RESILIENT Castleford Tigers showed their true title potential last night with a remarkable recovery to break Hull FC hearts.
Just six days after enduring the worst performance of his reign, a 56-10 embarrassment at Wigan, Hull head coach Lee Radford must have thought he was witnessing one of the best as his reformed side built up an impressive 18-4 lead against the Super League high-fliers.
But he could only watch on in despair as the visitors, overcoming some wretched earlier form, scored three late tries to level. Cruelly, Marc Sneyd, Castleford’s on-loan scrum-half who will join Hull at the end of the season in a £100,000 deal from Salford Red Devils, was central to the revival.
He had already set up Michael Shenton’s first-half try with a brilliant break but then, after the hosts had seemingly taken charge with converted scores for Fetuli Talanoa, the impressive Jordan Abdull and Kirk Yeaman, he started the fightback.
Sneyd got on the end of Shenton’s half-break in the 67th minute to convert and offer hope and then, just six minutes later, it was his clever grubber that sat up perfectly for James Clare, the Castleford winger who enjoyed a rare appearance.
As Hull’s nerves frayed, the resurgent visitors produced the coup de grace with Sneyd showing great dare and adventure early in the tackle count to chip another perfect kick to Clare to go over once more in the 77th minute.
Sneyd, though, narrowly missed the difficult touchline conversion – the 23-year-old only managed one all night – so the stunned home side survived with a point.
They will be rueing the decisions, though, to twice turn down kickable penalties approaching the hour mark when, admittedly, seemingly in full control 18-4 ahead.
Castleford – after their second successive draw – are now joint-second with Wigan Warriors and Leeds Rhinos, just two points behind leaders St Helens, as their quest for a first Championship continues.
Hull, who remain without a win in six games, paid a heavy price for this draw with Abdull stretchered off late on after being hit by Weller Hauraki’s stray boot, an incident that saw the Castleford player put on report.
They also saw his half-back partner Jordan Rankin leave the stadium on crutches.
Abdull, a youngster who showed a maturity that belied his 17 years, was almost insouciant at times, dictating play whether through smart kicking, clever distribution or simple directness as demonstrated when he straightened up and bulldozed his way through some weak Castleford defence for the opening try.
Yes, bulldozed. He may be a scrum-half but the sturdy teenager – playing only his fifth game – is definitely more in the mould of Andy Gregory when it comes to stature. Clearly Hull will look to Sneyd to bring some much-needed class next season, but the East Yorkshire club have a terrific player - he made a storming break that came to nothing in the first half, too - waiting in the wings.
Castleford had been limited to just two real chances in the first period. They clinically took their first when Sneyd, teasing Hull fans with a glimpse of what they will be getting in 2015, stepped his way through from halfway and sent Shenton over.
But it had taken the visitors, unusually sloppy in possession, fully 24 minutes to get that initial scent of Hull’s line.
Their second shot came courtesy of a thrilling break from Grant Millington, one of the most improved forwards in Super League this term, which was continued by Hauraki and Liam Finn before Daryl Clark was just dragged down short between the posts.
After that debacle at Wigan, the new-found desire shown in Hull’s side was clearly apparent here as four defenders battled to deny the Man of Steel candidate, although they were grateful too for Dean Hadley receiving a heavy head knock in the process; referee James Child, rightly, stopped play for treatment and it allowed Radford’s side to realign their ragged rearguard with the viisitors denied a chance to strike.
Hull fully deserved their 12-4 lead, however. In fact, they should have had far more for their continued efforts but that has been the story of their season.
Talona, with the Tongan international’s ninth try of his debut season here, gave them a 15th-minute lead after the visitors, not for the first time, coughed up possession in their own 20m area.
Danny Houghton crabbed across the line before finding Yeaman with a well-timed pass, the ex-England centre who quickly provided for his winger.
Hull then got the perfect start to the second period capitalising as one of their former players – Kirk Dixon – dropped possession in his own half.
The passing sequence from right to left was slick and precise, though, with Yeaman the eventual benefactor off Abdull’s short delivery.
Rankin improved but then, despite Joe Westerman being outstanding in his 100th game for the club since joining from Castleford, they disintegrated leaving their already slim play-off hopes in tatters.
Castleford, who host relegated London Broncos next Sunday, saw Millington limp off with a knee injury but he should be fit for their Challenge Cup semi-final with Widnes Vikings a fortnight tomorrow.
Hull FC: Shaul; Lineham, Whiting, Yeaman, Talanoa; Rankin, Abdull; Green, Houghton, Watts, Ellis, Hadley, Westerman. Substitutes: Paea, Thompson, Heremaia, Sa.
Castleford Tigers: Dorn; Dixon, Gibson, Shenton, Clare; Sneyd, Finn; Lynch, Milner, Carvell, Mariano, Hauraki, Massey. Substitutes: Millington, Clark, Wheeldon, Holmes.
Referee: J Child (Dewsbury).