
With third place guaranteed, St Helens take the opportunity to rest Jamie Foster, Leon Pryce, James Roby and Sia Soliola and will give a debut to 19-year-old second rower Carl Forster.