NEIL Diamond’s Sweet Caroline is the song of choice for Castleford Tigers fans when they win – Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel was more apt last night after St Helens snatched a dramatic victory.
Everything looked set for another famous night at Wheldon Road as the Tigers raced into an 18-0 lead and seemed destined to demolish the visitors’ 100 per cent record.
The script was written for captain Michael Shenton, who endured an unsuccessful stint on the other side of the Pennines, as he ran in two tries that appeared set to propel Daryl Powell’s side back to the top of Super League.
Trouble is St Helens can never be written off and, despite trailing 24-6 after 46 minutes, Brown’s men pulled a victory out of the bag against a Yorkshire side for the second successive week.
It was as exhilarating as it was painful for the majority in attendance.
After dooming Wigan and Hull FC in the final stages of matches this season, the boot was firmly on the other foot for Castleford.
A crazy passage of play saw the ball go from one side of the pitch to the other and back for Paul Wellens to set up the win with a try on his record-breaking 414th Super League appearance.
Then, with two minutes to go, a wide ball to Adam Swift saw him dart around James Clare and touch down to make it nine wins from nine in all competitions.
The mood after the game was in direct contrast to before kick-off. Whether it was Castleford’s lofty position or the sunny day, coach Powell was laughing with fans and opposite number Brown on the pitch.
Then again, he has every right to considering the start to the season and the news that Justin Carney has committed to the club for five more years, which hopefully will see the winger play in their planned new stadium.
Within a minute it became clear why he looked so content as Jon Wilkin spilled the kick-off and Liam Finn passed to his right and sent Jake Webster diving over the line.
The Tigers smelled blood and Castleford were at their classiest. After Carney beat Tommy Makinson to Luke Dorn’s kick, Shenton ran a clever overlap and a simple pass sent the captain over the line.
St Helens had no answer to rampaging props Craig Huby and Andy Lynch, who made yards with every hit-up, and it was 18-0 after just 17 minutes from another kick by Sneyd.
Alex Walmsley negligently turned his back on the ball and after it clipped the post-pad, Grant Millington touched down.
Not even the most optimistic Tigers fan could have expected a start like this. Yes, St Helens went all the way to get past Huddersfield in the Challenge Cup just five days previously, but that would be doing a disservice to the vigour and quality of Powell’s men.
Had Huby held on as he powered over the line, it would have been game over inside 22 minutes.
From that, St Helens finally started to play and mounted pressure on the Castleford line, which finally cracked on 28 minutes when Sia Soliola could not be stopped on a charge to the whitewash.
Powell’s men needed to be steady and see out the half, but that is not Castleford’s style. Instead Shenton picked up Turner’s awful pass and gleefully slid over.
It was obvious that St Helens would fight back in the second half and after Josh Jones sent Adam Swift in, Tommy Makinson produced another astonishing one-handed finish that is rapidly becoming the norm rather than the exception.
This time last year, Castleford would have folded but Luke Walsh twice hitting the posts kept them 10 points ahead and Carney superbly slid along the turf to grab Sneyd’s grubber kick and seemingly end any nerves.
That was far from the end of the drama, however, and somehow St Helens ground out a victory that had looked so unlikely at half-time. Castleford can take heart from their display but they would much rather have the win.
Castleford Tigers: Dorn; Clare, Webster, Shenton, Carney; Sneyd, Finn; Lynch, Clark, Huby, Holmes, Hauraki, Millington. Substitutes: Milner, Massey, Boyle, Mariano.
St Helens: Lomax; Makinson, Turner, Dawson, Swift; Wilkin, Walsh; Masoe, Roby, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Soliola, Manu, Jones. Substitutes: Laffranchi, Walmsley, Greenwood, Wellens.
Referee: B Thaler (Wakefield).