CASTLEFORD Tigers’ first play-off experience in five years was certainly a sobering one as James Roby turned on the class for ruthless St Helens.
The England hooker was overlooked for the Super League Dream Team on Monday, only the second time that has occurred in the last five years.
Castleford’s young tyro Daryl Clark, of course, got the nod but Roby demonstrated last night just why he is likely to be the starting No 9 when it comes to the Four Nations this autumn.
The 28-year-old completely dictated the game as their visitors’ lack of experience at this level painfully came into view and Daryl Powell – Coach of the Year in-waiting – suffered his heaviest defeat since taking over at Wheldon Road.
Roby scored two trademark tries out of dummy-half in the first half to set Saints – presented beforehand with the League Leaders’ Shield that Castleford had missed put on following last week’s loss in Perpignan – on their way towards a 13-0 interval lead.
That was always likely to be enough to see them take this qualifying play-off given the control shown in that first period but Roby – whether through his pinpoint kicking, slick running or measured handling – made sure his side heaped on plenty more misery for Powell’s side.
Having set the excellent Jordan Turner scorching away for a 40m try early in the second period, the experienced hooker even turned up to deny Michael Channing Castleford’s one clear-cut chance of a demoralising evening with a remarkable last-ditch tackle over the line.
Castleford, for all their heroics this season in reaching the Challenge Cup final and securing their best-ever Super League finish of fourth, looked jaded, disjointed and bereft of ideas.
Powell made a bold call by dropping stand-off Marc Sneyd, preferring Jamie Ellis and bringing hooker Adam Milner in for his first game in more than a month.
Justin Carney, the robust Australian winger not originally in the 19-man squad, made his comeback from an injury suffered at Wembley following James Clare’s late withdrawal but the usually fearsome attacker was kept anonymous like everyone else.
Of course, Castleford – who have not won at Saints since 1992 – will get another chance to progress to the semi-finals when they host an elimination play-off probably next Thursday.
That could be against Warrington Wolves, though, depending on today’s results and, regardless, it will take a huge effort from Powell to rebuild his side after this one-sided destruction.
Castleford started confidently enough, taking Saints on strongly down the middle and seeing Andy Lynch and Craig Huby gain some rewards.
But in that initial period of stalemate, they created no chances of real note and, once the hosts started pegging them back with their superb kicking game, the energy was slowly drained out of Powell’s side.
They were unlucky to go behind, however, in the 18th minute. The video referee officials deemed Lance Hohaia’s high kick ricocheted off Carney’s shoulder to gift Saints an extra set but Powell will have been dismayed with the manner in which his side then let Roby slip through. He did so again soon after following a fine defensive set from Saints as they penned Castleford in their own 30m and forced Luke Dorn into a hurried and poor kick.
There was a forward pass from Turner in the build-up but again no excuses for soft defence thereafter, Oli Holmes this time falling away in an area when the West Yorkshire club have been so strong this term.
They were let off when Tommy Makinson had a perfectly good effort ruled out for a forward pass but Turner’s drop goal in the final seconds gave Nathan Brown’s side that healthy lead. The ex-Hull FC centre – converted to loose forward here – then scored that brilliant effort from Roby’s promptings and, after the hooker thwarted Channing the hosts ran riot.
Running out of ideas, Liam Finn’s pass went to ground and Adam Swift raced in from 75m before Michael Shenton was sin-binned for a professional foul allowing Makinson and Kyle Amor to score further tries in his absence.
Mose Masoe rounded it off, Percival finishing with six goals.
Powell said: “It was nip and tuck for a while but then there was some really poor defending near our try-line and we lost our way.
“We’re getting a few lessons at the moment and we’ve not been great since Wembley.
“We looked lacking in energy and we’re lacking some steel, too.
“We have to find that next week as that just wasn’t good enough.
“We get another chance but we have to be better than that.”
Just 24 hours after Huddersfield Giants were embarrassed 57-4 at Wigan Warriors in the opening play-off, it has been a turgid 24 hours for West Yorkshire’s contingent.
St Helens: Wellens; Makinson, Percival, Wheeler, Swift; Hohaia, Flanagan; Richards, Roby, Amor, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Thompson, Turner. Substitutes: Masoe, Soliola, Manu, Laffranchi.
Castleford Tigers: Dorn; Dixon, Webster, Shenton, Carney; Ellis, Finn; Lynch, Milner, Huby, Holmes, Hauraki, Millington. Substitutes: Massey, Clark, Wheeldon, Channing.
Referee: J Child (Dewsbury).