CASTLEFORD Tigers have gained a reputation under Daryl Powell’s stewardship as great entertainers.
With the likes of Justin Carney, Benny Roberts and Luke Dorn in their ranks it is almost impossible not to bring flair and excitement to their games.
Last night, however, it was their remarkable defensive fortitude that proved the bedrock of a second successive Super 8s win – even if it was Liam Finn’s typically dramatic 79th-minute drop goal that confirmed it.
At times, it was almost like Castleford wanted to tackle Warrington. And then tackle some more.
Perhaps they were trying to remind everyone that the 44-6 defeat against the same opponents less than three weeks ago, a loss that jarred with them for more than one reason, was simply an aberration never to be repeated.
They certainly did not make life easy for themselves, though, often making uncharacteristic errors in their own half to invite the Wolves, their rivals in the chase for fourth spot, back into an absorbing contest.
Leading 16-6 for most of the second period, despite almost constant pressure on their own line, it seemed like they had done enough with their indefatigable spirit and work ethic to back up last Friday’s victory over Hull FC.
However, ironically, following a rare excursion into Warrington territory, Finn’s misguided kick went straight into Richie Myler’s midriff, the England scrum-half duly racing 80m untouched in the 69th minute to give Tony Smith’s side hope.
Fortunately, as it turned out, Chris Sandow struck a post with the conversion attempt meaning, when a rare Jake Webster defensive misread allowed Warrington’s Kevin Penny to score again five minutes from time, his touchline kick only levelled at 16-16.
Castleford were thankful to one of their old boys for eventually presenting a route to victory.
Man of Steel Daryl Clark, the hooker raised barely a mile from Wheldon Road who moved to Warrington in a £180,000 deal last autumn, fumbled just 20m from his own line.
His former colleagues capitalised fully as they worked it to Finn who, just as he did to help win at Leeds earlier in the season, showed great composure to adjust under pressure and switch the decisive kick to his weaker left foot.
Even then Warrington had one more chance when the otherwise excellent Adam Milner – a rock along with Grant Millington, Andy Lynch and Mike McMeeken in Castleford’s tireless pack – lost possession with seconds to go.
However, their opponents, who have now lost three successive games, had been slack with their big plays for most of the evening and, true to form, Gary Wheeler spilled with no one near him as the majority of Wheldon Road held their breath.
Early on, Castleford had to rely on their determined defence, too, to deny Warrington, at one point holding them out for four successive sets in the first half. Stefan Ratchford had an effort ruled out for offside when chasing a grubber that ricocheted off a post and, after Sandow’s casual 40/20 kick, Ben Harrison was held up over the line.
The hosts did not help themselves when Ashley Gibson spilled a simple pass direct from a scrum in front of his own posts – there were a few such lax moments from Castleford last night – but they rode out the storm and immediately surged downfield to open the scoring. It was Carney who benefitted eventually in the left corner following a lovely assist from Roberts and Gale, the scrum-half who had been hospitalised by Ben Westwood’s shoulder charge in the previous meeting between the sides.
Gale added the first of his two goals but Penny had a ‘try’ ruled out after the slightest of knock-ons from Ryan Atkins to remind Castleford of their threat.
Castleford struck again when captain Michael Shenton glided over after another slick build-up involving Oli Holmes’s hit and spin.
Warrington saw Rhys Evans’s effort chalked off for a forward pass but Myler did finally go over in the 32nd minute for the first of his two tries. Gale slotted a penalty just before the break to make it 12-6 before Carney got his second try four minutes after the restart when Finn’s kick was brilliantly palmed down by Shenton for Holmes to furnish the Australian winger again who finished in style.
Then came all that Wire pressure but Castleford, who head to Perpignan a week tomorrow, had all the answers even after Gale saw a drop goal effort go just wide.
They move into fourth, perhaps only temporarily as Huddersfield Giants will reclaim it if they defeat Catalans Dragons tonight.
However, Warrington’s own hopes of reacing the semi-finals seem to realistically now be overs they are six points adrift of Castleford with justfive games remaining.
Castleford Tigers: Roberts; Gibson, Webster, Shenton, Carney; Finn, Gale; Lynch, Milner, Millington, Holmes, McMeeken, Massey. Substitutes: Dorn, Cook, Moors, Springer.
Warrington Wolves: Ratchford; Penney, R Evans, Atkins, Monaghan; Sandow, Myler; Hill, Clark, Sims, Westwood, Currie, Harrison. Substitutes; Asotasi, Wheeler, Dwyer, G King.
Referee: Ben Thaler (Wakefield).