THEY WERE nowhere near their best, but Castleford Tigers were still good enough to effectively end Huddersfield Giants’ faint hopes of climbing into Super League’s all-important top-four.
Huddersfield matched the league leaders for much of last night’s Super 8s clash and deservedly led 12-6 at half-time, but Castleford emerged convincing 24-16 victors.
Castleford only really hit their stride for a 22-minute spell after the interval, but during that time they ran in three unanswered tries to put the game out of the home team’s reach.
After a poor opening to the season, culminating in their infamous Challenge Cup loss to Swinton Lions, Huddersfield have become a tough team to beat and they staged a creditable rally in the final weeks of the regular season to squeeze into the top-eight.
Two wins from their opening three games in the Super 8s had kept alive faint hopes of a surge into the semi-finals, but they are now five points behind fourth-placed Wakefield with only three games remaining.
It was Castleford’s first game since lifting the League Leaders’ Shield 15 days earlier.
They have nothing to play for on the table and looked rusty for much of the game, but their ability to find an extra gear when needed was impressive and will stand them in good stead when it comes to the play-offs.
Castleford will have to be more clinical in the sudden-death games at the end of the season, but they defended strongly for the most part and were clinical when they had to be.
Huddersfield applied some pressure, particularly in the first half and final quarter, but lacked a cutting edge and errors and penalties proved costly.
Castleford’s Jake Webster made his 200th appearance in the European game and marked the milestone with the opening try, after 12 minutes.
Webster, who had crossed four times in the previous game against Wakefield, went over from Ben Roberts’s pass after Huddersfield had put themselves under pressure with a penalty, Ukuma Ta’ai holding Nathan Massey down, in their own half.
Luke Gale converted, but Huddersfield gradually worked their way into the contest and Jesse Sene-Lefao preserved the visitors’ lead with an outstanding tackle on Jermaine McGillvary.
That came after Oliver Roberts had almost squeezed over, but the second-rower – promoted into the starting lineup an hour before kick-off when Dale Ferguson dropped out – made a breakthrough at the start of the second quarter.
He powered over from Danny Brough’s pass, but it was Sebastine Ikahihifo’s tricky run on the previous play that created the opportunity.
Sam Rapira was held up over the Castleford line as Brough began to exert his influence on the game. The scrum-half, who had kept Massey out with a terrific ball-and-all tackle in the opening exchanges, put up a towering kick which was spilled by Castleford’s former Giants winger Greg Eden.
Eden recovered well to scramble the ball dead, but Rapira went close following the scrum and on the next play Paul Clough strolled over to give Huddersfield the lead.
Jordan Rankin took over kicking duties after Brough had failed to convert Roberts’s try and landed the goal before adding a penalty after the hooter.
Kruise Leeming was fouled off the ball, but the officials did not spot the culprit and the incident was placed on report.
Huddersfield were slow coming out of the blocks for the second half and Castleford were six points ahead within 12 minutes of the restart.
The writing was on the wall after 44 minutes when Giants’ Jordan Turner knocked on and then Huddersfield conceded a penalty for a high tackle on Sene-Lefao and Ben Roberts sliced through for a fine solo try which Gale converted.
Then Tigers tapped a penalty in front of the posts and Gale and Zak Hardaker linked to send Eden diving over at the corner. Gale converted both, the second off the touchline, to make it 18-12
Two minutes into the final quarter Castleford made the game safe when Eden stepped past McGillvary and Gale was on his shoulder to cross and add the extras.
Castleford didn’t challenge Huddersfield’s line after that, but the scrum-half missed with a couple of drop goal attempts – which would have opened a three-score lead – before Darnell McIntosh dived over at the corner to give Giants hope.
A goal would have set up a tense finish with three minutes left, but Rankin hurried his kick and was off-target, allowing Castleford to see out the final exchanges under no pressure.
Huddersfield Giants: Rankin, McGillvary, Cudjoe, Turner, McIntosh, Gaskell, Brough, Ikahihifo, Leeming, Wakeman, Ta’ai, O Roberts, Hinchcliffe. Substitutes: Clough, Lawrence, Rapira, Mellor.
Castleford Tigers: Hardaker, Hitchcox, Webster, Shenton, Eden, B Roberts, Gale, Cook, McShane, Sene-Lefao, Moors, Foster, Massey. Substitutes: Milner, Springer, Patrick, Larroyer.
Referee: S Mikalauskas (Warrington).