WOEFUL Castleford Tigers had a night to forget as an error-ridden performance was given the treatment it deserved by Widnes Vikings.
The scoreline might suggest a tight affair but do not be fooled.
By their high standards, Daryl Powell’s side were poor from the start and did not get much better despite Paddy Flynn, the winger on loan from Widnes, scoring a hat-trick against his parent club to set up a frantic finish.
Castleford, whose top-four hopes have been jolted by this unexpected defeat, were 38-12 behind with just 12 minutes remaining.
They came alive with tries from Larne Patrick, his first for the club, Luke Gale and Flynn’s third to drag themselves back into it but there was no escape.
In fairness, they did not deserve it and, instead, it was under-strength Widnes who gave their top-eight bid a huge boost, moving up to seventh with only their second win in 10 league outings.
Essentially, Castleford – ruined by some wretched handling until the thrilling final stages – were undone by back-to-back tries just before the hour mark.
Firstly, Gale lost the ball untouched – the sort of uncharacteristic error that summed up the hosts’ night – to gift Widnes position to score in the 54th minute although there was some debate as to whether Patrick Ah Van actually grounded legally when stretching over.
From the re-start, Lee Jewitt immediately made a high tackle to cede more territory and Lloyd White sprinted clear.
Matt Whitely was hauled in just short by Paul McShane but some woeful defence allowed White to dummy over from acting half, Rhys Hanbury’s third conversion making it 26-12 to the visitors.
When Ben Crooks spilled another chance for the hosts, the influential White grubbered over as the home defence yet again switched off to leave Castleford’s furious fans questioning what was happening.
Gale attempted a short re-start which everyone – apart from Joe Mellor – waited to see where it would end up.
Mellor picked up and raced 55m to leave Powell’s side stunned.
Suddenly, after all their hesitancy and flat-footedness, Castleford came to life and everything started to stick. However, it was all in vain.
They looked disjointed and off the pace from the early exchanges.
They were fortunate not to go behind when Denny Solomona –switched from wing to full-back with Luke Dorn failing a late fitness test – spilled a kick return under pressure from Charly Runciman.
The loose ball was handed onto Kevin Brown but the video official ruled it out given Runciman had knocked it forward when enacting the tackle.
Nevertheless, Widnes gained possession from the scrum and scored soon after when unsuspecting second-row Junior Moors this time spilled, dropping Brown’s cannoned kick for Macgraff Leuluai to capitalise on nine minutes.
Rhys Hanbury slotted the first of his four kicks and the hosts were unable to get any momentum of their own amid a raft of unusual errors.
Jake Webster fumbled as Moors attempted an offload, dummy runner Grant Millington then lost possession when he was not even expecting a pass and Joel Monaghan could not collect as a wide move went awry for the Tigers.
The humidity may have caused some problems with handling but Widnes were not deterred, Ah Van crossing after a fine cut-out pass from Hanbury in the 19th minute.
Castleford did finally click when Solomona came into the line to sharply supply Flynn, a set-piece that the Kiwi was just off with earlier in the game.
It was a welcome score for Flynn, who joined on loan from Widnes last month having been squeezed out of contention at the Cheshire club but was still allowed to play against his main employers.
But, he switched off just before the break chasing back Mellor’s kick and Chris Bridge pounced for a 14-6 interval lead.
Flynn scored his second after some great trickery from Adam Milner in the 48th minute, Gale bringing it back to 14-12, and you sensed Castleford would push on from there especially as Widnes had seen Setaimata Sa, Chris Houston and Gil Dudson all pull out late on due to either illness or injury.
But it was not to be.
Their self-inflicted wounds continued and now, surreally, Widnes, who gave a debut to England Academy captain Brad Walker, are just a point behind them in sixth.
Powell’s side face some stiff tests coming up, too, with leaders Hull FC arriving next a week on Sunday before the Challenge Cup quarter-final against Wigan Warriors.
Castleford Tigers: Solomona; Monaghan, Crooks, Webster, Flynn; McShane, Gale; Jewitt, Milner, Patrick, Moors, McMeeken, Massey. Substitutes: Millington, Springer, Tickle, Cook.
Widnes Vikings: Hanbury; Thompson, Bridge, Runciman, Ah Van; Brown, Mellor; Cahill, White, Buchanan, Whitley, Dean, Leuluai. Substitutes: Chapelhow, Manuokafoa, Walker, Heremaia.
Referee: J Smith (Wigan).