LIAM FINN responded to being dropped in the perfect manner by scoring two tries to help a relieved Castleford Tigers move up to third last night, still just two points away from Super League leaders St Helens.
The 30-year-old has been one of the success stories of the season, the former Featherstone Rovers scrum-half having quit his job as an electrician last December to take on a full-time contract with Castleford.
His form had dipped of late, though, prompting coach Daryl Powell to leave Finn out of their emphatic win at Widnes.
The Ireland captain, not noted for his try scoring, returned to double his tally for the season and eventually see off some stubborn resistance from depleted Huddersfield who, in fairness, showed great spirit to almost complete an unlikely comeback having trailed 32-12 approaching the hour mark.
Although Finn’s input proved valuable, it was captain Michael Shenton who was the most inspirational last night with a series of cutting breaks, while Marc Sneyd, the stand-off operating at full-back here, kicked superbly.
Huddersfield were missing the injured spine of the team that fired them to the League Leaders’ Shield last year – reigning Man of Steel Danny Brough at stand-off, hooker Shaun Lunt and full-back Scott Grix – so it was perhaps no surprise they missed out on the chance to draw level with Castleford in the league table.
Yet they had hung on in a first half in which Castleford – who lost 27-26 to Brough’s drop-goal when they last met in April – had dominated. Led brilliantly by Andy Lynch, the forceful prop who continually drove hard down Huddersfield’s middle, they made plenty of metres and, just to heap on more pressure, their kicking game was far superior too.
Whether it be through Jamie Ellis or Sneyd’s boot, they forced three drop-outs in the opening 25 minutes but generally, apart from the last of that trio, they failed to capitalise.
They gifted the visitors some easy scores, too. Chris Bailey, the versatile Australian pressed into emergency hooking duty due to the absence of Lunt and both Luke Robinson and Kyle Wood stationed in the halves, burrowed over from close range in the fifth minute when he had no right to.
England centre Leroy Cudjoe picked off Finn’s pass to intercept and race 85m for their second in the 13th minute as another promising Castleford attacking position withered away to nothing.
Cudjoe, kicking in place of Brough, converted both but his side would offer no other real threat before the interval given their opponents’ hold on the game.
Powell’s side had responded to that initial setback when Sneyd made a lovely arcing run from deep to put Oli Holmes in at the corner in the eighth minute.
Bur frustrations had clearly grown by the time they finally scored again, Sneyd again highly involved with Finn to see the burly Australian winger Justin Carney secure his 21st try of the season.
Sneyd converted from wide out and did so again when his side finally took the lead with the last play of the first half, Jodie Broughton failing to deal with Finn’s kick meaning the scrum-half could notch his first try since April.
When Adam Milner, Castleford’s replacement hooker, did just what Bailey did four minutes into the second half, Sneyd did the rest. In the very next set, Shenton splintered Huddersfield once more from deep and, though Milner was denied, Finn’s perfect crossfield kick was taken expertly by Kirk Dixon for Castleford’s fifth try of the night.
The winger will have been relieved; he had unusually wasted another gilt-edged opportunity in the first half when Shenton, typically, had made a lightning break only to see his supporting colleague spill on halfway with no one near him.
When Shenton eased into space yet again in the 53rd minute for Sneyd to make it 32-18, victory seemed guaranteed.
However, Joe Wardle and Bailey again rallied with quickfire tries just before the hour, Cudjoe improving both, while Broughton had one effort rightly ruled out.
Frankie Mariano barged over, though, so that Castleford could finally breathe easy but even then, Eorl Crabtree rumbled over for another softly conceded and converted try.
The industrious Grant Millington rounded it off for Castleford, who visit second-placed Leeds on Thursday.
Castleford Tigers: Sneyd; Dixon, Webster, Shenton, Carney; Ellis, Finn; Lynch, Clark, Huby, Holmes, Mariano, Millington. Substitutes: Milner, Massey, Wheeldon, Jewitt.
Huddersfield Giants: Connor; McGillvary, Cudjoe, Wardle, Broughton; Wood, Robinson; Kaufusi, Bailey, Mullally, Ferres, Patrick, Lawrence. Substitutes: Crabtree, Kopczak, Ta’ai, Leeming.
Referee: Richard Silverwood (RFL).