SHRUGGING off yet another setback and ignoring at times horrendous conditions, inspired Castleford Tigers produced a stunning performance yesterday to set up the Tetley’s Challenge Cup final all of Yorkshire craved.
Without the suspended Justin Carney and Weller Hauraki plus the injured Grant Millington, it was understandable why some people feared Daryl Powell’s in-form side – the story of this 2014 season – might come unstuck just 80 minutes from Wembley.
Would their stylish football that has seen them surge from 12th last season to, now, just two points from top in Super League, prove useless at Leigh in the face of torrential rain brought in from Hurricane Bertha?
When Craig Huby, their talismanic prop, trudged off in agony with a dislocated elbow midway through the first half here, was that yet another untimely blow?
Or what about their late arrival at the sold-out ground due to traffic problems?
No. On all three counts. Daryl Powell’s side did what they have done all year – simply adapted, dealt with it and, ultimately, prospered.
Having reached Wembley for the first time in 22 years, they will play Leeds Rhinos a week on Saturday in what could be a classic finale.
It was earlier still – 1986 – that Castleford last lifted the famous trophy but, when they play their West Yorkshire rivals there for the first time, few will bet against them repeating that feat.
They got off to a terrific start yesterday with two tries in the opening nine minutes to leave nervous Widnes always chasing.
Daryl Clark made an instant impact with the half-break which then saw Luke Dorn put Liam Finn striding between the posts for Marc Sneyd to convert.
When winger Jack Owens fumbled a steepling Finn kick in the next set, hooker Clark went over himself after producing a lovely run-around with Sneyd on the Widnes goalline to bemuse the opposition defence and open up a 10-0 lead.
Frankie Mariano, who took his chance wonderfully with Hauraki suspended, charged the restart straight back to knock Hep Cahill flying and Widnes knew, yet again, they were in one fearsome contest.
Kirk Dixon thought he had secured Castleford’s third try in the 16th minute when the targeted Owens again came under pressure, this time from a Sneyd crossfield kick, but video referee Phil Bentham ruled Jake Webster had nudged forward when leaping to challenge.
When stricken Huby departed moments later, Powell’s side still lost none of their structure or composure.
Instead, Sneyd applied a couple of astute kicks to force two drop-outs and, though, nothing materialised from them, struggling Widnes were further drained.
Denis Betts’s side only had one real decent possession near their opponents’ line but the almost effortless manner in which – first through Webster on Chris Dean and then Clark on Dave Allen – their probes were dealt with suggested Castleford could cope with that until another hurricane swept into the UK.
To rub it in, Mariano picked up their eventual kick and duly ran 50m to set up yet another attack for the West Yorkshire side.
Oli Holmes almost slipped through soon after but ragged Widnes just clung on to the second-row to avoid that deficit being extended. It was only a matter of time before it would be, however, and this time the wound was self-inflicted.
Of all people it was Kevin Brown, a Man of Steel contender for his ingenuity for Widnes this term, who came up with the error, throwing an awful pass to his half-back partner Joe Mellor who, understandably, spilled 40m from his own line.
From there, Dixon did get his score and it was another slick piece of work which defied the elements. Finn came blind on the last tackle to initiate it and swift hands from Mariano and Dorn saw Dixon gain just enough room to finish in the corner.
Sneyd again missed with his conversion but – just as Leeds had done 24 hours earlier – his team-mates came up with a crucial try-saving tackle on the hooter, here denying Danny Tickle, to send them in with an identical 14-0 scoreline.
The main difference between these two semi-finals, though, was that you always fancied Warrington Wolves to retaliate eventually. With Widnes, they just did not have that aura.
As Widnes’s discipline waned again and their defence fractured further still, Jamie Ellis – a surprise inclusion in some eyes at the expense of Adam Milner – dummied his way over for a converted try in the 48th minute.
Giving Clark a well-earned rest, he delivered a 40/20 soon after, too, and though that did not create a further score, Sneyd’s penalty after Brown sailed a drop-out into touch made sure.
Some magic from Dixon on the right flank furnished Webster with a well-deserved try and Sneyd completed this impressive but not entirely surprising rout.
The Vikings pulled one back at the close when Owens touched down in the corner, converting his own score.
Widnes Vikings: Hanury; Flynn, Marsh, Dean, Owens; Brown, Mellor; Gerrard, Clarke, Kavangah, Galea, Tickle, Cahill. Substitutes: Allen, O’Carroll, White, Isa.
Castleford Tigers: Dorn; Dixon, Webster, Shenton, Clare; Sneyd, Finn; Lynch, Clark, Huby, Holmes, Mariano, Massey. Substitutes: Wheeldon, Ellis, Jewitt, Carvell.
Referee: R Silverwood (Mirfield).