Castleford Tigers head coach Daryl Powell last night labelled disgraced Widnes Vikings fans who invaded the pitch after yesterday’s Tetley’s Challenge Cup semi-final as “ridiculous”.
The West Yorkshire club produced a superb performance to win 28-6 at Leigh Sports Village and set up a Wembley date with arch-rivals Leeds Rhinos on Saturday week.
It is the first time they have reached the showpiece since 1992, but Castleford’s celebrations at the end were cut short after around 100 Widnes supporters marched down the field towards their end.
Amid ugly scenes and scuffles with stewards, the Castleford mascot was punched and had his ‘Tiger’ head ripped from him.
One of Castleford’s supporters was also injured as an advertising board fell on her ankle during the aftermath of a game which had been televised live on BBC2.
Thankfully, Castleford fans refused to be goaded onto the pitch and Powell said: “It could have been more serious.
“But the fans were impeccable, as they have been all year, with the way they go about their business.
“We were really professional and composed on the field and I thought they stayed the same, which is really pleasing.
“But it could have escalated and been a bad day for rugby league.
“It was ridiculous. I don’t know what they were trying to prove. But the boys are alright and there were no real incidents.”
The Rugby Football League have launched an investigation and say they will await reports from the stadium, the police and the two clubs before deciding what action to take while noting the behaviour of the vast majority of fans was “exemplary”.
RFL chief executive Nigel Wood said: “The sport has every right to be disappointed with the behaviour of a minority of Widnes fans.
“We will work with the clubs to identify any supporters who encroached onto the pitch. There is no place for such behaviour in rugby league.
“True rugby league supporters are renowned for their good nature at all occasions such as this and we will not hesitate to use whatever measures are available to us to protect these precious values.”
On his team’s performance, Powell said: “I thought we were sensational. We started superbly, there was a great focus about the boys and we started as we meant to continue. It was a quality 80 minutes from us.”
The only other downside was the loss of prop Craig Huby to a dislocated elbow in the first half which threatens his Wembley place.
Powell said: “It’s obviously disappointing for us and for him.
“We had a few boys missing with Millo (Grant Millington), who has been superb, as well, plus Justin (Carney) and Weller (Hauraki). But it shows we have got something. You can sense and feel and see that the players do so much for each other and they are prepared to do anything.
“I thought that showed. We were four players down – all pretty important players – and they got the job done. Nobody worried about it, they just got on with their jobs and were sensational.”
Leeds reached Wembley for a fourth time in five years with an impressive 24-16 win over Warrington Wolves on Saturday.
For all their dominance in Super League, Leeds have lost all six Challenge Cup finals featured in since last lifting the trophy in 1999.
Powell played for Leeds that day and the following year in defeat to Bradford Bulls while he coached Rhinos when they lost to Bradford again in 2003 in Cardiff.
Both sides are just two points behind leaders St Helens in Super League, too, so it should make a fascinating finale with Castleford seeking their first triumph since 1986.
Leeds full-back Zak Hardaker lives just two miles from Castleford and supported and played for the Wheldon Road club’s fierce rivals Featherstone Rovers.
“I’m from Pontefract and still live there so there’s that Pont and Cas rivalry as well as me being a Fev fan as a kid,” said the England international, who was influential again at the weekend.
“My next door neighbour is a Cas fan and he called this final about 12 weeks ago. Obviously it’s great for Cas and the town; they’ve got a great little club going and they’re playing really well.”
Reports: Pages 6 and 7.