IF YOU are going to beat champions Wigan Warriors and maintain your 100 per cent start to the season you may as well do it in style and with a little drama too.
Brilliant Castleford Tigers did just that yesterday as Luke Dorn, their lively Australian full-back in his second spell at the club, scored with the final play of a truly remarkable game at Wheldon Road.
Daryl Powell’s side had actually been 16-0 up inside just 13 minutes yet fell 24-22 behind on the stroke of half-time, only to battle back to lead again 30-24 going into the final three minutes.
However, after twice ignoring the chance to go for a drop goal to cement their fourth successive win, they saw England winger Josh Charnley score in the corner and Matty Smith level the game with a touchline conversion.
When the scrum-half then nailed a 40m drop goal in the 80th minute, Castleford – who had been so rugged, determined and exciting in equal measure – looked, understandably, forlorn and dejected.
There was one more rally, though, as they performed a perfect short-kick-off to regain possession and then, having resisted the temptation to go for an equalising drop goal themselves, spread the ball wide for Michael Shenton to give Dorn just enough space to weave his way over.
As the jubilant scenes erupted, Shenton, Castleford’s captain, will have been particularly relieved having wasted a great opportunity to seal it all in the 66th minute but he, like the rest of Powell’s ever-improving squad, was magnificent.
“It was some finish wasn’t it?” admitted the coach.
“Unbelievable really. I thought we’d won, drawn it, lost it and then we won it again.
“It was a crazy finish but I thought we were outstanding with the ball at times today.
“We caused Wigan a hell of a lot of trouble and had a try chalked off for I’m not sure what and it was just a great game.
“I think we have to expect to be in these sorts of battles and in previous years we haven’t been in them as much as we should.
“The more we can get used to that and come out the other side it will stand us in good stead.
“A lot of questions have been asked about this team and we keep answering them.
“We won’t get carried away – others have talked us up after our start but not us – but that is a marker for us; beating a highly-motivated Wigan side and coming out with a win like that was exceptional.”
It was all the more exceptional given some of the difficulties Castleford endured.
Kirk Dixon, recalled in place of Richard Owen – the winger who scored a hat-trick at Hull KR the previous week – was taken to hospital after suffering a broken jaw in the ninth minute following a high tackle from England hooker Michael McIlorum that was only put on report by the officials.
That meant second-row Frank Mariano had to switch to centre with Michael Channing moving to the wing,
By that point, Castleford were also down to 12 men after winger Justin Carney was yellow carded for throwing a flurry of punches following “provocation” from Wigan second-row John Bateman.
However, they had streaked ahead with some quality football seeing Dixon score in the corner and Dorn also scrambling over for the first of his double.
Then, when Wigan’s full-back Matt Bowen messed up Marc Sneyd’s clever grubber, Adam Milner pounced and Sneyd slotted the second of his six goals to leave the home fans delirious.
The visitors, missing captain Sean O’Loughlin but still fielding a strong side, finally got going when Bowen outpaced Shenton to the corner and then – just before Carney’s return – ex-Hull KR stand-off Blake Green dummied his way over for Smith to convert and leave it at 16-10.
Carney then erred trying to take Smith’s kick allowing the scrum-half to follow up and score but Castleford – who finished 12th last season – did not wilt.
Instead, after Bateman was penalised for a ‘cannonball’ tackle, Daryl Clark showed great footwork to leave Wigan defenders grounded from dummy half and go over, Sneyd doing the rest.
Carney and Sneyd combined expertly to deny ex-Leeds Carnegie centre Iain Thornley but there was no stopping Wigan as they hit back with two tries just before the break from Tony Clubb and a scorching solo effort from their frighteningly fast young winger Joe Burgess. Yet Castleford, whose prop Craig Huby was outstanding up front, responded once more after a scrappy start to the second period.
A quality long pass from Weller Hauraki, the striding second-row in such rich form, saw Channing dive over and Sneyd’s curled touchline conversion was soon added to by a penalty after Ben Flower was yellow-carded for a “cannonball” tackle on Huby.
Powell’s side, who host Hull FC on Sunday possibly without Andy Lynch after he injured his back in the second period, should have made sure thereafter but all that drama was still yet to come.
Dorn produced a desperate tackle on Burgess after Bateman’s break but – after Wigan thought they had won it – it was the 32-year-old’s talent at the other end that would eventually settle this fascinating match.
Castleford Tigers: Dorn; Dixon, Channing, Shenton, Carney; Sneyd, Finn; Lynch, Milner, Huby, Holmes, Hauraki, Millington. Substitutes: Massey, Clark, Mariano, Wheeldon.
Wigan Warriors: Bowen; Charnley, Sarginson, Thornley, Burgess; Green, Smith; Crosby, McIlorum, Taylor, Farrell, Bateman, Flower. Substitutes: Tomkins, Pettybourne, Clubb, James.
Referee: R Hicks (Oldham).