ONLY the width of a post prevented unfortunate Castleford Tigers from ending the impressive winning run of Super League leaders Hull FC.
Danny Tickle saw his touchline conversion attempt of Denny Solomona’s 73rd-minute try agonisingly strike an upright to leave his side just short in a game they know, despite being under-strength, they should have won.
The value of a quality goal-kicker was underlined once more as Daryl Powell’s side out-scored their rivals five tries to four but, crucially, improved just once.
Missing Luke Gale, their scrum-half and usual kicker, to an ankle injury apparently turned in training on Thursday, Paul McShane stepped up first and missed all three of his efforts.
Tickle, the former Hull second-row, landed his first from wide out when Solomona scored on the hour mark but, in the end, it was the accuracy of Marc Sneyd, the former Castleford scrum-half who improved all his side’s tries, that made the difference.
As Powell said afterwards, Sneyd did have “some dollies” but that won’t ease the pain as Tigers endured a fifth successive home defeat.
Hull, however, have now won nine consecutive matches and will head into Saturday’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup quarter-final rightly believing they can compete for both major trophies this season. Granted, they were far from their best yesterday but, once more, found a way to win.
It was Castleford, though, who started better, looking far more confident and controlled than their opponents both in attack and defence, despite a makeshift half-back pairing of prop Grant Millington and hooker McShane.
Luke Dorn, returning after missing last week due to injury, immediately made an impact as the full-back came into the line and sliced over from 15m after just four minutes.
The hosts had received possession via a drop-out after Jamie Shaul dropped a high kick.
When the unusually nervy Hull full-back did so again soon after, Ben Crooks thought he had scored Castleford’s second try but referee Gareth Hewer consulted with his colleagues before ruling Shaul touched down first.
Hull, however, were off the pace early on and looked surprised by the tenacity of their opponents’ defence, illustrated when McShane and Joel Monaghan drove back Mahe Fonua, the Tongan centre who has the bulk of a prop, and into touch.
Next they were caught offside gifting possession from which Jake Webster powered over after a smart play from Millington.
Sneyd was left powerless, the Hull scrum-half left beaten on the ground, but McShane missed the conversion attempt for a second time.
Lee Radford’s side needed something to get a foothold in the game and it came in the restart set when Solomona saw the ball stripped from him in a one-on-one tackle.
Frank Pritchard then charged back on an angled pass from Sneyd to prove too strong for Larne Patrick, Sneyd improving.
Millington showed great strength to deny the giant Kiwi a second try but Webster suffered a knock to the head in the same tackle. After he left the field, Sneyd’s effort bounced back off a post into the onrushing Danny Houghton’s grasp for the Hull hooker to score a fortuitous try.
Sneyd once more improved but his colleagues Scott Taylor and Kirk Yeaman were then needed to produce crucial tackles on Nathan Massey and Crooks respectively.
Fonua constantly proved a useful outlet for Hull and he was twice held up over Castleford’s goalline. The hosts could not deny him a third time, however, when the 23-year-old benefitted from a clever Sneyd pass to score from 10m out in the 34th minute.
With Sneyd converting again, Hull went in 18-8 ahead but Castleford drew back level with back-to-back tries heading to the hour mark.
Fine handling, from Dorn and Crooks in particular, saw Paddy Flynn dive in at the right as Sneyd again missed the crucial tackle and then Solomona scored the first of his brace after more creative play to the left.
Tickle levelled only to see his side fall behind again almost immediately when Leon Pryce produced some old magic.
Left out for the last three games with Radford preferring Carlos Tuimavave, the veteran former Great Britain stand-off came off the bench to make a classic sniping run that set Shaul scampering to the line.
Sneyd did the rest and, though Hull tried self-imploding with a series of late errors before and after Solomona’s second, they held on.
Castleford Tigers: Dorn; Flynn, Crooks, Monaghan, Solomona; McShane, Millington; Tickle, Milner, Patrick, Moors, Webster, Massey. Substitutes: Holmes, Springer, Maher, Cook.
Hull FC: Shaul; Michaels, Fonua, Yeaman, Naughton; Tuimavave, Sneyd; Taylor, Houghton, Watts, Pritchard, Washbrook, Thompson. Substitutes: Hadley, Green, Pryce, Bowden.
Referee: G Hewer (Whitehaven).