THE FINAL margin was convincing enough, but Castleford Tigers’ 43-26 win over Catalans Dragons – which took them top of Super League – was far from straight-forward.
Looking to get back on track after their first defeat of the season, at Salford seven days earlier, Castleford found themselves 14 points down after just 11 minutes.
That was a major test of Castleford’s nerve and they came through with flying colours, scoring 22 unanswered points before half-time and controlling most of the second period, despite another early fright.
It was a frantic game, littered with penalties and Castleford’s defence looked vulnerable at times, but there is no doubting their attacking ability.
After their poor start, Castleford ran in four tries in the first half and added three more after the break, taking them to 229 points in just six games.
Greg Eden continued his prolific start to the season with a brace – and was only denied a hat-trick by a foot in touch in the final moments – and Luke Gale finished with 15 points from six conversions, a penalty and drop goal.
Tigers could not have made a worse start. Ben Roberts lost possession in their first set and the next time they held the ball the hosts were three scores behind.
Iain Thornley went over from Brayden Wiliame’s pass to open the scoring, then a penalty, goal line drop out – after Grant Millington spilled Luke Walsh’s kick – and another penalty set the field position for Richie Myler to go over off some magic by Paul Aiton out of dummy-half.
Joel Monaghan prevented another try in the set from the restart by knocking down a pass from Myler which would have sent Vincent Duport over, but a penalty following the resulting scrum allowed Walsh to kick his third goal.
The fightback began almost immediately as Zak Hardaker dummied across the line following a scrum deep in Catalans’ territory.
Gale, who added the extras, almost put Eden in for a second Castleford try with a looping pass moments later, but Krisnan Inu managed to force the winger into touch.
Millington isn’t the ideal man to be catching tricky kicks behind his own line, but is just the sort of player any team would want to get the ball to close to the opposition’s whitewash.
On 30 minutes Junior Moors did just that and the big front-rower crashed over to set up a simple second conversion for Gale
Matt Cook knocked trying to reach over for the home side’s third try, but Castleford were in the lead before the interval.
Monaghan was one of Super League’ most prolific try scorers during his time at Warrington Wolves, but hasn’t so far had the same impact for Castleford.
He missed the second half of last season due to a dislocated shoulder and Eden and Greg Minikin began this year ahead of him in the pecking order.
But the latter’s injury at Salford offered the Australian an opportunity. Long stints on the sidelines, this was only his second appearance of the season, have not blunted his finishing power and he dived over spectacularly from Jake Webster’s pass on 37 minutes.
At that stage about all the game was lacking was a scrum won against the feed. On the stroke of half-time it got one, Castleford gaining surprise possession 20 metres from Catalans’ line; Roberts cleverly kicked to the corner and Eden ran through to touch down. Gale failed to add the extras for the first time, his kick bouncing away off a post, but Castleford led 22-14.
Catalans cut the gap at the start of the second half when Louis Anderson went over from a pass by Myler and Walsh added the extras, but a close-range touchdown by Moors and Gale’s fourth conversion and then a penalty goal restored some breathing space.
Michael Shenton made certain of the points just before the hour mark. His pass sent Eden streaking down the left flank and though the winger was halted by Wiliame he got an offload away to send his captain over.
Gale converted, added a drop goal moments later and missed with a long-range penalty attempt before Eden ran through a tired defence for his second try, before being denied by the sideline in the final moments.
Gale’s kick completed Tigers’ scoring.
Catalans were out-classed and out-muscled in the second half, but never gave up and scored the final try through Duport, which Walsh improved.
Rangi Chase, who had missed the previous two games after being dropped over a disciplinary issue, was brought off the bench for the final 15 minutes.
Castleford Tigers: Hardaker, Monaghan, Webster, Shenton, Eden, Roberts, Gale, Lynch, McShane, Massey, Millington, McMeeken, Milner. Subs Moors, Cook, Sene-Lefao, Chase.
Catalans Dragons: Wiliame, Yaha, Inu, Duport, Thornley, Walsh, Myler, Moa, Aiton, Casty, Bousquet Garcia, Burgess. Subs Anderson, Baitieri, Da Costa, Margalet.
Referee: J Smith (Warrington).